Innovation with a capital “I” requires a vision our industry seems to lack, and more risk than we’re willing to take
I believe home builders and the housing industry in general are innovative. But, as industry guru George Casey likes to say, they’re innovative with a lower-case “i,” which is to say, in the realm of telescoping patio doors and PEX pipe.
To be Innovative with a capital “I” requires a vision our industry seems to lack, and more risk than we’re willing to take. Sure, there are exceptions, but even those on the bleeding edge are playing a relatively safe game with proven technologies that help wring out inefficiencies and eke out higher profits. That’s certainly innovative, but not quite Innovative.
Yet Innovation is exactly what housing needs to solve the chronic issues hindering us from delivering more homes more affordably to meet current and future demand. And the more I think about it and talk to those pushing for change in how we design, build, market, sell, and service homes—and see and hear how and why builders resist it—the more I believe Innovation will come from outside the housing industry.
Consider how a tech giant might enter our little world. With the coffers to buy huge tracts of land, green and brown, across the country to suit 10,000 units apiece, they establish or retool local and regional modular home factories to exclusively satisfy that capacity, achieving a sustainable volume that lowers costs and allows them to sell new homes, equipped with the latest connected/smart home tech, at attainable price points.
Their “modules” are just that: basic (and code-compliant) building blocks configured in multiple ways, shapes, forms, and footages to suit each buyer’s needs and budget, yet achieving a general community cohesiveness that maintains property values. There’s likely some multifamily and retail and commercial space, too, cut from the same, standardized cloth.
People, especially younger generations, will buy them, and not just because these units are affordable and geared for tech-driven lifestyles but because they’re backed by a national brand that has already established incredible customer loyalty for its products and buying experience.
That “customer for life” approach will carry into the brand’s housing venture by automatically updating the tech embedded in its homes and—even more brilliant—selling homes not just once, but enabling (even inspiring) buyers to easily and affordably add or swap modules to accommodate changing lifestyle needs (children, an at-home office, a caregiver, etc.) without having to move. And by doing so, maintaining a sustainable degree of production volume and cost efficiencies for the company.
Can’t happen? You may be right; I may be crazy. But what If?
Access a PDF of this article in Professional Builder's November 2019 digital edition