KEY LEARNING POINTS
- A straight-forward sales process, offering a clear but limited set of options works well
- It has proven challenging to find good home manufacturers in the UK that can build to the required quality standards and at the capacity required
- Consistently delivering high quality internal finishes initially proved difficult
- The project’s simple ‘party wall’ solution works well
Urban Splash is one of the UK’s most innovative property developers, and it has been researching the whole self and custom build sector for some time, looking at how best to enter the market. About six years ago it investigated a potential private homebuilding concept – called Tutti Frutti – but it never took off.
Its HoUSe project has built on some of the learning from that initiative, and the terraced house design it has developed is the first of several modular systems aimed at homebuilders that want more space, contemporary design and a range of layout and specification options.
The floorplan options offered Three dimensional visualisations help customers to make their choices
- The key features of the system are: –
You can order either a two or three storey house. The footprint of each floor is 500 sq ft (46.5 sq m) – so you typically end up with a two bed 1,000 sq ft (93 sq m) home, or a three or four bed 1,500 sq ft (139.4 sq m) property
- The different modules can be arranged at any level – so you can have a kitchen/living/dining space at ground, first or second floor level
- The design features larger windows and higher ceilings than most volume housebuilders offer, so the rooms feel particularly light and airy
- Each level has a number of layout options – from full ‘open plan’ to two or three sub-divided areas. The only ‘fixed’ items are the staircase and the main kitchen and bathroom locations
- A menu of internal specification options is also available – from ‘standard’ kitchen and sanitary fittings to high end. There are also options for floor finishes and colours, wardrobes, cloakroom areas and study/office space fittings
- Once a customer has decided what they want it takes 16 weeks to get the home built and delivered (each floor level fits on a lorry), and a further three to four weeks to finish off the interiors
- The external rainscreen cladding is flexible, so that the elevations can be adapted to suit local planning requirements
The New Islington Project, Manchester
Urban Splash has trialed the new system on this major regeneration site to the east of the city centre. Forty four homes have been built in four main phases. When we visited (in April 2014) the first terrace of five homes had been installed and internal finishing off work was underway. All 44 homes were due to be completed by the end of 2015.
The master plan of the New Islington district showing the location of the HoUSe phases adjacent to the New Canal The layout of the four HoUSe phases 3D visualization of the HoUSe phases at New Islington
A modular terraced house has been developed that private homebuilders can customise in a number of ways – for example the house can be either two or three stories high, and there are numerous alternative internal layout and specification options. The construction costs for the ‘basic level’ works out at £1,100 per sq m. A pilot project of 44 homes in Manchester sold very quickly and the developer now has two other sites confirmed and hopes to be able to construct around 1,000 homes a year this way in the next few years
Terraced and Apartments
From about £200,000
For the purposes of this Toolkit we have made the following definitions:
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- ‘self and custom built homes’ as properties commissioned by people from a builder, contractor or package company (this is known as ‘custom build’ housing). When people physically build themselves, sometimes with help from sub-contractors, this is known as ‘self build’ housing. We call all these people ‘private homebuilders’.
- ‘serviced building plots’ are shovel-ready parcels of land with planning permission, laid out and ready for construction with access and utilities/services provided to the plot boundary. Some private homebuilders just purchase a plot; others opt for a ‘shell’ home (that they then finish off), or they select from an extensive menu of options offered by developers/builders.
- ‘group projects’ mean homes built by private homebuilders who work as a collective.
The dedicated section on ‘HoUSe’ at Urban Splash’s main website
Urban Splash unveiled its HoUSe design in the autumn of 2014, and it has a good section on its website that explains the concept: http://www.urbansplash.co.uk/residential/house
This formed the basis of most of the marketing push, along with PR generated in the media. There is no onsite sales office (though there is a show home), and Urban Splash has not undertaken a major advertising campaign to promote the concept.
All of the homes had been reserved by the autumn of 2015. A single investor who plans to rent out the completed homes purchased ten of these.
A wide range of people have been attracted by the concept – from families to house sharers and retirees. There is a good Free School nearby. Several of Urban Splash’s staff have reserved a home too.
The homes are all built on tight urban plots. Typical these are about 20-25m long. The standard width of each home is 5m (which is the maximum width a lorry can transport).
The fronts of the homes are usually set back 1.5m from the pavement, there is a modest rear garden, bin storage areas and private parking at the rear. But there is a lot of flexibility, and the homes could be located at the rear of a plot, with parking in the front.
A ‘standard’ specification two storey home costs around £200,000 (this covers everything – land and home construction, infrastructure and developer profit). The construction cost for a 1,000 sq ft home is approximately £100,000.
Purchasers work with one of Urban Splash’s sales representatives to decide exactly what size, layout and specification they want, and they then complete a simple reservation form. Once everything is agreed they sign every page to confirm their order, and they then have a ten-day ‘cooling off’ period where they are able to reflect on their choices.
No special arrangements are necessary as the homes are treated just like a conventional new house from a volume housebuilder. Eleven different lenders have provided mortgages on the initial project, and none raised any issues or concerns.
Checkmate has provided the warranties for the homes.
Some of the homes have been sold using the Help to Buy programme
A good website can be a very effective marketing tool
All the homes on the initial development were sold as a result of the impressive website set up by Urban Splash
Design and Construction
The modules are built by Insulshell, who are part of the SIG group, at its facility in Pinkston, in Nottinghamshire.
The upper level of a home being craned into position
Terraced homes are well suited to modular construction
The maximum width lorries can easily transport is 5m – this is ideal for terraced properties
Piled foundations are used, and this has helped to keep construction costs down. Because the construction technique requires no scaffolding this too generates some savings.
The homes are well insulated (walls have a U-value of 0.15 W per sq m deg K; roof 0.1) and they are more airtight than normal. A MVHR system is used to recover heat from the exhausted air. The homes are all electric – this was specified as it saves on initial utility connection costs.
As the properties are well insulated there is only a little background heating required, and two 400W panel heaters are provided on each level. Solar thermal panels are provided on the roof, and there is an option to include PV’s too. Windows are currently double glazed, but the team is looking into upgrading these to triple glazing in the future.
The design of the HoUSe homes was developed by Shed KM Architects. The same team is now working on a similar concept for apartment blocks.
Urban Splash says it wants to be building 1,000 homes a year this way by 2020, and it is looking at various sites around the UK. The first three are likely to be in Manchester, Salford and North Shields.
The next HoUSe project will be in North Sheilds, where 43 homes will be built
Good levels of insulation reduce the need for expensive heating systems
Because these homes are well insulated they only need a little background electric heating (so they also save on gas utility connections)
This case study was compiled with reference to the following sources:
The Urban Splash Development Team
The NaCSBA Research & Development Programme is funded by the Nationwide Foundation and aims to promote the self-build and custom build sector as an affordable route into housing for a greater number of people in the UK.
For further information, please visit:www.nacsba.org.uk or www.selfbuildportal.org.uk