Housebuilders are undoubtedly facing a tough period ahead. A combination of political uncertainty, housing delivery targets, the end of Help to Buy, a very real lack of urgency in the second hand homes market, plus many new sites facing vocal opposition from communities, are all combining to bring challenges to developers both large and small.
So, there has never been a more important time to get the full offering right. The location, the infrastructure, the bricks and mortar, the strategic direction for sales and marketing, the finish and, of course, the customer service.
From the start of the process at land acquisition, most housebuilders start to engage with local communities. It is a statement of fact that in addition to the houses, both private and affordable, the shops, green space and amenities all provide the necessary component to enable a strong independent community to establish and thrive.
Missing the mark
But, from that point, some housebuilders are still missing the mark. In planning terms, the importance of placemaking is growing significantly, as the recent interim report from the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission - Creating Space for Beauty - stated. But placemaking is becoming an overworked term used to encapsulate everything to do with a new housing development. While the Creating Space for Beauty report makes many excellent points, it can only work if housebuilders play a bigger role in the entire journey. If developers really want to engage today's consumer and come out of the other side of a difficult market in a stronger position, there needs to be a better fusion between placemaking and housebuilding.
The Creating Spaces for Beauty report looked at delivering beauty for everyone, not just the wealthy, at three scales; Beautiful Buildings, Beautiful Places, Beautifully Placed. I strongly agree with all three scales. The second scale looks at the "spirit of place", recognising that how a place makes you feel is important.
We can, however, take this a little deeper with the findings of a YouGov survey that we at Aylesworth Fleming commissioned, which evaluated the psychology behind buying a home. If the placemaking delivers, what about the relationship people are having with the actual homes and in turn the experience they go through with the companies they buy (or rent) from?
I am sure all of us in the industry could take a guess at what buyers look for in a home but the one thing most would probably skip over quickly is instinct and emotion. The "feeling". The survey clearly brought this heart and centre with only price coming higher consistently on what people look for in a home, even above the number of bedrooms, transport links, amenities or specification finish.
These findings confirm the fact that psychology and emotion play a huge part in the home buying process. Therefore, housebuilders that assume a consumer simply wants an upgraded kitchen and only needs help with a deposit are missing an important point. Customers demand that both product and location stand up to all expectations of lifestyle and emotion.
If we assume the product will create that "feeling" once a customer has bought their home, there is still the issue of how to identify that long before they walk through the door - in fact, before building commences whilst "placemaking" is still being considered.
The solution is both simple and complex. As consumers, we like to think we favour a company or brand because of objective factors, such as product quality or price. But insights from psychology suggest that our feelings and identities have a greater influence on our choices long before purchase.
As we go through this economic tricky patch, and as the next generation becomes both customer and third party referee, it will be necessary for brands to engage much earlier with customers to connect on an emotional level, before the sales process begins. Customers expect, in fact demand, that housebuilders follow through on all the promises of beauty we offer at all levels of the journey.
As psychology plays such a significant part in home buying, it is crucial that this is recognised throughout the whole process. If buyers are searching for that "feeling", it makes sense to provide that before the spade goes in the ground. How brands are interacting with home buyers has never been more complex, but with it comes the opportunity to be so much more powerful.
From placemaking to housebuilding might very well be a simple journey, but unless the customer's wants, needs, emotions and experiences are addressed throughout the full journey, there is a very real possibility that at some stage one or the other will fall short.