No one really knows what the future of housing looks like, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t imagine or plan for it as best we can. 

It’s even more audacious to suggest that we have the power to change and shape the future, but that’s exactly what I’m proposing for the housing industry -- starting now! 

We are at an important crossroads. One that is no less significant than at the end of World War II – when we ushered in the industrial age of housing – or following the “oil crisis” of the mid-1970s – when we first confronted our energy deficiencies. In fact, I’d argue that the direction we take from this current juncture will change housing to an even greater extent than those in our past… and to everyone’s benefit. 

Frankly, the drivers of this change are pretty clear: The things we’ve relied upon forever (or at least since indoor plumbing) are disappearing fast: Energy from fossil fuels, cheap skilled labor, abundant land, clean air and water, climate stability, predictable demographics, easy money, and Baby Boomers, just to name the headliners. Despite the fact that these factors have sustained the industry for over 50 years, they are fading fast. Very few within the industry are willing to admit this; much less prepare for it.  

So we have to think and act radically. Not to retain our legacy but to forge a new one. It’s not visionary; its reality. Without the stuff we’ve relied upon to get where we are, we can’t be what we are. We have to change to find a sustainable future.

I’m not talking about converting shipping containers for low-cost housing or going off the grid on a widespread scale. I’m talking about making smart, market-savvy changes, and much faster than the snail’s pace we typically move.

Take a look at the auto industry for clues into our future: Increasingly less dependence on fossil fuels, with a budding infrastructure to deliver new kinds of energy; better product design that delivers both comfort and performance; and a reliance on technology that not only adjusts to changing conditions but keeps you from backing into a baby carriage… the housing equivalent of leaving the oven on or the water running.

Here’s a thought for the future of housing: Reverse the system. Design and deliver homes and communities that replenish instead of deplete resources, like water, energy, clean air, and even food. We call it “Homes that Give Back,” and in fact our industry isn’t that far away from achieving it. It’s just in pieces right now, waiting to be assembled. We’ll talk more about that concept in future posts.

Look, I’m no fortune teller. But I’m no dummy, either. You don’t need a crystal ball to see that the current economic landscape, including the housing industry, is shifting every which way, and right down to its core. No one’s really ready for it, even those change-happy Millennials. Innovation is our industry’s future, and it’s a journey we should not only recognize and support, but welcome with enthusiasm, creativity, and guts.