Obfuscation is a handy tool for those who wish to improve the profitability of their business at the expense of the consumer. And often a good place to start is the use of measurements. Now a new report has placed UK house builders in the spotlight.
On 15 September, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) published a report, which drew attention to the lack of space in many of the homes newly-built for sale in the UK:
The report suggests that buyers should look more closely at the total floor area rather than the number of rooms. Unfortunately, this information is sometimes not easy to find in the house builder’s sales information. For example, readers are invited to find from this web site the floor area of each of the house types in this new development at Kings Langley in Hertfordshire:
Needless to say, the spokesman of the house builders responded to the RIBA report by saying that newly-built houses with rooms of greater size would cost more. Furthermore, he gave no indication that the UK might follow the common practice of countries on the continent and in North America by publicising total floor area as well as number of ‘rooms’. For this information, prospective purchasers may have to continue to demand sight of the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) for the home.
Under a cryptic headline, The London Evening Standard on Friday 16 September linked the RIBA report to the announcement of poor results by a UK house builder:
“Barratt fails feline rotation test
Housebuilder Barratt posted a loss of £13.8 million on Wednesday, the same day that the Royal Institute of British Architects reported that 31% of homebuyers would not consider a new home because they are too small. The RIBA examined the floor plans of 1100 one-bed flats and 3400 three-bed homes. The minimum space standards for publicly subsidised new homes in London are 50 square metres for a one-bed flat and 96 square metres for a three-bed home. Barratt’s flats average 45 square metres, its three-bed homes 89. The company has written off £725 million from the value of its land bank. A 5% fall in house prices would wipe off a further £300 million, analysts were told. Why not enlarge the market by nearly a third and buttress prices by building homes in which a cat can actually be swung? Far too expensive, will be the unthinking answer.”
The Standard’s arithmetic may be wrong – the market could increase by 45% if homes were made larger – but you can’t fault its argument, or the call for greater transparency in the description of the size of new houses in the UK.