Home builders, it's sometimes taken for granted, are in the consumer durables business, among others. The list includes marketing, logistics, real estate investment, land development, finance, manufacturing, and you name it.
Some of them--home builders, that is--are trying to act more that way, even though playing the buy-low-sell-high asymmetries of lots, labor, and lending has proven to be a reliable, if cyclical strategy, tied to booms and busts. Some of them are even waking up to an acknowledgment of the greatest asymmetry of all--that all of us need shelter of one sort or other to survive--that [almost] always tilts the playing field in their favor.
And, importantly, some home builders are taking more of a consumer-trends-centric view of their business models even though a home purchase is a consumer durable like no other for most of us who buy one--the single, most-expensive purchase in our lives.
So, you might think that the rules of "macro consumer trends" that may explain why a select few products, services, and experiences may enjoy a meteoric path of growth in the year ahead, while others tend to anchor themselves in a more gravitationally challenged dimension don't or won't apply in home building.
Demographics, jobs, incomes, and overall economic confidence explain all there is to know about new home demand, most folks in the field believe, and they turn to history to back up that belief. These other trends, and their observation by futurists and marketing gurus and the like may be helpful when it comes to marketing of mainstream consumer products and services, but the motivation to buy a home, let alone a new home, falls into a category no trends meister can touch.
So conventional wisdom goes.
Conventional wisdom--for all the value it has helped create and preserve in home building over the past century--may finally have met its match.
While a lot of commentary on Trends to Watch in the Year Ahead is gobbledeegook, it's what underlies these themes builders should take careful, existentially critical note of, especially when business lifespans occur increasingly on sped-up sigmoid-curves, from birth to demise, in a flicker. And, especially now, as what has been thought to be a great, fundamentals-driven run of demand that could last years instead teeters on stillbirth, a run of years amounting to nothing more than "pent-up" demand.
And what underlies the trends to speak of--noted here by Trendwatching.com global head of trends and insights David Mattin--are forces residential investors, developers, designers, and builders (and their partners) need to listen to closely and speak to fluently.
Here's the way Mattin outlines the five macro forces around consumer expectations that anyone selling anything--even the most expensive consumer durable we'll buy--need to know. As in, or else, risk oblivion.
- LEGISLATIVE BRANDS: Progressive consumers will welcome the ‘law of the brand’.
- LAB RATS: Why an extreme test and fix mindset is the future of wellness.
- OPEN SOURCE SOLUTIONS: A bold new frontier for sustainability.
- SUPERHUMAN RESOURCES: It’s time for our emerging AI overlords to play fair.
- FANTASY IRL: Imagined and real worlds collide in the name of play.
There you have it. Gobbledygook, right?
Not so fast.
Consumer trends, after all, reflect our consumerist society's way of working Darwinian principles of natural selection into economic markets.
Having things, having more things, connecting with others, being superior to others, and beating life's challenges are primitive hunter-gatherer survival and thriving urges, and the five themes above are merely evolved ways we people use resources at our means to live, propagate, plan, protect, prosper, etc.
Take the first, Legislative Brands, wherein consumers reward "good-player" goods and services with the one thing that matters to the marketers of those brands, enthusiastic patronage. Home builders do something noble--they make communities; they provide people on a. one to one basis with a platform to live their American Dream--and they certainly can become more likeable as organizations, as brands that "do the right thing" by people and the planet.
The second theme, Lab Rats, presupposes that consumers have rising expectations that marketers of complex systesm, like homes, have the capacity to get all the respective technologies and materials and processes in the home to behave in such a way as to nurture and promote the health and well-being of the home's inhabitants. In many ways, this is precisely the experiment we are conducting with KB Home and the team of manufacturers, suppliers, design and engineering players who are behind the KB Home ProjeKt. ProjeKt--which you can visit in Las Vegas's Inspirada community in early 2019--is a step forward in the collaborative, inter-operating, and integrated design and engineering of a home's air quality, water quality, room comfort, lighting, and noise levels, all aiming for a single outcome, better sleep, more peace-of-mind, and a greater sense of energy. We say, it's #wheretomorrowlives.
Open Source Solutions looks at another way that consumers will reward companies as good earth citizens. We'll choose to buy from organizations who not only work and produce sustain-ably, but who recognize ways to pay those processes and outcomes forward, and share them with other builders, developers, manufacturers. Double-time on processes that help repair and regenerate the planet's ability to heal itself is a given. Companies that share knowledge in how and what they're doing that's succeeding on this front will earn attention, and draw in buyers.
The fourth trend focus--Superhuman Resources--looks at the capacity for tech-enabled data to gain currency in positive, not negative, social impact around biases, exclusion, and unfairness. Housing's split personality, serving both discretionary buyers and renters with means to choose nearly or exactly what they want and involuntary residents whose financial condition allows no room for choice, puts private sector players in two worlds, one business and one social. An ability to leverage never-before-imagined data measures that look both backward at behavioral history and forward predictively offer the prospect of an accountability standard we've never known before. As Mattin notes:
Why is this the key technology challenge for 2019? Recent years have seen rising awareness of both how much of our lives are shaped by decisions made by AI and algorithms, but also just how fallible and biased decisions made by those algorithms can be. The news keeps coming, and it isn’t pretty: take evidence of facial recognition systems being significantly more reliable on white male faces (what a surprise 😬), or worse disproportionately flagging black politicians as criminals. Or Amazon discontinuing its algorithmically-fueled hiring tool, which turned out to be biased against women.
The fifth trend, and maybe the most unsettling of all, acknowledges the hard, dollars-and-cents reality of fantasy. How significantly does this "collision" of imagined and real worlds figure into what people who buy your homes regard as live-ability, of sanctuary, the very nature of what is home. Mattin writes:
Yes, 24/7 connectivity and digital experiences that blur the boundaries of the real and virtual are not 'new' trends, but in 2019 their convergence will reach deeper than ever before into culture. Your customer is now a veritable escape artist, able to plug into a universe of their choosing – from the battle royales of Fortnite, to their fantasy sports league – at any moment. At home, stuck in traffic, bored in a meeting...the scope to imagine, escape, explore, create and connect is unlimited.
The reflexive response among residential builders, architects, investors, manufacturers, disributors, and other partners might be, "yes, but, what does that have to do with what we do?"
The reflexive next response should be, "what doesn't it?"