While the housing industry tends to be very astute at researching, forecasting, and responding to customer preferences, it is not an industry that is particularly well-known for disruptive innovation. A decade ago, the same might have been said for the taxicab or the hotel market, prior to the introduction of companies like Uber, Lyft, HomeAway, and Airbnb. The impact of external disruptors is sometimes enough to completely revolutionize how we think about a particular aspect of our lives, such as hailing a cab or booking a vacation. Could this same type of innovation be on the horizon for the residential market?

These topics (and more) were on tap at the recent ULI Spring Meeting, held earlier this month in Detroit. RVi President Chris Crawford and Vice President Chip Mills were in attendance as part of the firm’s commitment to staying on the cutting edge of real estate development.

The future impact of autonomous vehicles is one topic that is receiving a lot of attention. Autonomous vehicle company May Mobility partnered with ULI at the Spring Meeting to provide a firsthand look at their driverless technology. Conference attendees, including our own Chip Mills, took a spin around Downtown Detroit in May’s driverless shuttles (pictured above).

Driverless technology raises many questions that are pertinent to the real estate market, including:

  • What are the broad implications for reduced dependence on vehicle ownership?
  • If our commute time can be spent working productively, how does that impact where we choose to live?
  • How can driverless vehicles be used to supplement existing public transportation systems?

The implications for the residential market include everything from geographic location of the community, to amenities offered, to flexibility in home design as garages and driveways become less important features.

Another hot topic in the residential market is the potential for 3D printed homes. This subject took center stage at the South by Southwest Conference in Austin this spring, where local startup Icon printed a 3D home on-site in less than two days, at a total cost of about $40,000. Icon co-founder Jason Ballard has noted his own personal frustrations with rebuilding his family home, which was destroyed by Hurricane Harvey last year. His concerns are not unique, as the housing industry is plagued by challenges like affordability and shortage of construction materials and labor. 3D printed homes have the potential to address all of these challenges, in addition to being crafted from materials that are far more resilient and sustainable than traditional homes.

Each of these technologies has the potential to completely transform the housing market, but each have many hurdles to overcome before they become mainstream. In the meantime, it is incumbent upon us as leaders in the planning and design industry to create a built environment that anticipates and is prepared to leverage disruptive innovators for the benefit of the community as a whole.