That was the rather depressing question I came away with after a day chairing the Build4Quality conference organised by the BRE. Why should house-buyers not trust house-builders? Are they any worse than politicians, bankers and other professionals that are also mistrusted by the society?
At the conference Adam Challis from JLL asked whether our buildings were fit from purpose and argued that those developers that could demonstrate higher standards get reputational and brand benefits which help shift the home-buyers perception. However, many people are put off new build as they think there still be teething problems – better wait a few years when the snags have been sorted! Can you imagine if we thought that about new cars! If the quality was there in the first place we won’t have this problem. Furthermore, good quality drives customer satisfaction, in the private rental sector that means tenants stay longer and for those buying it means values are maintained.
Do we have the perfect storm? Consumers are concerned, and quality is now a political issues, magnified by the Grenfell Tower disaster. As the country struggles to provide affordable quality housing, the evidence grows that poor housing creates a burden to healthcare and welfare services. So what are the solutions?
First let us establish the standard of quality we want and then ensure those investing in the housing building sector set them as part of their lending requirements. All seems very sensible to me. Then we need some consumer awareness so they start asking for right kind of quality . That is where the Home Quality Mark can help. The Mark cover the house’s performance in three areas – running costs, health and wellbeing, and environmental impact- setting standards in each category. More people need to know about it and start asking for it, and home builders should see it as a way of demonstrating their build quality!
But….yes there always a but, isn’t there? Can our house builders provide what is required? Is the construction sector equipped with the right leadership, skills and expertise to deliver? Mark Farmer spoke about the need to modernise or die. He delivered a real wake-up call suggesting the systematic failure in the whole design, procurement and construction process needs to be addressed. His suggested a more integrated approach whereby quality indicators are developed and owned throughout the process, rather than fought over in the cost cutting process called value engineering.
This approach reminded me of a number of lectures I gave a few years back promoting integration to deliver sustainable development outcomes (see link the future role of the engineer). When you think about it many of the sustainability outcomes are quality outcomes – health and well-being, reduced environmental impacts, climate resilience to flooding and economic well-being and so on…. I also called for the design engineering community to up-skill and become the integrators working throughout the whole project lifecycle to ensure quality is maintained, and brief the project team so that they are aware of the interdependency of the design and construction components and final performance outcomes – like operation and maintenance costs – and keep the clients informed if potential changes might impact on the outcomes.
Having the right stops and balances is necessary, simple check lists are important – no pilot would ever consider flying off without checking they have enough petrol – we need to get back into the same mentality. Ofcourse, digital processes should help us too, and quality checks can be built into these platforms.
Ultimately, the proof will be in the pudding – house builders will need to evidence quality – and once their customers can see it and be re-assured by third party accreditation this will go some way to restoring trust and reputation. This needs to start now!
This article and others have also been published on LinkedIn here.