OPINION: Climate change and housing market - Simon Smith

School children inside the Otrivin Air Bubble in the Cop26 Green Zone

School children inside the Otrivin Air Bubble in the Cop26 Green Zone in Glasgow, designed to raise awareness of the world's largest environmental health threat - air pollution - Credit: PA

Good Cop? Or bad Cop? I refer, of course, not to the favoured interrogation technique of 1970’s television detectives but to the global Glasgow get together in which teams of diplomats, politicians, scientists and advisors from around the world fly to Scotland to discuss how to reduce their carbon emissions. 

It’s no joking matter of course, and if even the mid-range predictions of the trouble that lies ahead prove to be right then there will be profound changes to the way we live if we are to adapt to a changing world with a changing climate. 

How will climate change impact on the world of property? I think it’s almost certain that methods of construction will have to change to either increase the energy efficiency of the finished property, and also to be less energy intensive in the preparation of the materials themselves. 

The appetite amongst home buyers for properties built of new materials will be interesting to see. The purchase of a home is the biggest financial commitment many people will make over their lifetime, and when it comes to choosing a property which will indebt them for the next twenty-five to thirty years, consumers are notoriously conservative in their tastes. 

After housing, the ‘biggest ticket’ consumer items are generally held to be cars, and it’s taken a long time for public acceptance of electric cars to become anywhere near commonplace, and that is with legislation helping matters along with the government banning the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles from the end of the decade. 

This further raises the question of whether the government will eventually legislate to force all housebuilders to use eco materials in an attempt to engineer market changes, and we have seen this already to a degree (no pun intended) with local authority planning departments making air source heat pumps and the now ubiquitous solar panels compulsory on new developments. 

Of course. the fundamental difference between a car, indeed almost all consumer items, and property is that we accept that a car will reduce in value during the period of our ownership and we factor that in when we look to trade up. With property however, we expect the opposite, that our investment will show a return and that of course is fundamental to the very concept of a ‘housing ladder’ where the increase in value of our first property provides the equity to move up to the next property and so on, and I suspect that it will be the niggling doubt at the back of a buyers mind that those first pioneering, ground breaking, trend setting properties may not provide that leverage to move up the ladder when the times come to move. 

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Equally interesting will be how the current stock, effectively the whole of which was built to be powered by fossil fuels in one form or another, can be adapted for a green future. All electric heating powered by renewables? All those millions of gas boilers having to be replaced by air source heat pumps? Who would do the work, and most importantly, who will pay? When the Blair government signed up to the Tokyo climate accord and undertook to have all properties assessed for their energy efficiency, they did so by forcing home owners to commission Energy Performance Certificates when a property was sold or re-let, and using that as a precedent it could easily occur to the present government that making homeowners pay for any ‘re-greening’ of their property when it sells would be, for them, a cheap option. 

Scrying in our crystal balls and looking into the future, what other changes can we foresee in a climate sensitive property world? Will a punitive tax be placed on Georgian houses because of their energy inefficiency, meaning that there is a heavy price to pay for symmetry and that the famous Georgian crescents in Bath will become hollowed out shells where no one wants to live? Here in North Devon there is (rightly) a premium placed on properties with sea and river views, will this become inverted and home owners will proudly boast about how far from the sea they are? Or will property websites start to include an index of how far properties are above sea level? Only time, and the global thermometer, will tell. 

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