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The Naked House: The future of housing affordability?

If you’ve ever shopped around for a house or condo, terms like “designer cabinetry” or “engineere...

If you’ve ever shopped around for a house or condo, terms like “designer cabinetry” or “engineered hardwood” or “contemporary finishes” are probably familiar. While such phrases conjure up images of luxury, they can also come with big price tags.

But imagine if all those extras were stripped away and costs could be lowered. How many finishes do you really need for a home to be comfortable?

In highly unaffordable markets like Toronto, that threshold might be quite low if it means being able to afford a decent-sized home in a nice neighbourhood. Or at least that’s the idea behind Naked House, a London-based organization dedicated to building affordable homes with a unique bare-bones design.

The Naked House doesn’t include any of the expensive finishes and extras that almost always come with newly constructed homes. This means no flooring, no drywall, no partition walls, and only the most basic plumbing systems.

Why a Naked House can be attractive

This may seem a bit bleak for anyone conditioned to expect fully finished homes, but these “naked homes” can be sold significantly below market price and they allow owners to customize their homes to their exact needs and tastes.

Plus, the simple structure allows for adaptation over time. Current naked house designs in Enfield, U.K. can be reconfigured as occupant needs change. For instance, the double-height ceilings and built-in ledge partway up the walls allow for a second floor to be added with relative ease.

Foundation laid under the garden in the back also allows for an eventual rear addition, if desired.

This design philosophy enables those previously priced out of the market to buy a home they can move into immediately and improve and add to over time. This approach is creative, but not necessarily new – even for a North American market.

For instance, many newly built homes come with unfinished basements and some even come with unfinished second floors. The naked house concept has simply extended that concept to the rest of the house.

Not everyone will be willing to move into such an “empty” home, but it does create options for those who are open to designing and adjusting their living space as they live in it.

Naked homes are not the only unconventional and affordable housing design hitting the mainstream, though.

Recently, many cities across Canada including Toronto, Guelph, and Victoria have started using shipping containers to create simple and affordable housing for those experiencing homelessness or inadequate housing.

Even the rise in popularity of tiny houses is indicative of some people’s willingness – and excitement – to live in non-traditional and modest homes if it comes with a sense of ownership and customizability.

Just one part of the solution

However, some have argued the naked house is not the solution for the housing affordability crisis.

While the naked homes in Enfield are available to anyone making less than £90,000 ($142,000 Cdn) yearly, the expected sale price between £150,000 and £340,000 is still unattainable for many.

However, for people making too much to qualify for social housing and too little to afford market rate homes, naked homes in this price range can be a great opportunity.

The naked houses in Enfield will be single-family detached homes, but there is a lot of potential to extend this idea into condominiums as well.

Too often, condominium developments differentiate themselves by pushing luxury features and over-the-top amenities, resulting in very expensive units. But what if condo developers started differentiating themselves by providing the bare bones, just like a naked house?

The condos could have moveable walls that allow the configuration of the unit to change as the owner’s needs change. Any necessary finishes could be basic ones that owners can improve on over time, if they wish.

In big cities like Toronto and Vancouver, condos tend to be the cheapest option for prospective homeowners, yet they are still outside the price range of many. Perhaps applying the naked house model to condos could make them truly affordable.

Combined with other tools to tackle housing affordability, naked homes could make a real difference in expanding housing options for more people.

Construction of the first naked house models in Enfield is expected to start this year, but only time will tell how occupants will customize and reconfigure their new homes.

In the meantime, perhaps other places around the world should take note and start re-imagining the definition of “move-in ready.”

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