Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Fast house or slow home?

As part of my own personal property search, I have recently discovered the 'Slow Home Movement', a Canadian based organisation set up by two pioneering architects, and inspired by the idea of the 'slow food' movement - the antithesis of fast food! The two founders argue that in seleting your home you should also be aware of what they call 'fast houses - houses that are designed to be sold rathered than lived in'.

They set up the Slow Home Movement after organising a huge team of volunteers who between them looked at nearly five thousand new housing developments in nine north American cities, using a 12 point questionnaire and a points scoring system (out of a total 20), to determine how each property surveyed scored in the slow home test. Their questionnaire can be applied to your own searches and can be downloaded from the Slow Home website.

The Slow Home Test looks are twelve different aspects of the property, the first four relating to its environment (location, size, orientation, environmental friendliness); while the remainder concern the inside of the property, looked at room by room,  and finally how all the elements fit together. The results of their researches showed that only 11% of the homes surveyed achieved scores of between 17 and 20 points (the maximum) and the majority (47%) achieved poor ratings of just 7 to 12 points (out of twenty).

The researchers highlight four main areas of criticism: first, what they call 'Colliding Geometry' - dramatic features such as a huge stairway or awkwardly located fireplace, that clash with the rest of the property, and which 'end up fragmenting spaces in a floor plan, causing serious disruption to the way the rest of the house works'.

Under 'Redundant  Spaces' they cite parts of the house that are awkwardly designed or located, and invariably given 'False Labels' - names such as study, linrary, home office etc - design to flatter the ego and convince a buyer that they are adding value.

Their fourth main criticism was what they called 'Super-sizing' - the creation of rooms that were cheap to build but simply too large for their purpose. Frequent among these were master bedrooms and en-suite bathrooms.

Their main criticisms of the propertis' external environment included numerous cases of poor orientation in relation to other properties, and most commonly to sunlight - typically south facing bedrooms that heated up during the day and have to be cooled at night, while kitchens and living areas faced north and lacked sunlight during the day.

The Slow Home Movement is also critical of the excessive size of many American homes - 213m² (2300 square feet) compared to 76m² (818 square feet) in Britain and 113m² (1216 square feet) in France. The founders, who are architects, report that many of their clients are people who have bought large properties but after two or three years complain they have run out of space. According to the American National Association of Realtors, 20% of buyers move out of their homes within three years of purchase, victims the architects argue, of the fast house syndrome.

Interestingly, many purchasers are now adopting a different approach to property buying - investing, say, 70% in the purchase price, and spending the remaining 30% on converting the property to their particular requirements.

There is a wealth of information to be found in the Slow Home Founders' book and on their website which can be applied to your property search in France.

Sources: Website www.slowhomestudio.com for a copy of the Slow Home questionnaire and report.
'What's wrong with this house' by John Brown and Matthew North showing examples of houses and apartments and how they can be made more user friendly. Available from www.amazon.com

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

French Property News, August 2012

In this month's issue I have looked buying a new-build property in France. The advantages include having access to the latest building norms - such as the new BBC classification (highest level of energy efficiency), and new rules (NF C 15-100) for electrical installations in new-build properties and total renovations. I point out that French housing estates ('lotissements') are very different from their British counterparts, as most are made up of individually designed homes, each one different from its neighbour.

Many new owners also choose to self-build all or part of their new home, and in Languedoc-Roussillon where I live, builders often the complete the main works ('les gros oeuvres') leaving the owner to complete the internal finishing - partition walls, insulation, plumbing and electrics. Innovative architects are willing to help with all of this process, from initial design through to completion.

French Property News is available on subscription and is on sale in newsagents. www.french-property-news.com