Jim Duffy comment: Bigger not necessarily better to house millennials

Isn't it time to reimagine what a 21st century home looks like and costs, wonders Duffy. Picture: Ian Howarth.
Isn't it time to reimagine what a 21st century home looks like and costs, wonders Duffy. Picture: Ian Howarth.
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As Edinburgh wins the top place to live in the UK, its houses are still going up and up in value.

And we have some pretty big old properties in the nation’s capital.

A quick look on Rightmove highlights just how expensive it is to live in the city. This is great for those already on the ­property ladder, but really tough for those looking to join in. Even with banks being more relaxed on their lending criteria, bigger deposits are needed. But why can’t we change the rules of the game when it comes to housing? Isn’t it time to reimagine what a 21st century home looks like and costs?

We are still obsessed in the UK with a house’s number of public rooms and ­bathrooms – as well as how big the back garden is. Many new homes purporting to have three and four bedrooms are in effect two bedrooms with two box rooms. But, alas, they have the minimum space required to call them bedrooms, so ­purchasers pay the premium.

However, in places like the USA, they do not measure in number of rooms, but absolute floor area. An apartment in ­midtown Austin in Texas will be ­advertised as 1,000 square feet. Yes, it may have two bedrooms, but it is the floor space that our American cousins prefer to deal in. As new condominiums are thrown up, the floor space is decreasing. Yes, the micro-house has arrived – and the millennials just love them.

This is the game-changer that cities like Edinburgh could tap into to transform their housing markets and attract fresh talent and resource. It would not take much to start the ball rolling. In many American cities where it is desirable to live as a result of great universities, big company HQs or a vibrant start-up community, the price of normal apartments has gone steadily upwards.

A typical two-bedroom apartment in the hip Dirty Six area of Austin, for ­example, will cost more than $500,000 to buy or $2,000 per month to rent. That is some chunk of change for newbies to the housing market to cough up. While demand is high, city planners are looking at other ways of bringing in new residents, with the available building land they have. And the micro house is fitting the bill. More than half of Americans would consider living in a home that’s less than 600 sq ft, according to a survey done by the National Association of Home Builders. Among millennials, interest increases to 63 per cent. This is the key to future city growth, I would argue.

Micro-houses are exactly that. They are like trendy over-sized garden sheds or the size of an average towing caravan. They will have one bedroom, normally located above the living area in an elevated gallery. The kitchen and living area will be compact and smart. But, the use of natural light creates the perception of more space. Add fuel-efficient pellet burners to heat the home and the hot water, the whole home is cheap to run. Unlike a caravan or shed, the micro-home looks futuristic and wholly practical. High-end finishes and high-spec equipment make them a real mixture of form and fun.

So why do we not have micro-home villages popping up near us? Well, the first problem is planning and building control.

The size of a staircase, for example, in a “normal” home must meet certain building requirements. But, the staircase in a micro home is more akin to ladders on a fancy bunk bed. And so it goes on. The building “regs” incorporated in a micro house community would have to be different and more relaxed. The question is, do we have anyone in the city planning departments who has the vision and energy to push this agenda in order to reimagine what could be?

I hope we do, as micro houses offer cities a great opportunity to build quality new homes that fit the bill for new generations who are attracted to them and more importantly – who find them affordable.

Jim Duffy MBE, Create Special.