Reimagining house building in NZ with modular homes

Homes manufactured like cars in southern China could be one answer to the Auckland housing crisis for first home buyers. The first three of 16 identical terrace homes have landed in Hobsonville Point by crane and will sell from $650,000 each. The goal of newly founded housing provider Neilston Group […]

Homes manufactured like cars in southern China could be one answer to the Auckland housing crisis for first home buyers.

The first three of 16 identical terrace homes have landed in Hobsonville Point by crane and will sell from $650,000 each.

The goal of newly founded housing provider Neilston Group is to supply the Auckland market with three-bedroom starter homes priced in or below the $800,000s.

The Modul home is one design: a three-bedroom, one-and-a-half bathroom unit suited to first home buyers.

Sean McCabe/Supplied

The Modul home is one design: a three-bedroom, one-and-a-half bathroom unit suited to first home buyers.

Managing director Tony Houston, managing director of Neilston said the impossibility of building affordable housing on our shores inspired a three-year exploration of a new business model.

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Managing director of Neilston Group, Tony Houston in the living room of one of the recently arrived Modul homes.

Sean McCabe/Supplied

Managing director of Neilston Group, Tony Houston in the living room of one of the recently arrived Modul homes.

As well as offering these homes directly onto the market, Houston’s company would also supply homes under Kāinga Ora’s Axis Series homes (at Hobsonville Point), and was exploring options with KiwiBuild.

The key difference between a Modul home and a prefabricated home was that it’s entirely constructed in Guangzhou. The entire manufacturing and shipping process takes about four months.

“We pick it up at the port, we take it straight to site and crane it on. We did the first three houses in one day, and we intend to put all 12 on our next site in one day,” said Houston.

“KiwiBuild have built about 385 houses in the last three years. The rest of the open market has built 75,000 houses. The reason for that is, it’s almost impossible to build affordable houses in New Zealand.”

Houston said he estimates 500 to 1000 houses like this could be built by his company annually.

Sean McCabe/Supplied

Houston said he estimates 500 to 1000 houses like this could be built by his company annually.

Houston, who previously owned G.J. Gardner franchises on the North Shore and in West Auckland, said the cheaper cost of materials and labour in China make the price point feasible.

He is approaching house-building like manufacturing cars to achieve economies of scale.

Neilston Group is partnered with a large Chinese factory, who Houston declined to name, with the capacity to make New Zealand’s entire annual housing stock in 12 weeks, he said.

“Imagine if everybody had a unique car how much that would cost. We have one design,” said Houston.

“It’s manufacturing houses, we’re not actually building them. The large components are delivered by truck and crane, then a small number of tradespeople and craftspeople finish the home and landscaping. Gone are the months of buzz saws or jackhammers or other power tools next door, as well as numerous truck deliveries and other hazards.”

NEILSTON GROUP

The identical three-bedroom homes are built entirely in China, then shipped to Auckland to sell to first home buyers from $650K.

That one design is four modules: two 6m units downstairs and two 9m modules upstairs that are cantilevered above the others.

The major ingredient is steel, which Houston said will make the homes 95 per cent recyclable as well.

Auckland company Shanahan Architects designed the Modul with the aim of a Homestar 6 rating, which will save you $5000 in energy consumption over five years.

The 99 sqm houses have a multiproof consent from the Ministry of Building, Innovation and Employment and come triple-insulated, double-glazed and with thermally broken windows and LED lights.

All the fittings, finishings and appliances are included.

The design is a two-storey terrace house with a simple open-plan living space.

Sean McCabe/Supplied

The design is a two-storey terrace house with a simple open-plan living space.

The company is building 26 new homes at Hobsonville Point. Twelve will be the affordable Axis Series homes, starting from $650,000, Houston said.

A further 130 houses were planned for Mt Roskill.

“We’re not trying to be everything to everyone. We’re aiming at the people looking for a first home, that they can afford, in a place they want to live in,” said Houston.

“We think three bedrooms is really important for a first home buyer. It gives you options. It gives you the ability to get a flatmate or two to help offset the mortgage. Or you might plan or children, or be working from home.”

The other key design feature is the upstairs family bathroom (with a bath for any potential children) and a separate toilet downstairs by the open living space.

All three of the new Hobsonville Point homes are on Nugget Avenue.

Houston said the firsthand experience of helping his five children house hunt in Auckland was an inspiration.

“My step-daughter got into a duplex in Ellerslie last year. It was 50-years-old, Homestar 1, needed lots of maintenance and was $800,000.”

It’s his opinion that the average millennial buyer isn’t keen on the Kiwi doer-upper dream. Rather, they want something new, warm, and well-located.

“By manufacturing these homes off-site, in this case off-shore, then transporting them in one simple movement onto their residential site, we can make cost savings – for example avoiding the exorbitant price of building materials in New Zealand – and pass these savings on to home buyers,” said Houston.

“New Zealand has a long tradition of format design and prefab building but Modul homes take this to a whole new level, both in terms of the quality of design and specification, as well as the efficiency of construction and price point,” he said

The upstairs is comprised of two 6m modules, which are cantilevered over another two 9m modules downstairs.

Sean McCabe/Supplied

The upstairs is comprised of two 6m modules, which are cantilevered over another two 9m modules downstairs.

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