Welcome to my blog! Here I hope to provide some insights on areas of academic interest every now and again, as well as comments and updates on projects in which I’m involved.
I wanted to kick off with a short summary of a new pilot project which officially launches this month. The kernel of the idea came during the Home and Healthy Ageing FUSE seminar series I co-convened with colleagues at Northumbria and Teesside Universities last year. At the final seminar Barbara Douglas (Age Friendly Newcastle lead) described her experience of witnessing a discussion amongst developers at a recent event. The developer’s view, Barbara recalled, was that even when they build “lifetime homes” no one really seems that interested in purchasing them. Barbara was understandably frustrated by the developer’s comments. At the seminar she suggested that people who might like to purchase a property may need to look around new build dwellings making disapproving comments to persuade developers of the demand for accessible and adaptable properties (incidentally invoking Albert O. Hirschman’s Exit, Voice and Loyalty).
This comment got me thinking. Campaigners have argued in favour of the development of more “lifetime homes” for decades. More recently there has been focus on encouraging, or forcing, developers to build to part M(4) category 2 of the building regulations, rather than the currently mandatory category 1, in order to ‘future proof’ our new housing.
But what do we really know about the market for such homes? It is generally accepted that housing options in later life often remain limited to either relocating to specialist accommodation or ageing in place in homes which can have poor accessibility and adaptability. It would therefore follow that there would be plenty of people who would jump at the chance of purchasing future-proofed “general needs” properties. So where are the homes? Are developers missing a trick? Is it possible that despite the apparent obviousness of the demand that it just isn’t there? How much do people even think about such features when purchasing a home and how does this vary in terms of one’s age? Or maybe the cost of building in accessibility and adaptability features outweighs any increase in sale value?
There has been a little research completed in this area in the past. In the last few years a study was completed by Bert Provan, Tania Burchardt and Ellie Suh at the LSE and researchers at Ipsos MORI, joint funded by Habinteg Housing and the Papworth Trust. You can read their respective reports here and here, and an overall summary here. One of the findings was that accessibility features of housing may have a wider appeal than has previously been thought. For example, the survey evidence found that a property with step free access at the front, a downstairs bathroom, and bathroom features/adaptations would make 35 per cent, 47 per cent and 40 per cent of respondents respectively more likely to consider it if they had to move tomorrow (see page 37 of Ipsos MORI report). The finding that surprised me the most was that 53 per cent of people reported that a stair lift inside a property would make no difference to whether they considered the property or not, with a higher proportion reporting that it would make them more likely to consider it (22 per cent) than less likely (18 per cent). I wonder if this would also surprise some estate agents.
Of course, there are caveats to be added to these kind of data, but the studies do provide some evidence that certain adaptations and features may be desirable for some homebuyers. Plenty of gaps remain, however, which the new study I’m leading intends to start filling. The project is fairly small in terms of funding (which was provided via an internal grant at Newcastle) but I hope it can start to open up this area a bit more. There are two research questions:
There are three phases. The first involves focus groups with people in or nearing retirement who have moved recently or are considering relocation. Discussions will focus on their priorities when purchasing a property and to what extent, if any, they consider the accessibility and adaptability of the dwelling. It will also seek to test out the survey to be used in phase two. This is the centrepiece of the project. We hope to develop a “willingness to pay” survey which will ask people to make hypothetical choices regarding the purchase of properties with accessibility and adaptability features. Analysis of the data obtained will allow us to determine whether our respondents are willing to pay more for these features and potentially how much more. The third phase will involve focus groups with estate agents. Discussion will focus on their views of the market for accessible and adaptable homes (both new and resale), whether they consider such features when viewing properties and whether, and how, they would highlight these aspects when marketing a dwelling.
I’ll be working with Emeritus Professor Ken Willis and Professor Rose Gilroy on the research who will be bringing their expertise in economics and ageing, respectively. The project is only a pilot and I’m sure things will change along the way, but the intention is that we’ll be able to use it as a springboard for a larger and more comprehensive piece of work with proper external funding. I’ll provide some updates along the way on this blog. For now, I’m excited to get started on exploring an area where there are lots of assumptions, but little previous academic investigation – perfect for a new research project.