By David Cowans, Chief Executive, Places for People 

For most people, the biggest purchases they make in their lives, whether they buy or rent, are likely to be a car and a home. At car dealerships we are presented with different models which are customisable down to the smallest detail. So why isn't it more common for home buyers to have more choice over the configuration of their properties?

I believe that custom build, alongside a general growth in modular construction could be one genuine solution to boost housing supply in the UK, but we are currently lagging well behind our European counterparts. In some European countries, for instance, 80% of homes are custom built, compared to less than 10 per cent here.

The obvious benefit for aspiring homeowners is the opportunity to design a home specifically to meet their own requirements and preferences but, under current stamp duty and CIL regulations, there are also big potential savings to be made for purchasers and house builders alike.

At Places for People we are ambitious about bringing custom-build housing into the mainstream. We have created a new business, designyourhome.com, to do just that. designyourhome.com is on the cusp of making custom-build homes a reality for UK house buyers with several sites currently in development. We've designed a new model for custom build that works within the constraints of the UK planning system, whilst ensuring that purchasers and longer term renters have considerable choice as to how their new home is configured and finished.

By making planning applications which show the maximum amount of development on each plot, planners grant consent that covers all potential build variations, eliminating the need for us to re-apply for planning consent once a customer has designed their perfect home. Our flexible consent may for instance, include a room in the roof with a dormer window, a utility room or sitting room extension and a front bay window, which the buyer may or may not choose. Buyers will also have the opportunity to choose from a huge array of internal layouts and details, everything from the number and size of rooms to the finish of coving and skirting boards.

Design Your Home offers a brand new house buying option for the UK market, so there's a need to raise awareness of custom build as a new product that's a realistic option for many. We believe that creating a bespoke home should not only be available to those with sizeable budgets, so we have made a commitment to ensure our custom-build homes will never be more expensive than buying an 'off the shelf' home.

The introduction of custom build isn't just good news for aspiring homeowners and in the long term could be applied to all parts of the rental market.  It's also good news for the Government, who have been pushing for the wider introduction of custom build for many years, recognising it as a key part of the solution to the housing crisis. Councils now have an obligation to maintain a custom build register and are actively looking for development partners. Because of this rising demand, more public-owned sites are being made available and having the added benefit of our own in-house construction team at Places for People means we can be confident of meeting the tight build timescales of six months.

Our intention is to grow our custom build business at scale and it would be great if others developed similar approaches. Together, we can make custom build a mainstream choice for home buyers and in the longer term, for renters. This is just one of the ways we are making headway on helping increase supply, but more still needs to be done.  The industry as a whole is resistant to change, but now is the time to be bold and take a broader view. Custom build could be a huge part of the solution and as a natural partner to forms of modular construction, could add additional supply to our existing housing output.  Something we're all keen to see. 

This blog first featured in Inside Housing on Friday 16 February.

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