IKEA is doing for Scandinavia and Northern England, what Home Depot is doing for America's Gulf Coast region -- offering affordable "kit homes" off the shelf.
Housing affordability issues differ depending upon which side of The Pond you call home, but in both cases the technology used and marketing efforts employed are quite similar.
And, while hearkening back to the era of Sears catalog home sales, the two new efforts offer hope for more affordable specialized housing.
Leiden, The Netherlands-based IKEA, through its BoKlok (pronounced "boo clook") venture with Solna, Sweden-based real estate developer Skanska, is taking its signature, flatpacked, build-it-yourself home furnishings to new levels -- as high as a two-story home.
Materials for the first factory-built, timber-framed homes shipped in "flatpacks" (a method of bundling materials) sold in the United Kingdom recently went on sale at an IKEA store near Gateshead International Stadium.
The first batch of homes purchased are specifically slated for construction in Newcastle-based Live Smart @ Home's development in nearby Gateshead, Tyne and Wear County in northeastern England.
Samples appearing much like prefabricated or modular homes built in the United States, but with more of the minimalist Scandinavian design of IKEA, the one- to three-bedroom homes are manufactured with a heavily-insulated, energy-efficient, closed-panel system wooden flooring, a choice of roofing materials, furnished kitchens, are designed with a flexible open layout, high ceilings and large windows and come with free IKEA interior design advice and a furniture voucher.
The homes are sold for £90,000 (approximately $185,000) for a one-bedroom home, to £160,000 (approximately $327,000) for a three-bed room house, including construction, and are specifically earmarked for first-time home buyers. Recent reports say one in four young working English households can't afford the cheapest homes.
IKEA home buyers won't have to come up with super-sized Allen wrenches or find storage for left over extra-large wooden connector pegs. Live Smart @ Home is charged with professionally erecting the homes to code in the Gateshead development and is also responsible for having them thoroughly inspected before owners move in. The homes will be constructed in groups of pods of two or four or more homes, rather than as single-family homes.
The housing has already gotten a stamp of approval from England's northern neighbors. Some 800 of all 1,000 BoKlok homes that go up every year are constructed in Sweden, the largest and original market for the properties beginning a decade ago. The concept was introduced in Finland in 2002, Norway in 2003 and Denmark in 2004. Some 500 flatpack homes a year are slated for England.
IKEA homes aren't coming to America in the near future but the Katrina Cottage, a similar venture has already arrived.
Big box warehouse, Lowe's Companies Inc., this summer expanded to the Internet sales of blueprints and materials for the Katrina Cottage, named for the home-wrecking hurricane that prompted it's development.
Along with Internet sales, all Lowe's stores offer the homes in 11 floor plans ranging from a two-bedroom 544 square foot models with a front porch, to a five-bedroom, two-story, 1,807 square foot unit.
The Katrina Cottage was designed and developed by New York architect Marianne Cusato of Cusato Cottages, LLC, as a more aesthetically appealing and durable housing alternative to those grim-looking Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers (FEMA Trailers).
The Katrina Cottage is designed to withstand heavy rain and winds up to 140 miles per hour, they also meet hurricane codes for wind resistance and the International Building Code. Materials-only packages, starting at about $30,000, include all materials necessary to build the cottage from the foundation plate up -- studs, framing, insulation, moisture- and mold-resistant drywall, rot- and termite-resistant siding, fixtures, electrical, plumbing, 25-year warranted metal roofing, even appliances.
Because the homes are single-family detached rather than placed in a development, as in Gateshead, the home owner will have to supply land, a foundation, an HVAC system (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) and, of course, their own furnishings.
Lowe's says its product is a "materials package" rather than a "kit" shipped all at once. Materials are shipped to include, say, lumber and hardware in one shipment, lighting, plumbing and other fixtures in another, flooring and appliances in still another and so on.
Material packages generally require a professional contractor or highly skilled do-it-yourselfer to assemble the home in six to eight weeks.
Some affordable housing experts consider the Katrina Cottage, the IKEA-BoKlok homes and others like them, destined to fill affordable home gaps elsewhere, much as did Sear's popular mail order "kit homes" program.
Officially called "Modern Homes", the print catalogue-based program delivered 100,000 home-building kits to thousands of empty lots from 1908-1940.
Some of the early Sear's kit homes cost a fraction of the $700 it costs today just to buy blueprints for the Katrina Cottage.
For example, In 1908, the 1,300 square foot, three-bedroom Greenview started at $443! In the good old days of housing, one Sear's home was originally "listed" at $107!