Flexible Housing – Is it on your radar?

by Vanessa Roman04 Feb 2015
Every year real estate professionals coin new buzz words. Some of these terms are used to dress-up an otherwise dreary listing description by putting a positive spin on a negative feature – “cozy” means really small, “up and coming area” means high crime, and “classic character” means old and really out of date.
Others are more straightforward and can help to explain the various aspects of a real estate transaction: “fixed rate mortgage” for finance options, to “digital transaction” for paperless deals, to “diamond in the rough” for properties that need major renovations.
I came across a new one recently: Flexible Housing. It intrigued me because at first glance, it sounds suspiciously like vague marketing jargon used to describe non-conforming properties – “This could be your new home or business storefront… we’re flexible!” But as it turns out, the term actually does what it says on the tin: your home is flexible to your needs, and this is the latest lifestyle trend in new home construction.
Flexible Houses, or FlexHousing as the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation calls it, are designed to be adaptable to the changing needs of an owner over the course of their lifetime. If you're a fan of the original Transformers cartoon – who isn't, right? – then imagine those changing shapes and moving bits and pieces happening internally while the external shell of the property stays the same.
Flexible Housing designs have multi-function floor plans; rooms can change in size and are easily modified to accommodate young children, people with disabilities or the elderly. The properties are pre-wired to facilitate upgrades in future technology infrastructure and pre-plumbed to adapt to any changes with minimal expense. They often incorporate surplus space which is used when the family size is at its maximum, but then easily reconfigured to allow for rental or commercial income after the kids have left the nest. 
In a broader sense, having a flexible building is not for short-term changes but for the structural adjustments over the lifetime of occupants and the property itself. Rather than moving when you have children or if disability affects you in later life, Flexible Housing designs anticipate and prepare for your changing lifestyle needs years in advance.  
There are many advantages to this type of construction. For the first-time buyer, it means having rental income which can make affording a new home easier, and for young couples, it is the benefit of having flexible space to raise a growing family. For the ever-aging population who may have trouble climbing stairs or need wheelchair accessibility, building or buying a flexible property allows them to live on the main floor while easily converting the lower level into a rental suite. The resale potential is also high for FlexHousing designs because the property can be adjusted to suit a new owner, whatever their individual needs might be.
The prospect of a property owners can adapt to suit their lifetime of changing needs opens a whole new set of possibilities for those of us working in the real estate industry. While the volume of flexible housing currently available in the marketplace is relatively low, it is a design style which will become increasingly popular in communities not only in Canada, but around the world.
Most real estate buzz words are empty, meaningless. They disappear quickly because they lack substance and savvy buyers and sellers see through them. But I predict “Flexible Housing” is going to be a term with longevity, sparking a new generation of sustainable housing which has life-long opportunities.

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