Posted 18 days ago

How 3D Printing Will Create Opportunities for the Real Estate Industry

It’s been quite the ride for the real estate industry lately.

While the recent rising interest rates have finally cooled the white-hot market, just a few months back, we were still seeing record home prices and the largest housing shortage in history. And even if would-be buyers are waiting for mortgage rates to fall, estimates show that the supply of homes in the U.S. is still roughly 3 million short of the demand.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we’ll be able to build enough new homes to keep up with demand anytime soon. Even before the extensive supply and labor shortages driven by the pandemic, home builders across the country were struggling to keep up, largely due to circumstances that first began back in the 2008 housing crisis.

It’s clear that new solutions are needed to solve our housing supply challenges. And I believe there is a likely answer ... though it comes from a very unlikely source: 3D printing.

How to 3D Print a Home

Have you always thought of 3D printing as that “cute fad” your nephew is obsessed with? Think again.

In 2018, Austin-based start-up ICON secured a building permit to print a home, becoming the first in America to do so. And they did so successfully, completing the 350-square-foot, two-bedroom home in just 47 hours. With a 10,000-pound, 46-foot 3D printer named Vulcan, the team at ICON manufactures homes using a proprietary concrete blend called Lavacrete, which is mixed on-site with water and additives and then pumped through the printer’s hose in thin layers as it moves across its track, erecting walls a few inches at a time.

And since the printer can work around the clock without breaks, the main structure of a 3D printed home is complete in a matter of hours, not months like a traditional build. After a few years of refining its technology, ICON is now printing much larger homes — and is doing so without the average four tons of construction waste that comes with a traditional new home build in the United States.

By reducing the time, labor, and waste that come with home construction, 3D printers like ICON can drastically reduce the costs associated with building a home.

Printing a Whole New Segment of Buyers

Most new homes in the U.S. cost between $100 and $200 per square foot to build. ICON’s 3D printed homes? They average out at roughly $8 per square foot. That’s upwards of 96% savings over a traditional build!

A significant percentage of renters in the United States claim they cannot afford to purchase a home. Even if traditional home builders could create enough supply to match 100% of the demand (which is unlikely), it still won’t solve the housing problems in the U.S. because the price tag is out of reach for so many.

With 3D printing, there’s a future where a brand new, 2,500-square-foot home costs well below $100,000 versus $250,000 to $500,000 for a traditional build. And when this future comes, it will open home ownership up to an entirely new segment of buyers.

How 3D-Printed Homes Will Impact the Real Estate Industry

With the potential for millions of new homes on the market, the real estate industry will see immediate impact from the rise of 3D printing. Here are some of the biggest changes to expect:

1. More eco-conscious buyers

A study conducted in 2020 showed that 89% of prospective buyers were interested in finding an eco-friendly home, with many abstaining from buying a home altogether due to its impact on the planet. Since 3D-printed homes reduce thousands of pounds of construction waste, utilize less timber, and require less carbon-emitting heavy machinery to construct, their eco-footprint is much lighter than a traditional home build. This will welcome a whole new segment of eco-conscious buyers into the market that need to be served.

2. More sales, more quickly
The median real estate agent in the U.S. sells 12 homes per year. However, agents should expect this to change quickly if they work in a market that welcomes 3D printing, as new inventory will become available weekly (or even daily) in some communities. Sales cycles will be faster, with agents serving more buyers than ever before.

3. More innovative lending policies
Even with the lower cost of 3D-printed homes, buyers will still need financing. This could be tricky, considering that many of the factors that kept these buyers from purchasing a home in the first place — low income, low credit score, insufficient down payment — still exist and would be red flags on a traditional mortgage application. Lenders will need to create more innovative solutions for these buyers if they want to successfully place them into homes.

Of course, this is only the tip of the iceberg. 3D printing is poised to bring major disruption to the real estate industry. But after the roller coaster ride of the past few years, what’s a little more disruption?

, formerly vice president of innovation and creativity at The Walt Disney Company, launched his iD8 & innov8 to help companies embed a culture of innovation and creativity across their entire organization. Duncan spent his 25-year career at Disney developing some of its most innovative ideas and strategies — ideas that would forever change the way the company expands its impact, trains its employees, and solves problems creatively.


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