We can print houses now. I written about this earlier, describing specifically for my country the potential to engineer a sharp deflation in home prices. In the Netherlands home prices are extremely and unnaturally inflated because of a confluence of government, industry and speculation mechanisms. It is now taken for granted that a house “that is actually worth living in” costs well over 200.000 euro. By any measure this is inflatory, a fact recognized by the WTA, which has demanded that the Netherlands suspends its practice of artificially subsidizing new homes. If you are a home owner you will hate what I am saying because every word I utter will reduce the value of your home as an investment. All your life you have bought in to a paradigm, as a home owner and consumer of mortgage, that you have to invest decades of your life in to a mortar and brick structure, a plot of land, and certain inalienable rights to live somewhere. You take it for granted, and when you invest in this paradigm you co-invest in the world view that your house has a significant intangible value, costing in excess of decades of your working life.
This is no longer based on reality. Real estate in the old sense is an inflatory bubble, equivalent to the tulip mania. New technologies will sharply reduce what it costs to create and implement real estate of a significantly higher quality of production than current existing stock.
The scarce article when it becomes possible to produce substantially cheaper houses on demand, is real estate approximate to high-demand land. Examples of high demand land are city centers such as Amsterdam. We used to buy so much in to this speculatory bubble that everywhere world wide we started constructing massive nightmarish suburbs. I have visited these suburbs in the Nedtherlands with nothing short of existential dread – Zoetermeer, Almere, Pijnacker. Cookie cutter hellholes that are functionally uninhabitable without a car.
To live somewhere you want facilities. Shops, transportation routes, spacing, social opportunities. You also demand space. You want to live somewhere that has access to central spots for living, and ideally you want to actually live “central”, or with immediate access to a center. Suburbs are catastrophic in this regard – extremely expensive constructs with no long term investment value. You will see Suburbs die very soon, largely because they are overprices and useless commodities. They offer no access to what we commonly would regard as “a life”. Unless you own a car, and it should be obvious that automobile transport is ending as a societal fixture. Several years from now only very few people will be able to own, less drive a car around. The era of largescale auto mobility is ending before our eyes.
So what will we see? I predict a new paradigm of very dense city centers, designed functionally the same as the city centers we now hold in demand – as a package deal, adjacent to lines of easy public transportation. I know a lot of people who abhor public transportation but I see no reasonable future alternative. These people will not be able to afford private travel in the same manner they have been accustomed to all their lives.
As an example, the Netherlands, space comes at a premium. We don’t have any. In the above paradigm of printed houses, I can easily see the emergence of a similar paradigm of printed surface. In our country such surface would have to come from the sea.
In the novel Diamond Age the author Neal Stephenson describes such a creative process, with land emerging from the sea as result of a highly convoluted nanotechnology rearranging structure and matter as to create artificial island in front of the cost of Shanghai. We have to decide where price will come down to meet market demand for new land. In other countries I can visualize space being “printed” underground. Subterrean living is generally regarded as nightmarish but that doesn’t have to be the case.
New construction methods will eventually deflate the existing ornamented market for houses, and I welcome all kinds of deflation. Our current economic models are broken, largely because we widely sustain and cultivate markets for artificially inflated objects, services and goods. Houses having become one completely fictional and overpriced commodity. I can’t wait to see these markets deflate by 75% or more.