Wednesday 7 December 2016

What a difference a decade makes to newly built homes

Liadan Hynes on how regulations have changed the housing market

Published 14/02/2016 | 02:30

In 2006, there was little difference between a brand-new build and a house built 10 years before. Now, however, a new homes development is significantly different from one that was built in 2006
In 2006, there was little difference between a brand-new build and a house built 10 years before. Now, however, a new homes development is significantly different from one that was built in 2006

'So much has changed in the last decade in terms of building control, regulations and energy efficiency, that it's now completely different buying new versus second-hand," explains David Browne, director of new homes at Savills Ireland.

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In 2006, there was little difference between a brand-new build and a house built 10 years before. Now, however, a new homes development is significantly different from one that was built in 2006.

"In a decade where so little was built, it's now a very different product," Browne explains. New regulations introduced in 2011 and 2014 have led to superior energy efficiency in homes and far more stringent quality control at all stages on site.

But we also have the recession to thank. When it's hard to sell something, Browne explains, the seller does what they can to make their product more attractive.

The result for the buyer is larger homes that are far cheaper to run. It is estimated that the new energy regulations can result in up to a quarter of the running costs, with better storage and more expensive specifications.

"You look at most house types, they're typically 15 or 20pc larger than they were," says Ivan Gaine, new homes director at Sherry FitzGerald. "So we're selling lots of three beds which are 116-120 sqm. Ten years ago, they would have been four-beds."

There is a downside to the new regulations though; while they have produced a better product, it is also a more expensive one to produce. This means much tighter margins for developers and will curtail supply. It also means limitations on the areas where new homes are being constructed.

"When you factor in the already existing costs, and then add in another 10-20pc on the production costs, there are locations where it's not feasible to deliver," explains Gaine.

Even though housing supply is a problem, buyers aren't panicking about getting on the ladder, it seems. Mortgages are hard to come by and we've lost our taste for trading up every couple of years. The shift in the profile of the first-time buyer is also behind this new discernment.

As well as the traditional mid-twentysomething, there's also a first-time buyer in their mid-thirties. Typically, they have been renting, have kids and want to buy somewhere with the potential to be a long-term family home.

There are also a few things that potenial buyers should be aware of. Some 'hangover' homes were constructed up to a certain point pre-recession, based on 2005-08 regulations for energy performance and are only now being completed and put up for sale, says architect William Scott of Scott + MacNeill architects and consultancy practice, which specialises in sustainable building, amongst other areas.

Though marketed as a new build, such a hangover home may not in fact be required to meet the standards of the current regulations. "So a purchaser would need to be very sure that they are actually getting a current house, built to the current 2011 standards." A BER of A3 is now fairly standard in all new builds.

With correct construction, "the building regulations are reasonably good," says Scott, "and will produce a reasonably good house or apartment. But if there is inadequate attention to detail during the construction, it will completely undermine the intended benefit of the energy-performance building regulations. Definitely an enhanced skill level is required on site. Some builders are absolutely committed to getting it right and relearning. Not all builders are so dedicated."

"If insulation is incorrectly applied, it could result in a drastic decrease in energy performance. Air tightness - the exclusion of draughts - if compromised during the construction process is particularly difficult to repair retrospectively. An air-tight house with proper ventilation is the key to avoiding high humidity levels and the risk of condensation and mould."

And more knowledge is required of the buyer. "Modern homes often have sophisticated energy-efficiency building services and the homeowner needs some knowledge and expertise to efficiently operate and maintain their new home," says Scott.

Sunday Independent

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