This article appears in the April 2020 edition of Showhouse Magazine - the preeminent magazine for housebuilders and the new homes industry. Click here to see a digital version of the magazine. Click through to page 117: Showhouse April 2020
Most buyers will start life in a new home amid half unpacked boxes and a chunky handover file, that will gradually shed pages, gather dust and probably be out of date by the time homeowners need it. However, the humble handover pack could be about to metamorphose into something much more useful.
Nigel Walley, Managing Director of Chimni, explained that handover packs are undergoing various stages of evolution. “For years, housebuilders have created a handover pack to give to homeowners. Historically, it has been a lever arch file full of paper documents, including warranties and guarantees.”
These pieces of paper, vulnerable to tea spillage, are now being immortalised as PDFs. Walley calls this the first stage in the evolution process. However, they are simply a digital replica of the same material.
“The second stage is actually much more interesting, but we’re not there yet,” said Walley. This is where a manual ceases to be a bloated document written in 15 different languages.
“If you’re standing in your brand-new home and your central heating isn't working, what you don't want is a manual,” said Walley. “What you want is the answer to the question.”
If something fails in the home, people want simple, specific information. And so, manuals are morphing into apps which can give the user the information they need quickly and efficiently. However, rather than have an app for every appliance, it makes more sense to have them all in one place.
“That's where we get to the digital handover pack idea,” said Walley. “So, we now have this incredibly useful one stop shop.”
Companies such as Classic Folios have already created portals that help buyers with the aftercare of their new home. These portals provide a digital filing cabinet for home-related documents such as appliance manuals, certificates and legal agreements, keeping everything in one place. Classic Folios’ solution, Spaciable, also offers a range of ‘How To’ articles and videos.
Research by Classic Folios revealed that nearly a third of new home buyers are worried about finding problems after completion. Portals are a reassuring presence, as buyers know they can get the information they need when they need it. If an issue does arise, it can be quickly logged and actioned using an integrated defect management tool.
Apps such as Spaciable have a natural affinity with blocks of flats and Build to Rent providers, where there is an assumption that a managing group will retain some control of the block and the app. “As well as the ‘handover’ function, we are seeing some housebuilders try and develop concierge type services that are attractive to expensive blocks,” Walley said.
Chimni, on the other hand, have been concentrating their efforts on standalone freehold properties, which is previously unexplored territory. They are currently working with small housebuilders but are keen to progress to larger ones.
Their aim is to transform the handover pack into something more akin to a digital caretaker, who will be a permanent resident of the home.
“We're focusing on these tools being a companion piece for the whole life cycle of the home,” he said. “We've got elements which help planning applications for roof extensions, we've got a smart home bolt-on so you can add in all your smart devices, we’ve got insurance management.”
A digital companion is a very different beast to the digital handover pack, and a shift in mindset is needed to foster its development. “The question for the new homes industry is how far down the evolutionary path they want to go,” said Walley. “Is it just a digital version of the old lever arch file, or are we at the point yet where homes require a digital companion?”
It is expected that new homeowners will use the app in the so-called honeymoon period. However, whether people will use them again seems to depend on demographics. “What we are really beginning to see is different responses by audience,” said Walley. “At the moment, it seems to be conforming to most of our preconceptions. Younger, more digitally literate people are more accepting of it.”
Younger people are also more willing to experiment with the apps, putting in their own documents and plugging in their own assistance apps. Unsurprisingly, an older generation of homeowners are less inclined to do so.
Walley, who has a background in designing research tools for digital systems, isn’t surprised by this. Of course, older people are more likely to own standalone properties. “We are trying to square a circle at the moment,” said Walley. “We certainly wouldn't claim that the market is exploding open in front of us. It is still very early days.”
However, there is plenty of reason to suspect that the market will be soon. Walley said: “We've been looking at personal data and the attitudes towards personal data, and comparing it to the housing market. What became apparent was a huge number of organisations hold data about your home, whether it's utility companies, local authorities or the Land Registry Ordnance Survey.”
As we add companies such as Google Nest, smart kitchen appliances and Apple HomeKit, homes are becoming hotbeds of personal data which are being pumped into the clouds.
“It just struck us that homeowners are slowly going to become aware that there was a huge amount of digital data being held in the cloud about their homes, and they will overtime want more control of it, in the way we do with our personal data,” said Walley. “We've come at it from a ‘managing the data around your home’ point of view.”
It seems that the new homes industry is more than ready for the arrival of the digital companion – even if it doesn’t know it quite yet.