Sometimes, something comes along that just knocks my socks off, and SoloHaus by Hill Group is one of those things.

Hill is a familiar name in the property game, constructing high spec, high quality housing developments across London and the south In Oxford, Mosaics at Barton Park, on the northern edge of the city is one such build. With almost twenty years in the game myself, I am well advised on Hill developments but I hadn’t come across SoloHaus until just recently – and now that I have, I am determined to get the word out!

I’m jumping ahead slightly so let me just reverse here and provide some background to what becomes the most fantastic story. Hill Group was founded by Andy Hill back in 1999, after he was made redundant. Building a construction firm that has gone on to become one of the most recognisable names in the industry in the UK, The Hill Group is the second largest privately owned housebuilder in the UK. He admits that he was only able to achieve this with help and support from family, something that he recognises many people just simply do not have when facing similar circumstances. In 2019, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the business, Hill pledged to give back to the communities in which he operates by setting up Foundation 200, a £15 million initiative to provide modular homes for people experiencing homelessness. Following a report in 2019 about the staggering homeless crisis we have in the UK (over 250,000 people being classed as homeless on any given night in England alone) and recognising that circumstances such as he faced twenty years earlier can push many people into homelessness if help and support is not at hand. In April 2020, as the Covid-19 pandemic was just beginning to bite, Hill set up Foundation 200 with his pledge ‘to build and gift 200 free homes in order to provide hundreds of people a meanwhile home, in a safe, secure, purpose-built single dwelling.’

The SoloHaus is that solution, and it is remarkable.

Hill joined forces with Volumetric Modular Ltd, taking a 50% stake in what was at that time a start-up design and manufacturing business in Shrewsbury, whose mission was to design and produce MMC (Modern Method of Construction) properties. Thus, SoloHaus was born – a self-contained dwelling, fabricated and assembled in a factory environment in as little as 15 days. The homes are easily transported and deliverable on the back of a flatbed truck, able to be lifted off and into place within just 30 minutes. They are designed to be stackable (to two storeys) meaning that small sites can be put to use to create multiple dwellings, requiring only waste, water and electric connections. Each unit provides 24 square metres of comfortable living accommodation. These are the first homes of their type to be designed specifically for the homeless, and this has been realised in collaboration with homeless stakeholder groups to ensure the design is anti-ligature, secure and created to provide a safe place.  Built to Future Homes Standards, well insulated to retain heat in the winter but cool in the summer, the homes have proven to be cheap to run – just £5 in electricity costs, and this on a card-operated meter to encourage budgeting. For the end user, they provide safe, secure, comfortable and incredibly dignified accommodation, including fitted kitchen with integrated low energy white goods, fully furnished living room and bedroom with built in storage, plus a shower room with controlled-flow shower and dual flush cistern to reduce water consumption. These really are high quality individual homes that are quickly constructed and delivered, low carbon and sustainable – and with a 60 year BOPAS accredited life span, SoloHaus qualifies for grants, loans and mortgages.

People might feel that similar concepts have been tried before, but these are very different from the recycled, converted shipping container homes that gripped my own imagination once on a 1990s episode of Blue Peter (albeit that that particular idea stayed with me ever since). They are also very different from some of the modular and ‘fold-out’ homes that we have seen hitting the industry press over the past decade or so. And one of the main differences, of course, is their intent: deliberately low cost in delivery whilst maintaining high quality construction methods, and of course, notably, being specifically for homelessness. The interest from Local Authorities and other partners has meant Hill is delivering more Solohaus than expected including many purchased privately by affordable housing providers

These smart home solutions, with their intelligent objective makes me ponder whether they could provide a solution to other housing crises. As an Estate Agent, the first that springs to mind is our general housing crisis, where young people in particular, really struggle to afford quality accommodation. SoloHaus, or homes like it, could quite conceivably, in my opinion provide low cost, low rent, affordable yet safe and secure homes – and no doubt by combining units, clever engineering-types could create larger homes fit for couples and families… and remember, the more affordable solutions that we see, the more that general house prices will soften as supply starts to meet the insatiable British demand.

However, thinking more widely than just that, these homes could be quickly delivered to provide disaster relief or create safer, semi-permanent refugee camps to replace the unsanitary and insecure ‘Tent City’ camps that we see on the news; a solution to tackle what is often the sudden need to house large numbers of desperate people.

Andy Hill… what a way to give back, eh?


If we want to tackle climate change, we have to talk about cement – which is a problem not just for the construction industry but also for the British government, which rightly sets ambitious targets for carbon reduction, at the same time as it sets ambitious targets for housebuilding. Cement is obviously a big deal in construction generally, not least for the production of concrete, for which it is a large component part and something which won’t go away as a building material, no matter how green we get. But the real trouble we have therefore, is that cement is now responsible for 8% of global carbon emissions – a quite phenomenal statistic.

There is hope, however, as CEMEX – one of the largest global producers of concrete – has announced a pledge to reduce its carbon emissions by 60% by 2030, and to achieve full carbon neutrality by 2050. Gonzalo Galindo, the head of Corporate Venture Capital at CEMEX, was a guest on the property podcast PropCast earlier this month, where he spoke to Blackstock Consulting’s Andrew Teacher, explaining how they aim to achieve this.

Their first step has been to tackle the process of creating cement in the first place – a process which involves incredible amounts of heat (kilns heated to 1700 degrees Celsius), which logically is achieved by cement factories around the world by burning fossil fuels. Galindo explains that they as a producer have already managed to reduce their fossil fuel consumption by 50% in favour of renewable types of energy, and expect to go to 100% renewable electricity within a decade. Excitingly, they have invested in a particular company, Synhelion, which has developed solar power technology capable of generating enough heat for industrial level chemical reactions. They hope to have their first solar powered kiln up and running within 2022, and to be able to roll this out at scale by as soon as 2023.

Another big issue in the production of cement however is the chemical reaction that occurs in the process, which necessarily produces carbon dioxide. Galindo admits there is no way to work around this chemical reaction itself – it can’t be avoided and CO2 will be released as a result. What can be done however, is to recapture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. CEMEX is investing in companies such as Carbon Clean, which create technological solutions to capture and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, to then safely store it.

Galindo goes on to explain how as a corporation they are also investing in AI technology to create much better efficiency in the supply chain, reducing waste; everything from wasted materials, which by their nature have unnecessarily emitted carbon, to wasted fuel. AI is also being used to predict the way that different soil types behave, and by studying this it is possible to calculate the minimum quantities of concrete required to provide safe building foundations, depending on soil type.

Fascinating times. Fascinating stuff.


To listen to the PropCast episode featuring Gonzalo Galindo speaking with Andrew Teacher, click the link at the top of this article – or, copy and paste the following into your browser:

The Bank of England has raised its Base Rate for the first time in three years, from its historic low of 0.1% to 0.25%.

Cue some predictably alarmist posts by estate agents up and down the land trumpeting the news… but, what does it mean and why has it happened? You’d be forgiven for wondering, as I’m not sure I have yet seen much that offers anything in the way of informed opinion, insight or explanation.

So, we’ll try and offer some perspective here.

The first thing to note is that we have been expecting this rise (and for our part, have been telling you it’s coming). We were fairly surprised not to see them raise the base rate when they convened in November. And frankly, we expect it to be raised at least another quarter of a percent in the near future – perhaps as soon as the next meeting in just a few weeks’ time. Actually, my own view is that they will raise it at least once more after that in the relative near term – probably before the end of the Spring in my view, but I would certainly be surprised if it didn’t happen again within the year.

The reason for raising it is to mitigate the effect of rising prices. BUT, let me elaborate a little more on this point, as if you only read estate agent posts you will certainly be forgiven for thinking it is all about rising property prices.

It isn’t.

It is to do with inflation, which has hit 5% and which is predicted to hit 6% by springtime. Don’t get me wrong; house prices have been rising too, and fast (although did anyone let you know that they actually dropped in October and November? No, thought not…). Nevertheless the factors that are really driving inflation are global ones – the value of stocks and bonds and the price and availability of energy, in particular.

The Omicron wave that is breaking over us now is likely to bring some negativity to trading market places generally. However, even the prophets of doom out there tend to agree that whilst the peak is going to be a steep one, it will be relatively quickly reached compared to previous waves, and will drop quickly on the other side once reached – to the extent that actually I believe we will be unlikely to see any significant impact on property prices or buyer demand in the new year. We have more to worry about from snow than we do from Covid, when it comes to property.

But what about my mortgage, I hear you ask? Well – most people in this country have fixed rate mortgages; and I mean, 74% of mortgagees, in fact (mortgagees being about 33% of adults in the UK), and those have been fixed on historically low rates. So, the majority of people therefore will feel no immediate difference to their monthly mortgage payments, but that isn’t to say that they shouldn’t consider their current deal, look at when it is going to come to an end and think about whether it is worth looking at fixing a new rate now – even if it means a penalty in the short term to break the current deal.

Mortgagees on Standard Variable Rate mortgages or Tracker mortgages will see an increase. But look; this particular rise has amounted to 0.15%, and that equates on average to an extra £15.45 per month for people with Tracker mortgages, and less than £10 extra per month for those on Standard Variable Rate mortgages. Of course, these do obviously go up again if there is to be the following quarter percent rise that I have mentioned we think will come soon enough, and then yet again if there is to be the third rise that I personally do suggest will come not ridiculously far down the line afterwards. But even still, we’re talking about a base rate of up to 0.75% at that point – and still therefore historically low – and mortgage payments increasing by tens of pounds per month, not hundreds of pounds. A pain, I admit, but not something that will break most mortgaged households or precipitate any kind of crash.

I’m not saying not to worry about your mortgage payments, by the way, I really am not. I am saying that we should keep things in perspective; there is probably more to worry about in terms of energy prices and food prices than there is for mortgage payments, over the next six months at least and more likely over the next twenty-four.

If you would like to discuss your mortgage options and get a real sense of the mortgage landscape, then I urge you to speak to a qualified advisor. We can certainly put you in touch with a number of advisors who can offer free advice.

And if you have been thinking of moving and have suddenly worried that the whole thing has just become unaffordable, then I hope this article has helped to settle some of those nerves. If you wanted to discuss any of this further, then you only have to give me a call; 07982 632733.

It really isn’t Armageddon folks.