February 16, 2020
There’s no avoiding the fact that we’re heading towards an accessible housing crisis. Demand for accessible and adapted homes has been steadily rising over the past few decades as a rapidly ageing population and increased desire for independent living solutions fuel demand. Unfortunately, the supply of new accessible homes onto the market hasn’t kept pace with this increased demand, leaving accessible home hunters with very few viable options.
There’s no denying that we have a steep mountain to climb if we’re going to address the accessible housing crisis - but we are seeing positive signs of action that show both local and national Government have put accessibility high on their agendas.
Research has shown that there are millions of Brits who are in need of accessible housing - from wheelchair users, to elderly people and anyone who suffers with limited mobility, there’s a huge market out there crying out for more suitable homes.
Part of the issue in the UK in particular is that our large number of period properties (Victorian and Georgian terraces for example) were not built with accessibility in mind and are incredibly difficult to modify or adapt without significant structural work. In fact, most period properties do not even meet the standards to be deemed “visitable” by persons with a disability.
So our existing housing stock isn’t going to provide an easy answer to addressing the accessible housing need. But, new build properties could offer a much more practical and realistic solution.
Making sure we design and build new homes with accessibility in mind results in a range of benefits. And not just for the wheelchair users or people with limited mobility that so desperately need them.
Firstly, accessible design standards, in many cases, are simply good design standards. Making sure that we design our new homes with generous spacious layouts, sturdy structural design and specifications that make it easy and cheap to adapt a property to meet changing needs is a good idea no matter which way you look at it.
Secondly, years of research have proven that demand for accessible homes is higher than ever and shows no signs of slowing down. Disability-focused charity Scope recently ran their ‘Purple Pound’ campaign attempting to highlight the spending power of disabled people to businesses who should be offering goods and services to this underserved niche.
As a property developer, surely you want to make sure that the houses you build appeal to the broadest possible market? So why would you build homes that are unsuitable for the more than 10% of the UK population who classify themselves as disabled?
There’s an active audience of disabled home-hunters happy to handover their hard-earned cash for the chance to live in a home that meets their needs - so it’s simply good business to offer a product for this captive audience.
Even if property developers up their game and start delivering high volumes of accessible new builds, we still need estate agents to market them effectively to ensure that they end up in the hands of the people that need them most.
In all honesty, estate agents haven’t had the best approach to the way they handle accessible homes. In many cases, estate agents feel that they simply don’t know how to advertise an accessible home and worry that they risk putting off other buyers or renters by highlighting accessible features.
We have heard of a number of cases where accessible homeowners looking to sell their properties were advised by their local estate agent to rip-out any accessible adaptations to ensure that the property appealed to the broadest possible market. With attitudes like this we stand little chance of successfully tackling the accessible housing crisis.
But, thankfully, tides are turning in the property industry as more and more estate agents have realised the value in this niche market. Increasingly, estate agents are including information about features like ramped access, wide doorways and accessible bathrooms when they advertise a property - making it much easier for disabled home hunters to accurately assess whether a property will meet their needs.
There are so many benefits to championing accessible housing - from future-proofing our housing stock, to facilitating independent living solutions for the millions of disabled people in the UK. But aside from the moral and societal arguments, there is a clear business benefit for both estate agents and property developers.
Agents and developers are the key to creating a truly accessible housing market - without these two key groups on-side, even the best laid plans and policies won’t have the necessary impact.
If developers can commit to putting accessibility at the heart of their developments, and estate agents can ensure that accessible features and adaptations are put front and centre when marketing a home, then we stand a chance of making the UK a blueprint for truly accessible housing.