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PreFab is Dead - the staggering FAIL of US Housing

by lavardera ( last modified Jan 04, 2012 02:20 AM
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by lavardera ( last modified Nov 18, 2010



As we enter Day 18 of my expo of Swedish Factory Houses on the LamiDesign Idea Log I can barely contain the magnitude of my outrage. I had to write this blog post simply to stop myself from going to the window of my studio, sticking my head out of the opening and screaming "I'm mad as Hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!" You have to understand the staggering, colossal, and tragic scale of the FAIL of the US Housing Industry to serve its customers.

So here is the deal. Sweden, a small country with the population of NJ, the size of California, manages to offer within its limited market dozens, I'll wager hundreds of modern house designs to its customers. And its not like each home builder has one or two token modern houses in the catalog. They all have a dozen or more. Even if you are part of that smaller margin that likes a modern house, you still have choice of dozens of houses where ever you might look to build a house. Yet here in the USA our corresponding mainstream home builders offer none. Nothing. Nada. Something is clearly wrong here. Our home builders say "if its not what most people want, then I won't offer it." In Sweden the mantra is completely reversed: "if its something that somebody will want, then we'll certainly offer it."

It makes some sense. Why bother to engineer the house and produce marketing material for a design that won't sell as well? Truthfully, that is not the reason. These costs are minimal, earned back in a single home build as the Swedes clearly demonstrate. The reason is because the American home builders can not build these houses as profitably as their mainstream offerings. Their carpenters in the field building repetitive houses get into a flow of their work, the dimensions and layout of the standard plans in a subdivision eventually committed to memory. They may use different siding on each one or a different facade treatment, but the houses are from a limited group of plans and the framing work is equal. How can they introduce into that work flow one or two modern homes with different plans and different massing without breaking their pace. Those one or two homes will take them longer to build, and will make less profit. Why even offer them? They don't.

Lets have a look at a Swedish subdivision. The houses here are all being built by Sävsjö Trähus whose designs we've just been posting in the idea log. Scott Hedges pointed this out. He writes:

This web page shows 5 houses built by Sävsjö Trähus all sold out of the Solna office. Solna is a really nice suburb of Stockholm where Ericsson is HQ (also where Skanska is) - these are all examples of the kind of houses that would be built by wealthy Swedes, executives in these companies.

Each of these was made by the same crew of guys in central småland. Each built, loaded, and shipped in a few days each, as part of a serial production of around 100 house packages like this a year. Not a lot of sophisticated automation or fixed systems, just teamwork and good planning. All built on their flexible little flip table in central smalland and carted up to suburban stockholm.

They could care less what style or kind of house they build. They just want it to be what you want and be affordable. Severe modern, ultra traditional, mildly traditional, mildly modern ... it just doesn't matter. They have every possible style of house that is reasonable for people to build.

Sign here. We'll send the permit drawings, and ship the whole house in a few weeks.

so you see nice traditional Swedish vernacular like this above, but you also see their functional modern style like this below:

No problem. Why wouldn't you do this if you could. Well they can. This is MMC and OSM. This is what it is capable of. Each of these homes was just as profitable as the next, because their process is geared up to serve the customer what they want. It is style neutral and value bias - whatever builds the most value for the customer leads the process. Forcing a buyer who wants a modern house to choose a traditional house clearly does not build value for that customer.

Are you mad? Are you ready yet, ready to not take it anymore?



welcome to our open house

"I'm looking for housing that is affordable, and modern. I know there must be innovative, well-designed housing out there. I just can't seem to find it!" —Tracey R., from the Dwell discussion board


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