Are prefabs set to make a comeback?


In the years immediately following World War Two, around 150,000 prefabricated homes were built within the UK as a short-term response to the chronic shortage of usable homes. Initially designed to last for around 20 years, most of these properties are still standing today. They have had their fair share of bad press, due to some issues with structural soundness, yet in recent years prefabs are undoubtedly making a comeback. So why is this?

A serious housing shortage is once again gripping large parts of the UK, with not enough houses being constructed to meet the needs of an ever-growing population. A sustainable and affordable alternative to the current house building process is urgently needed. With prefab units able to be largely constructed off-site, their production times are usually a fraction of traditional builds, with the buildings able to be put together on site in a matter of days. This in turn can drive down the cost of their production, making them an attractive option for developers and buyers alike.

The process has been hugely refined since the days of ‘Wimpy no-fines’ construction, with prefab homes now sleek, stylish and at the cutting edge of design.  In fact, leading construction company Berkeley is set to produce its first ever factory-built development this year, with 16 prefabs already due to be built in southeast London and more set to follow.

One of the other driving factors behind this lean toward prefabs is fears for Britain’s workforce following the decision to leave the EU. In London, at least a quarter of all construction workers are from an Eastern European background. This has prompted fears that if free movement is heavily restricted, large numbers of these workers will be lost, putting huge pressure on an already overstretched construction industry.

There are concerns amongst some people that although the general feeling towards prefabs within the buildings industry is positive, the mortgage and insurance industries may be somewhat slower to get on-board. This can cause a certain level of anxiety amongst would-be builders, who fear that their project could end up unable to obtain a mortgage or insurance.

Traditionally, as soon as a mortgage valuation comes back with the dreaded ‘non-standard’ label, many lenders would run for the hills. Looking to the future, as ‘Grand Design’ style one off properties become more and more popular, the mortgage market is seeing a gradual softening of these attitudes. As long as such houses have a suitable build quality and an adequate design life, there is no reason that lenders should have any hesitations on providing on such properties.

Equally, although anything other than brick and tile construction can mean an instant decline from many insurers, more and more non-standard insurers are now creating specialist policies for a variety of unusual homes. Although in the beginning, the price of such policies may have been sky high, as more and more competition enters the marketplace, companies are being forced to remain competitive, making specialist insurance highly affordable for the masses.

It seems clear then that prefab homes are likely to continue to grow in popularity as the modern day population becomes more aware of the benefits they can offer. One of the major challenges they face is shaking off the stigma that post-war council owned properties can hold, of being unattractive and undesirable. As high spec developments begin to crop up all over the UK, it seems certain that these properties will soon be turning the tide of opinion, standing a decent chance of becoming the new norm within British house building.

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