It’s tempting to say that the housing industry “needs to innovate to survive,” but it’s not true. Our industry will always survive.
But in what state? Consumers are smarter and more demanding than ever. Construction labor is harder to come by, exacerbated by higher performance standards and environmental regulations. And, the age of connectivity and the Internet of Things is going to change everything.
If we want the housing industry to thrive (not merely survive) in the face of this new reality, we have to change the way we think, feel, and act about innovation. Here’s how:
We Need a New Mindset
We need to be willing and open to thinking differently, and we absolutely have to do it together. Collaboration is key, via construction trade associations and Builder 20 clubs that focus on the future and facilitate discussion and action, or pilot programs that engage the entire value chain to test new materials and methods. We need to learn from other industries that have made the transition to a modern mindset and adapt their best practices to housing.
Creating a new mindset also means getting in the heads of our customers, playing the game they play as they consider buying a new home. To start, shed the title of “builder” and assume the role of “life services provider," where the physical home is just a vehicle that starts the commercial transaction and pulls through much more profitable, living support services. It’s the logical outcome of the Internet of Things, where the data collected from all this connectivity is put into action that goes well beyond sticks and bricks.
We Must Learn From One Another
Let’s also take cues from those builders who are already blazing this trail, and work to integrate what they are doing into mainstream building practices.
We need to applaud the efforts of builders such as Meritage Homes, which is driving the development of new ways to deliver highly efficient, highly durable thermal enclosures for its houses.
Or Pulte Homes and Lennar, which have been experimenting in ‘skunk works’ facilities to engage consumers in a deeper way to gain real insight into what they dream about and need, want, and will pay for in their next homes.
Or KB Home, which is out there pushing the envelope with innovative products and approaches to delivering more sustainable, energy- and water-efficient production homes for tomorrow’s world.
Or, as a final example, the folks at Unity Homes, who are effectively combining panelization, modular construction, and in-field assembly in an effort to address the labor shortage, as well as deliver affordable net-zero energy (NZE) homes.
We Must Embrace New, Unconventional Players
Paradigms that we never would have imagined are becoming a reality as the Internet of Things moves closer to center stage. As things like 3D printing are quickly making their way into the housing market, we need to embrace them.
And by that, I mean we need to not just accept them as a new reality, but apply what the best in our industry know about designing, marketing, selling, and servicing a home, and collaborate toward a shared future.
These types of ground-breaking ‘disruptions’ are not a threat, they are an opportunity. They present openings for us to exponentially enhance the experience that we deliver to our customers through our products. For example, through collaboration, builders can build deep intelligence about the dreams, wants, and needs of their customer base and conduct ongoing research on target consumers through alliances with Google, Amazon, and key product manufacturers.
This can all be complemented with other technologies, including complete home comfort systems, smart appliances and controls, LED lighting, solar PV, battery walls, smart meters, and other intelligent products that are connected, monitored, and diagnostically improved as every home learns its owner’s behaviors.
These new collaborative relationships will be instrumental in helping us attain the centralized control, safety, and convenience from the home that consumers are seeking. These seemingly unconventional players are likely the linchpin to deliver the value that our consumers crave, and enable us to develop better business solutions and realize the profit that we need to thrive in the next age of our industry.
We Must Remember the “Why”: The Environment & Future Generations
If more consumers really understood the benefits of high-performance homes, demanded them, and could also afford them; and if builders truly believed in the opportunity for changing their business models to deliver them, the positive impact on our environment and our children’s future would be amazing.
But how do we do it when the U.S. construction industry spends less than one-tenth of 1% of its GDP on building research and development? We work together to change and improve the status quo. We stand up and get counted, and lead the way. We collaborate on new, whole-house systems approaches to designing and delivering higher performance homes. We share ideas and develop better business solutions for tomorrow’s housing marketplace.