The Unconditional Blog

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Archive for the ‘Architecture & Construction’ Category


The leaky home legacy becomes a global phenomenon

Posted on: February 22nd, 2011 | Filed in Architecture & Construction, Featured

New Zealand, as has been well documented is facing a legacy of building issues related to “leaky homes” – a legacy for which estimates vary, but seem to be around $11 billion according to a recent PWC survey, with potentially up to 89,000 properties effected. The fact is emerging though that this phenomena is not unique to NZ. The US is appearing to show the same cracks, metaphorically speaking, in their housing stock which equally could cost them many billions of dollars. Nor in fact was NZ the first country to suffer this damaging phenomena as housing in Vancouver was discovered to have suffered from leaky buildings way back in the mid 1990’s

In the US during the 5 years at the start of this millennium around 10 million new homes and apartments were added to the housing stock as reported in the recent headline article in Business Week. This boom in construction was fueled by the easy credit environment which went on to become the catalyst for the sub-prime meltdown and subsequent Global Financial Crisis. The scale of the US issue is not as yet estimated. All that is reported is that defects identified in properties built during this period are running at twice the rate of the prior 5 year period on a per property basis.

The roots of both countries construction issues have commonalities – construction detailing and trade skills.

The NZ leaky home issue may be seen more conspicuously in the monolithic cladding form of construction prevalent during the period, however the route cause is as ever the attention (or rather the lack of it) to detail in design, material specification and installation skills.

The US issue is not as conspicuously visualized through a design style, but is being put down to the hyper demand for new construction which led to poor construction technique as a function of inadequate training and supervision as the industry sucked in thousands of workers to meet the burgeoning demand.

The scale of the problem is strikingly highlighted in the article by reference to a 25 storey apartment tower in Seattle which is being demolished even though it is only 10 years old. The tower pictured below has been found to have been built without adequate corrosion protection on the supporting steel cables in the concrete structure (Seattle Times report).


Homestar – energy efficiency rating for your home

Posted on: November 10th, 2010 | Filed in Architecture & Construction, Featured, Green

homestar logo horz RGB.jpg-1

We have long heard the media coverage of how close to 1.0 million out of our 1.6 million homes are poorly insulated, inefficient in the use of energy and potentially unhealthy. The big question as has often been asked is “how can I check out my own home to see if it is efficient”?

Well with the launch of Homestar you now can.

Through its online self-assessment tool you can complete a very detailed evaluation of all aspects of your home, from construction type, insulation, lighting, power usage, heating source, orientation, water usage.. the list goes on and on. The survey provides you with a rating score from 1 to 10. Further than just making you feel good (or depressingly bad!) about your score, the tool provides a superb report covering all aspects of your home to advise as to how to improve its performance with ranking as to how expensive such developments could be, how much benefit they could bring and how easy they are to implement.

This report and online tool should be a must for all homeowners, as well as landlords (and tenants). If you know what things could be done, easily and cheaply to improve the rating, then you are more likely to do it.

The good news is that as a country we are beginning to address this broad issue of energy usage and comfort. At the launch of the Homestar initiative this week, the Minister for Building and Construction, the Hon. Maurice Williamson shared the extent of the uptake of the government subsidy for insulation (warm up campaign) – some 61,000 households had applied for the subsidy since it was introduced, very effectively demonstrating the power of financial motivational over legislative mandate to drive homeowner behaviour.

The Homestar initiative, brought together through an industry collaboration with government support, goes well beyond just an online self-assessment tool. Certified Homecoaches will be trained to provide specialist advice as to how the recommendations of the self-assessment survey can be implemented, leveraging the private sector parters; who are the product and system suppliers to the solutions required and identified in the survey.

A very important third component of the scheme is of great interest to the real estate industry, and with the support of could become a very key part of selling and marketing a property in the near future.

Licensed certified assessors will be appointed by Homestar to carry out independent assessments of properties in the same way a valuation or a building report will be undertaken. This independent survey will then be public information in the form of a unique individual registered rating, which will have a value in the minds of prospective buyers. There is robust information from overseas examples which show that such rated houses put up for sale, performing highly in terms of energy efficiency and environmental impact not only attain a sale price premium, but also sell faster.

The screen mockups seen here provide a concept of how the information could be added to the details of a listing and through the addition of a search filter could profile such properties as well as allow buyers to filter to specific performance criteria within their geographical and price boundaries.

Homestar Nov 8 2010.ppt

As ever the critical success of this scheme and the full initiative will come from the advocacy within the core groups of which the real estate industry is so key. If real estate agents embrace this certification in the promotion of comprehensive data for listing a property it will provide value for their clients (the property owner) as well as enormous value for buyers.


Architecturally designed or designed by an architect

Posted on: June 11th, 2010 | Filed in Agent Tips, Architecture & Construction, Featured, Online marketing

Warren_&_Mahoney_House_of_lightIn the world of real estate marketing, as with any form of marketing creating standout is critical so as to generate awareness and interest. When it comes to homes, the design style is so important and this is often what is highlighted by real estate agents in the marketing description.

However as is ever the case with all marketing – accuracy is key and this is why I am happy to post this open letter from the Chief Executive of the NZ Registered Architects Board – Paul Jackman who naturally has a concern to ensure that in describing homes for sale as “architecturally designed” or “designed by an architect”, that they are just that.

I took the time to review some of the over 600 listings on the site today that include the keyword “architect” in the description – the vast majority do reference the name of the architect in question or in some cases use the word in contextual description, ie “bring along your architect” or “sits amongst architectural homes in the area”. That having been said the important note of Paul’s letter which was published recently in the Real Estate Institutes monthly member magazine is key – an architect is a professionally qualified individual who is bound by professional standards and this is at the heart of the professional industry, to have the term “architect” misused is of concern to the profession.

Was the architect an architect?

Every profession lives or dies by its reputation. If the public perceives a profession to be honest, they assume its members can be trusted. This confers huge benefits when doing business. But if a profession is perceived as dishonest, every member of that profession pays a price in lost business.

For a long time now architects have been deeply frustrated by real estate advertisements claiming that properties for sale were designed by a named architect when actually the person named is not an architect at all. These advertisements potentially deceive buyers, given that a house designed by an architect may carry a price premium. Typically puffery is used like, to quote a real case, “Immaculately detailed, the house was designed by renowned Christchurch architect Ray Hawthorne.” Mr Hawthorne may be renowned, but he is not an architect.

Only about 5 per cent of New Zealand’s residential properties are designed by architects. The rest are designed by others, sometimes called architectural designers, who either are trained in drafting or self taught.

In some cases the vendor is deluded about his or her house. The vendor thinks the house must have been designed by an architect because it has some unusual features or looks funky. The real estate agent is told this and blithely places the advertisement. In some other cases the real estate agent may be just trying to talk up the price.

Either way, this will not do. The Real Estate Agents Professional Conduct and Client Care says (6.4) A licensee must not mislead a customer or client, nor provide false information.

Also, under the Registered Architects Act 2005 it is an offence for anyone to claim to be an architect who designs buildings unless he or she is registered. Only architects are entitled to use that title. A person pretending to be an architect can be fined up to $10,000.

Real estate agents need to check before placing advertising claiming that a named person is an architect. This can be done in seconds via the online New Zealand Architects Register at A search facility allows you to enter any name and then find out if that person is registered in New Zealand. There’s also a listing of former architects, incase the person who designed the house is retired or deceased.

Real estate agents should take this seriously. The NZRAB has laid complaints with the Advertising Standards Authority and the Commerce Commission. At the time of writing, the Real Estate Agents Authority was also investigating a breach and further complaints will be laid whenever more breaches are detected.

Architects work hard to gain their professional recognition, and so naturally they get grumpy when others try to cash in on that. Also, they fret when houses of, as they see it, dubious merit are falsely credited to their profession. Architects are asking real estate agents to show the same care as one would expect from any professional group.

Paul Jackman

CE New Zealand Registered Architects Board


Ultimate lifestyle resort in the Bay of Islands

Posted on: September 20th, 2009 | Filed in Architecture & Construction, Buying / Selling a home

eagles-nestThis has to be one of New Zealand’s premier private resort retreats – Eagles Nest; and it’s for sale!

I try to avoid using the blog to showcase property, but sometime I feel that a property deserves the attention. This is just such a property. A property that can without question be called “one in a million”. A property NZ can be proud of – a great export earner as the majority of guest I suspect would be from overseas, many experiencing NZ for the first time – what an experience!

You will need more than a lotto win to secure this resort which comprises 5 separate villas. The property is nestled high above Russell and has some of the most spectacular views across the beautiful bays and inlets that make up the Bay of Islands.

There are not many times a property like this comes up for sale and to have it featured on the website is kind of special. The task of selling it will not be easy for the team at Browns Sotheby’s but with the significant international traffic to the website from the US, UK and Australia the property is sure to recieve extensive coverage.


Greater disclosure of leaky homes advocated

Posted on: August 24th, 2009 | Filed in Architecture & Construction

istock_000000248264xsmallA timely piece in today’s NZ Herald brings to light the advocacy of greater transparency of potential issues surrounding leaky homes. Steve Koerber – an agent with Barfoot & Thompson shares his view that greater information should be provided to protect wouldbe purchasers, especially new immigrants.

In principle more transparency is to be championed, however identification of leaky homes and equally identification of non-leaky homes is not an exact science by any means.

Whilst the technology of detection has improved enormously over the past few years; without wholesale removal of cladding materials the extent of damage cannot be accessed. In fact the use of the term leaky homes is a degree of a misnomer – the fact is the leaking or egress of water is not in of itself the problem (houses have had leaks for years), it is the inadequate ventilation and appropriateness of construction materials and systems to protect buildings which ultimately lead to the structural damage to properties which is the problem.

As to the role of agents highlighting the impact of “leaky homes” – it is only recently that a few properties have been marketed as being leaky homes and are deliberately targeted to developers looking to take on such a project. Clearly every buyer wants to know for certain that the house they are proposing to buy is not a leaky home, however real estate agents act as selling agents for the seller and whilst they will always seek the most complete information on a property they can, they are not building inspectors, nor surveyors and therefore cannot be expected to provide any form of cast iron guarantee on a property beyond what the owner of the property shares with them.

Just as car buyers will judge the value of a pre-purchase inspection so should it be with a property.

A quick search on the website today reveals that there are only 13 listings that use the keyword of “leaky home” from amongst the 51,176 homes and lifestyle properties that are being marketed as for sale.

Of these 13, seven are properties with leaky home issues identified: a 4 bedroom house in Coastville, two townhouses in Henderson Valley, another townhouse in Mt Eden, a 3 bedroom townhouse in Mangere, a 4 bedroom property in Birkenhead described as “Stylish leaky home” and a 3 bedroom apartment in Auckland city.

On the other hand there are 6 properties which all claim to be in one form or another not likely to be prone to “leaky home” syndrome.

Properties listed on marketed as unlikely to be impacted by leaky home syndrome

Whilst the industry and the government may wish to see more transparency to provide protection to consumers on an issues such as this, it is very difficult and potentially very risky to make hard and fast statements one way or another. The best solution as advocated by Steve Koerber may be the implementation of a regulated inspection report for properties built since 1991.


Interest in residential sections on the rise

Posted on: August 18th, 2009 | Filed in Architecture & Construction, Buying / Selling a home

The news of the real estate market today seems to have centred around residential sections.

Harcourts CEO Bryan Thomson said “anecdotal feedback from around the real estate group indicated the level of buyer interest in residential sections had risen notably in recent months, in part because of a shortage of houses for sale“.

Well I can comfirm that supporting anecdotal feedback is hard facts – the statistics from the website of confirm there has been a lift in interest in residential sections. Counter to seasonal slowing of buyer interest the viewings for these sections has picked up since the beginning of April, over the past 6 weeks well over 6,000 unique visitors have been actively reviewing and researching sections.

Residential sections web traffic Aug 09

The key thing to consider in regard to sections is that almost every one of those unique visitors is reviewing the content of the listings with an serious interest as the content (unlike homes for sale) is not the most inspiring as sections are more about what the land holds for the future, than what it looks like today.

queenstown-section-aug-09One extreme exception to this rule is this amazing section I came across on the edge of Lake Wakatipu beside Queenstown, for here if you have a cool $6,000,000 you can build what could be the ultimate property in a world class location. It may only be just under 3 hectares (of course that is a staggering $2m per hectare or around $203 per square metre!) but what a location, what a view!!


Warm up New Zealand .. heat smart

Posted on: June 18th, 2009 | Filed in Architecture & Construction

Home insultion New Zealand government grants to insulate your homeThe government today officially launched the insulation and heating scheme announced in the budget last month. This initiative is designed to address a real issue which plagues NZ homes – inadequate insulation.

The undeniable fact is that a vast number of NZ homes are inadequately insulated leading to serous health impacts as well as wasted energy. Personally having been brought up in the UK and having lived in a country like Sweden I was staggered when I moved to NZ to see so many homes (almost all in the Auckland region) with no fitted heated system.

People always assume that if you live in a country like Sweden you must be every hardy to cope with sub-zero temperatures for months of the year – the reality is they are not as hardy as NZ’ers, they have houses that are super insulated coupled with true central heating. Every house, every office, every school, every factory is beautifully heated – the living conditions are excellent.

It begs the question why should NZ make excuses and have to put up with cold houses. The health advisors say that an ideal living room temperature is 18 degrees yet on average in NZ such rooms in winter barely reach 16 degrees.

So now with a $323m investment over 4 years the government is aiming to bring about change. The grant of up to $1,800 for a combination of insultion (ceiling and underfloor) and clean heating will apply for any home built before 2000. The intention is to see over the 4 years 180,000 homes insulted – that compares with only 60,000 homes insulated over the past 18 years.

The grants are not income related which means all the NZ housing stock will benefit, and potentially in 4 years time over half a million kiwis will be living in better insulated homes.

Creating a truly warm living environment goes far beyond just insulating the roof and underfloor, good design can play a large part; as with  double glazing, adequate draft preventions and more efficient heating systems, and in older houses – wall insulation. However any improvement in insulation is to be encouraged.

Applications for these grants need to be made through service providers in your area – ful details on this Ecca website. Take advantage because having lived in beautifully insulated homes, the benefits it brings are immeasurable.


Emerging concern over supply of new homes as consents plummet

The economic slowdown is firmly applying the brakes to the broad property market with the latest stats of building consents mirroring the record lows experienced in the real estate market.

The January stats show just 812 consented dwellings – the lowest since record began 34 years ago, with real estate sales in January at 3,706 the lowest since the early 90’s.

Whilst the median price for property is declining it is interesting to see that the average price of residential construction is actually increasing. Over the 9 month period from May 2008 to January 2009 the average value of residential consents rose from $310,000 to $393,000. Seen on this graph below the average value of consented residential construction on a 3 month moving average (red line) has now intersected with the average sales price of residential property again measured on a 3 month moving average basis (blue line).

NZ new home consents and property sales at Jan 09

This intersection is the first since early 2002 and highlights a couple of interesting trends.

  1. The very low level of new consents contain virtually no apartment developments so prevalent through the past decade which held consent values down.
  2. The market for new builds is maintained through more top end custom designed properties which is spiking the average, albeit from a low base of number of consents.

A consequence of this as highlight in the NBR is the very real possibility that such a drastic cut in new builds especially at the bottom end of the market generally serviced by group home builders could lead to a very real shortage of property with consequential impact on the supply side of the market.

And just before the howls begin from those that think we don’t need any more houses as the plane queue up to take kiwi’s to Australia it is worth reviewing the latest report from Statistics NZ which shows that despite the net record exodus to Australia of 35,400 in the 12 months to January 2009, the overall net migration was positive to the tune of 4,500 in the past year.


Building consents data provides valuable insight into property market trends

Posted on: December 9th, 2008 | Filed in Architecture & Construction, Buying / Selling a home

The latest headlines concerning the new homes market certainly echo the general sentiment of the economy – “Home Construction Slips” as reported highlights a 16 year low for new dwelling consents, just 1,173 issued in October – a far cry from the 2,377 in October 2006.

Equally “Architects say building industry on a knife edge” highlights the prospects for future consents in the coming year which are expected to remain depressed as 70% of those surveyed in the profession believing the industry will worsen in the next year with no bright outlook until 2010 or 2011.

The overall property market is intertwined with new builds, property transactions as well as renovations & alterations, and there is no doubt that everyone is well aware that these industries are collectively facing some major challenges as what has been a boom for the past 7 years has very quickly gone into reverse. As ever the future is unknown – yet is exactly what everyone wants to know!

To shed some light onto this matter I have analysed some historic data to examine this sector of the economy which between new builds and re-sale accounts for over $32 billion per annum (even in today’s depressed climate). Analysing the monthly data of residential consents and property sales since the beginning of 2002 shows some key trends these are presented in the graphs below:

Observing the trend of residential consents issues on a moving annual total basis (red line – left hand axis) against residential property sales (blue line – right hand axis) highlights the correlation of peaks and troughs, with the key period of Jan 2004 to Sep 2005 when the lines diverged driven in part by significant apartment developments.

The current period since June of 2007 has seen the very fast market correction of property sales matched to a slower reaction from the building industry to the credit crisis as the pipelining effect takes longer to flow through the system. The key numbers in this graph are the peak to current level of property sales – 120,000 to now 60,000 (not as yet called a trough!) and the current level of consents annualised at 20,000 from the peak of nearly 33,000 in June 2004.

The feedback from most economists is the fact that projected population growth a level of new builds of around 23,000 is what is required to sustain demand in the long term (Berl report of 2007 on The Economic Impact of Immigration on Housing in NZ speaks to a level of 23,600 per annum).

Matched against the prior graphs perspective of volume of consents and sales is this representation of the value of transactions and consents issued on a moving annual basis.

The most striking aspect is the extreme view of growth and subsequent slide of both the value of aggregated sales and consents issued. The former (blue line – right hand axis) showing again a faster slide from the peak of residential sales in value terms at the 12 months to June 2007 at $41 billion to the current level of $25 billion in the 12 months to October – an overall time period of just 16 months. The value of consents (red line – left hand axis) shows a slide in value from the peak through 2007 at around $8 billion per annum, already slipping through $6.5 billion.

The final analysis of this data is the average property price matched to average consent value.

Here the graph exhibits a clear parallel of trend albeit with a divergence of average value to transaction sale whereby in 2003 the gap was around $40,000 climbing in 2005 to $70,000 before hitting a peak in late 2007 at $120,000. The subsequent slide in this differential is shown by the graph below for the period of the last 4 months to October when average selling price has come back nearly $30,000 and average consent value has actually risen by $30,000.


UK migrants to NZ – a good knowledge of local building issues is vital

Posted on: August 7th, 2008 | Filed in Architecture & Construction, Buying / Selling a home

Only last month we had the Dutch reporting on how our houses were so cheap and now this month we have an article in the respected UK Guardian newspaper telling prospective migrants to be wary of buying houses in NZ. On the one hand such profile is encouraging, clearly with economic and social issues in the UK, NZ is attracting attention for people looking for a new life; however more accurate reporting of facts would help as this UK article has some significant inaccuracies.

I therefore thought it would be beneficial for UK readers to get some clarity on specifics raised in the article:

  1. “The market is certainly going through a difficult stage. In the past three years interest rates have risen by 3%, the price of petrol has doubled and inflation is bordering 4%, but people’s salaries have not kept up with inflation” – the first three facts are correct and reflect most countries, but to say salaries have not kept pace with inflation is not true.
  2. “New Zealand is currently plagued with a unique phenomenon called leaky homes” – I think a plague would be significantly overstating the facts – there are a large number of homes impacted to a greater or lesser degree in some areas of the country, if they amounted to 10,000 I would be surprised – that would be around 1% of all homes, hardly a plague. Also leaky homes are not a unique phenomenon, the Canadians in British Columbia experienced such an issue in the 90’s.
  3. “The problem (of leaky homes) is down to the architects, builders and councils – and also because the forestry groups promote untreated pine and the Building Industry Authority mistakenly approves it.” – untreated pine was used up until 2003, since then changes to Building Industry regulations have made treated pine mandatory. In additon a raft of other stringent regulations concerning weather tightness have been implemented as well as new Building Act.
  4. “It’s important to check what materials were used in the construction of the house. Look out for exterior walls made of single-layered bricks supported by a wooden frame. Also, while wooden weatherboards were once common they have now been replaced by cheaper alternatives. These are fibre or cement sheeting, mostly known as Fibrolite, Hardiplank or monolithic cladding. (Hardiplank is known to have contributed to the leaky homes syndrome.) Check for roofs made of galvanised steel and tiles of bitumen, pebble or cement. These materials, while saving on cost of construction, often compromise the durability of these houses”. This is a bit of a muddle, brick veneer on a timber frame is very common form of NZ construction of single level homes, built to design specifications they should provide no problems at all, in fact many UK homes are brick veneer (double brick) on a timber frame.
    Timber weather boards are still used, however the new form of fibre cement board under the brand of Linear are highly durable and not just a cheaper alternative. This form of weatherboard is a recent development. Fibrolite, Hardiplank and other monolithic cladding are used much less these days than in they were in the 90’s.
    A vast number of NZ homes have galvanised steel roofs, this is a part of NZ and have been for many decades, equally bitumen or concrete roof tiles, all of these options if well maintained provide a very durable system.
  5. “That’s not all. In New Zealand, a lot of insurance policies don’t cover termite damage or structural problems, making repairs expensive” – we don’t have termites in NZ, we have bora which can be a danger. As for insurance I think you would not find any significant difference between NZ and UK.

Whilst I don’t think the article was designed to be alarmist, it could have been interpreted that way, the best advice which I am sure any prospective buyer would do, whether a local buyer of new migrant is to get a detailed building inspection report, after all a $1,000 report is a small price to pay when making an investment of $400,000.

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