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The new kind of Kiwi home

Mike Greer is a man on a mission to solve Auckland's housing affordability crisis. To do that, the director of Mike Greer Homes is building a lot of houses – thousands of them across the country – and he's doing it in an innovative and revolutionary way.

“I'm pretty passionate about making houses cheaper for Kiwis, and the way I do that is by building more and more homes. It reduces the price of what I buy materials for."

"I'm pretty passionate about making houses cheaper for Kiwis, and the way I do that is by building more and more homes."
Mike Greer, CEO of Mike Greer Homes NZ Limited

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He's built more than 3,000 in Canterbury since the 2011 earthquake, making him not just the biggest homebuilder in the region, but also the entire country.

Drive around any Christchurch suburb and you'll be passing Mike Greer Homes left and right. He's building about one in six homes there, while business in Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga is rapidly growing too.

It wasn't always the case. Before the earthquakes, Greer was building just under 300 houses in Canterbury annually, however the spike in demand for new homes post-quake meant the company went through a period of swift expansion.

“We had to triple the size of the business in Canterbury to keep up with the demand. It was one challenge after another," he says. “One of the biggest we encountered was that we had to find the resources to actually build the houses. We attracted staff from smaller regions of New Zealand, as well as from England, Ireland and the Philippines."

Building in Christchurch, Greer says, is the toughest place in the country to build – making expansion into other regions seem like a piece of cake by comparison.

“We have to deal with geotech issues, ground stability issues, flooding issues, and now contamination issues because there's been so much demolition of old housing stock and buildings," he says.

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ENORMOUS DEMAND

The sheer volume of demand in Canterbury has led to him constructing an enormous panelised building factory in Rolleston. The new business called Concision is a joint venture with building manufacturer Spanbild.

The factory uses German technology to produce pre-fabricated walls that are then constructed onsite. Every wall is cut to exact size before it's filled with insulation, then plasterboard is applied and windows are set in place. It also has the ability to apply Linea Weatherboard to the exterior walls and paint them before the completed walls are delivered to the building site.

The size of a rugby field, the $14 million factory cuts the time it takes to build a house in half. Traditional onsite building takes 20 to 22 weeks for a single level mid-sized home or up to 30 weeks for a multi-level home. By comparison, panelised houses produced by Concision take between eight to 10 weeks to construct, from laying the foundations through till when the last landscaper leaves, Greer says.

“This is the way Europe and Japan build houses, and to a lesser extent North America too, but it's pretty new to New Zealand. We're trying to improve productivity, improve quality of housing," he says. “The Rolleston factory has 25 full-time staff and can produce about 1,000 homes a year."

Greer is looking at a second factory to be opened in Pokeno, North Waikato, to service the growing upper North Island markets. Greer says this development is the future of the business.

“I expect residentially there will be a slowdown in Canterbury over the next three years," he says. “Long term we're planning to open more offices in Auckland as well as Hamilton and Tauranga."

With two offices in Auckland - the first in Newmarket opened three years ago, and a second office in Manukau opened in September - he expects to sell between 500 and 600 houses in Auckland next year.

In the next five years, with the planned second Concision factory, the Auckland business will ramp up to more than 1,000 houses produced each year, which will help to satisfy the demand in the region.

Housing affordability is a hot topic and Greer says factories like these will allow more people to get into their own homes.

“These types of facilities are probably the best way forward for building volume and reducing costs," he says. “I see it as integral for the housing affordability crisis and also the under supply that Auckland has."

Eighty per cent of housing transactions are for used homes, and Greer says the ability to reduce costs, as well as the time it takes to build, will make it more attractive to Kiwi house buyers to buy new over old.

“People are often surprised to learn they could get their own house built by us in a similar time period to a normal old house property transaction," he says.

They are also often cheaper. The 2014 What's On construction report listed Mike Greer Homes as the biggest builder of affordable homes with most selling for less than $NZ300,000 – under $NZ1,300 per square metre.

This is a far cry from the small start-up Greer began as a plucky 20-year-old more than two decades ago.

Originally from the West Coast, he moved to Christchurch as a teenager and at 18 he started a building apprenticeship. In 1994 he built his first house and he hasn't stopped since.

For many years he was working around the clock, running the business as well as roofing and painting himself to keep costs down. What he earned was reinvested back into the company as his reputation grew.

By the mid-2000s he had stepped away from construction and project management completely to take a more strategic office-based role in the business. This proved a good place to be as he navigated the quick growth period after the earthquakes.

“It was something that was thrown upon us without any of us wanting it. It meant we had to band together and resolve the challenges as they came and it's certainly been interesting."

Alongside the larger Mike Greer Homes brand is the premier Hills brand and a commercial construction branch, which builds retirement homes and commercial properties. And now with the Rolleston panelised technology factory and another planned for the North Island, Greer has a lot on his plate, however he doesn't stop to think too much about this; he likes to keep busy.

This story originally appeared in Fabric Magazine.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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