Modular homes – the shape of things to come?

Modular homes – the shape of things to come?

MODULAR MOVE: Shipping container and modular homes offer numerous benefits, not least the option of mobility, but are they viable alternatives to traditional homes?

High property prices, especially in and around metros, soaring building costs, rising consumer inflation and an increasingly subdued economy have fuelled the development of innovative alternatives, with a number of emergent trends transforming the traditional face of real estate and property ownership.

Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty chief executive, Yael Geffen, says: “These new-concept homes not only require less space, they are also generally considerably cheaper and quicker to construct.

“As the challenge of affordability continues to grow with first-time buyers increasingly struggling to enter the market, we expect the advent of modular homes – including those made from shipping containers and those constructed using cutting-edge technology – to become increasingly appealing over the coming decade.

“A UK engineering company recently developed and launched a range of self-deploying modular homes which unfold in under 10 minutes – without the need for builders, cranes or even foundations. A viable solution to providing cheap, quick housing for millions, the first community of these homes was built in El Salvador last year.”

3D-printing technology in housing has also taken off in recent years, also offering significant environmental benefits as the entire project is managed digitally from design to production, generating no waste with notable savings on the cost of materials due to the precision of optimised shapes.

However, the new innovation which has gained the most traction globally thus far is the shipping container home.

“Shipping containers are fireproof, floodproof and affordable to buy and maintain – and with around 14 million ‘out-of-service’ containers in the world, they are easily obtained,” says Geffen. “It’s no surprise then, that their conversion to modular homes is the fastest-growing emergent trend in this sector.”

Geffen says that the prefabricated and modular methods share key advantages, including:

  • Being more affordable.
  • Short construction time.
  • Predictable cost as most of the work is completed off-site for a fixed price. Delivery to site, site preparation, foundation and utility connections are the only variable costs.
  • Generally, modular and container homes are constructed off-site and most of the building code inspections will be done at the factory so they are delivered with approvals in place.

However, container homes benefit from the worldwide infrastructure built to move shipping containers around with relative ease.

But is there more to owning a container home than meets the eye and what are the legal implications when the time comes to sell?

According to Lara Colananni, conveyancing attorney at Guthrie Colananni, if the foundations render the home easy and cost effective to dismantle and move and the owner’s intention is to do so, the house is a movable fixture.

“However, if the owner demonstrates the intention of selling the land and container home together as one sells a house, then the container will be regarded as a permanent fixture and sold as such, with transfer duties then payable on the total value of the land and container home.”

Another common question regarding container homes is whether all the standard building regulations are applicable to a home that is not actually constructed.

Colananni says: “Safety regulations regarding the load and integrity of the container itself would be applicable and, if you altered it to become a dwelling by adding plumbing and electrical wiring, then the zoning and use regulations would also be applicable.”

She adds that all structures that are intended for use as dwellings need occupation certificates.

Geffen concludes: “Understandably, some people balk at the idea of living in a shipping container home, but if designed correctly with a little creativity and quality finishes, you can create a home that is virtually indistinguishable from traditional homes.

“And, if designed properly, a container home is practically indestructible; even stronger than traditional brick and mortar homes.”