Learning how to do the sums over space for living

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Show homes are designed to be seductive but the picture perfect interiors can you leave you blind to reality.

Before “oohing” at the glossy kitchen and “ahhing” at the fashionable soft furnishings, you should check out the square metres, say the Royal Institute of British Architects.

The RIBA’s Case for Space report reveals that the average new home in Britain is eight square metres short of a recommended minimum size. Yorkshire is the worst performer. Here, the average new three-bedroom home is 83m2, which is 13m2 less than standards recently set out for London.

The problem is that many buyers can’t relate the numbers to space, which is why RIBA’s Yorkshire branch is taking to the streets.

On May 10 and 11 from 11am to 3pm, a team headed by RIBA regional director Emma England, will be laying out an 8m2 lino mat topped with a sofa in Victoria Gardens on the Headrow in Leeds.

The aim is to show people what is missing from the average new-build, though the square metre message is one that is equally useful for those buying older homes.

Rebecca Roberts-Hughes, author of the Case for Space report, says: “Eight square metres may not sound a lot but it is the equivalent of a single bedroom, seven square metres is a galley kitchen, so in lifestyle terms it’s the space for a new arrival to the family, the space that means the kids have a room of their own. It’s the space that could take the kitchen out of the lounge and the sounds and smells that go with it.”

The RIBA is campaigning for better labelling and understanding. It wants house-builders and estate agents to highlight the overall floor area of a property along with indicative floor plans featuring furniture.

It has also called on the Government to work with the house building industry to produce a voluntary agreement to ensure developers publish data about size.

Yorkshire estate agency Dacre Son and Hartley was one of the first to introduce floor plans on property brochures, but its New Homes director John Shaw says buyers are still largely ignorant about square metres and what they mean.

“In my experience most buyers don’t ask about floor area, though we were one of the first to include floor plans on property details and this helps a buyer considerably, both in terms of appreciating the space and the layout,” says Mr Shaw, who adds that other factors should be taken into consideration.

“I would be in favour of the floor area being used more widely by developers to promote awareness of space but by doing so buyers could focus too much on that number rather than other things such as layout, quality and location.

“If you ask a buyer if they want more space then they are likely to say ‘yes’ but affordability is the most important consideration. It’s all very well building more spacious new homes but buyers need to be able to afford them. Size does affect cost. Interestingly, we have seen one of our house-builder clients return to planning half way through a scheme to obtain consent for smaller two storey homes as it became apparent that they were selling better than the larger three storey houses with a bigger floor area.”

But John Orrell, chair of RIBA Yorkshire Regional Council and founder member of the regional housing group is adamant that we should be building bigger.

“It is very disappointing that the Yorkshire and Humber region has the worst record in the country.

“It is difficult to accept why families in our region have to settle for less. Factors that may influence the size and affordability of new homes, such as land values and planning restrictions are equally onerous, if not more so, in many other regions, so it is time for people in our area to be bothered about being bottom and demand better.”

Be space savvy:

The total floor area of a property is always included on the first page of a property’s energy performance certificate, which should be made available to prospective buyers. Check whether the figure is gross internal or external.

The RIBA’s website www.behomewise.co.uk includes The Nest Test, an easy-to-use online calculator, that helps home seekers to find out what the floor area of their home should be according to the recommended standards.

When you have the floor area you can also check whether the price of the property is good value for the area. To do this, divide the price of the property by the floor area to get a price per square metre. For example, for a property which costs £200,000 and has a total floor area of 50m2 the calculation is £200,000 / 50m2 = £4,000 per m2. In this way you can compare the price per square metre of different properties, though other factors such as style, location and outside space can affect the property value, so be sure to compare like with like.