Building Dream Homes

As a 10 year old I won a competition to design my dream home. Set on a futuristic planet where residents would levitate around and change TV channels with their mind I guess I was pushing the boundaries of housing a little too far.

But with age and experience the dreaming hasn’t stopped.

My dream now is that someone should be able to buy their perfect home from the comfort of their settee, using their tablet to select a plot and a home manufacturer, choose their preferred design options from an extensive menu, check their bank balance and pay a deposit. A couple of weeks later the home should be flat packed on the back of a lorry at the end of their drive and a couple of weeks later they should be able to move in. Living in their dream home – a month, or so, from start to finish.

In many other sectors this level of choice is not for dreamers. We can choose cars, holidays and kitchens in this way now. So why not homes, which are for many people their biggest life purchase?

The answer, of course, lies in the very outdated structure of the housing sector. Nearly 20 years on from Sir John Egan’s trumpet call we have definitely progressed, but ‘modern methods’ are still not yet mainstream in the housing industry. We still build many homes slowly using wet trades – heavily susceptible not just to weather but materials and skills shortages. Despite the amount of time at housebuilders’ disposal they still offer customers limited scope to influence the design of their home. 6 months to build a home over which they can only choose the decorative finishes?

Purchasers deserve better. RIBA’s statistics show that as a result 75% of the adult population will not currently buy a home that is less than 10 years old. Yet like me, over 50% of the adult population want to design their dream home at some point in their lives according to Ipsos Mori.

Well it seems the housing industry is now starting to listen and innovate…

Firstly a variety of custom build developers – numbering 25 nationally and including Balehaus, HAB, igloo and ZeroC in the South West – are now offering purchasers the ability to customise their dream homes from a range of options. The alchemy of custom build is that purchasers acquire a serviced plot and fund their own build via a stage payment mortgage. There are considerable savings as the developers charge less profit (due to lower risk). SDLT is also lower and in some locations CIL exemption applies. These savings can be directly fed into personalising the new home – or simply banked for the next car or holiday. There is strong cross party support for custom build and a Government target to deliver 10,000 additional custom (and self build) homes a year by 2020. The Right to Build will be the real game changer. From 1st April Councils will need to establish demand registers for those interested in custom (and self build) housing in their borough. Once the Housing and Planning Bill is enacted they will also need to consent sufficient serviced plots to meet this demand.


Secondly, although custom build is currently still very much a face-to-face process between purchaser and architect – which is probably essential initially to win confidence in a new housing model - digital innovation is fast approaching. In 2015 InnovateUK committed to fund a significant Digitising Custom Build (DCB) project which will provide the technology to enable online customisation of homes, as well as other forms of innovation in the housebuilding process. The National Custom and Self Build Association (NaCSBA) is coordinating the communication process for DCB and a launch event will be held on 12th April at which leading figures will outline their vision for housing 10-50 years from now. The first pilot of online customisation will be at Carillion-igloo’s Heartlands development in Cornwall (pictured above and below).


Thirdly, the BBC is working on a series that will challenge manufacturers to build factory made home in under 2 weeks, with the aim of provoking the housing industry to raise its game and offer speedier delivery whilst retaining (and even enhancing) quality. Custom build has already switched on to the benefits of quality-controlled factory conditions (offering timber or steel frame, SIPs, CLT and full factory made homes).

We are slowly but surely seeing a revolution in the housing sector. Perhaps with driverless cars now on the drawing board the ability to levitate around your home and change channels with your mind is not that far-fetched after all?

Jon Sawyer is head of custom build housing at igloo and a board member of NaCSBA

For more details of Carillion-igloo’s Heartlands project register at

For more details of the Digitising Custom Build housing futures event on 12th April please visit

For more details of the BBC’s emerging factory made homes series contact

CGIs courtesy of Carillion-igloo and HTA

Jon Sawyer 

Members Area
Join Today
Become a Constructing Excellence South West member today and take advantage of the benefits of membership.
Subscribe to our free newsletter
Find a member...