Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Housing Hi-jinks

Not pc has a good note about affordability and its inverse relationship to planning and land-use regulation. But when you look at the actual cost of new building , you start to see a significant Nanny State impost in quite a few areas.

  • Fencing of sites. Never used to happen, and not too many gory tales of kiddies' hands being lost to Tools Left Lying Aboot.
  • Certified scaffolding for jobs needing e.g. roof work. Ask a roofing contractor about how much per job this adds. On a say $20K job, this will be around 30%.
  • Leaky Building levy, even though your design follows a thousands-of-years tradition, and so includes actual eaves, and has no internal gutters.
And let's not ferget what's down the track:

  • Full certification needed for all tradies, on pretty much all work, maintenance, new or other. I've heard that only around 30% can possibly qualify within any reasonable grace period allowed. Think what that will do to rates, resource availability as education takes priority over chargeable time, general supply as tradies piss off to less stupid countries, and overall costs.
  • Earthquake proofing of older multistorey buildings. Billions in cost, for how many lives saved, again?
  • Other wonders yet to be dreamt up by our Glorious Leaders in their third go at the Great Socialist Hexperiment on us all.
So, a little prediction about the likely unintended consequences of all of this:

There will arise a thriving, and mainly underground (black economy) market segment which specialises in supplying honest maintenance and repair, made to look as though it's always been there. Some characteristics of the activity:
  • performed indoors, to shut out unwanted eyes. It's quite possible to do even major structural stuff without disturbing visible outer shells of buildings.
  • If outer shell, visible from the street has to be touched, expect the street frontage to be minimal, screened off or trompe l'oeil'ed in some fashion to ward off casual drive-by glances, and inspectors of any breed.
  • use of second-hand covering materials to disguise the new bones underneath. Demolition yards will be quite busy supplying this market.
  • use of antiquing, aging and patination on visible surfaces. Distressed paint finishes, coatings of old kitchen grease, scratches, nicks and obvious signs of long use will be de rigeur. See, I've watched far too many 'Antiques Roadshows', already.
  • payoffs to neighbours and certifiers (assuming the latter are even invited in) to guarantee silence (after all, they will need to return the favour at some point in their futures)
  • cash is king
As Stewart Brand notes, in his sublime book 'How Buildings Learn', people just never stop fiddling with the spaces they live in. And if they cannot be arsed doing it legally, then done it will be, anyway.

But, predictions aside, the unaffordability of housing is due at least in part to the cost impacts of layers of petty and mostly un-necessary (to a traditional designer) specification, levies, requirements and inspections. My bet is, around 10-15% of pure house costs are eaten up in all of this. Add that to land costs (which is what the linked article is really about) and the sum isn't pretty.

And the solution?

Wind back some of the Nanny State requirements.

And educate yourself about what to look for in building design. It's not hard, and it's fun.

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