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Five questions for Willem van den Berg

A new-build home for all ages

12 July 2017

The population of the Netherlands is aging and people continue to live at home for a longer period of time. This is resulting in a growing demand for lifetime-compatible homes. So far, building such homes is still more expensive than traditional new-build and less popular with clients. Heijmans’ product developer Willem van den Berg sees standardization as a solution.

1. What is a lifetime-compatible home?

“A home that contains certain features that make it possible to make adjustments later on, without too much breaking and chiselling. This way, you guarantee user-friendliness and safety, so people with disabilities and the elderly in need of care can also continue to live there. For instance, the ability to place a stair lift. This way, the bathroom and bedroom on the first floor remain accessible. Or by incorporating extra water pipes and sewer pipes in a design, enlarging or moving a bathroom becomes child’s play.”

2. How do you make this residential building concept viable?

“By cost saving, the lifetime-compatible home can, from a pricing point of view, compete with a traditional new-build home. This can be done by including the lifetime-compatible home in the Heijmans Huismerk® and Heijmans Wenswonen® concepts. As we apply standardization in construction and cooperate with fixed partners, we achieve considerable cost savings.

Furthermore, certain aspects of the homes that fall under the umbrella of these concepts, already meet the additional guidelines and requirements for lifetime-compatible homes. For instance, wide internal doors without a threshold and a spacious area behind the front door. Also, all owner-occupied single-family homes are equipped with house control and the opportunity to expand using a special ‘care package’ will be one of the options. To keep this type of home appealing to families, it is important that lifetime-compatible homes do not look or feel any different than a traditional family home. We do not want a lifetime-compatible home to instantly exude ‘care’.

Willem van den Berg in the Boszoom neighbourhood in Pijnacker.

3. What are the obstacles?

“Currently, lifetime-compatible homes are bigger than traditional new-build homes due to additional requirements and guidelines; thus making them more expensive. There is hardly any room for smart solutions that make future new-build homes, lifetime-compatible in an as efficiently possible manner. This is why we need to talk to clients, so we can find some elbow room for creative alternatives. As long as this does not happen, the end user will pay for invisible adjustments. That will be a tough sell. Definitely, as this way, lifetime-compatible homes will remain more expensive than traditional homes. Standardization is, therefore, a must. It is the only manner in which we can develop and build lifetime-compatible homes on a large scale.

4. Is there sufficient demand?

“The population of the Netherlands is aging and in order to reduce costs, the government is encouraging people to live independently for a longer period of time. We are noticing a trend in which people between the age of fifty and eighty don’t want to move at all. And if they do choose to move, they prefer a home in their own or a nearby town. However, most seniors postpone moving until they can’t or don’t want to live independently anymore. How great would it be if also that group of people can continue to live in their own homes?

5. What’s in it for us?

“Many builders and project developers often consider lifetime-compatible residential housing as a separate project. They mainly focus on large-scale traditional residential building projects. This makes perfect sense, considering the current great demand. The same applies us to, however, at the same time we are consciously contemplating the lifetime-compatible home concept.

We really view it as a product. In that respect, Heijmans is showing that it is not afraid to pave the way. If we succeed in standardizing the concept together with our clients, we will own a beautiful, future-focused product. It will enable us to set ourselves apart from our competitors.