Engaging Homeowners in the Home Renovation Process: a road for local authorities

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PadovaFIT Expanded is only one out of many EU-funded projects that aims at developing one-stop shops (OSS) for home renovation. The ideal end-users of OSS are existing and future homeowners in search of information and assistance when renovating their home for energy efficiency. The need for such services is especially clear since the Renovation Wave strategy (2020) and the overall European Green Deal, which highlight the need to make the energy renovation process for homeowners a simple and streamlined process.

How these services are created, launched, and then made sustainable has been an object of research and hours of project work uniting private organizations, academia, and local authorities from a variety of EU countries. PadovaFIT Expanded is one such project, its object being the launch of an OSS in Padova (IT) and possible extensions of the model into cities in Bulgaria and Romania.

So, what have we learned as a result of engaging homeowners with the topic of renovation in our projects?
Firstly, considering that 70% of the EU population own the home that they live in, there is an excellent return on investment for authorities when engaging with them. Not every homeowner will have the same requirements: these will vary according to their level of understanding of the renovation process, their priorities, and their purchasing power. As such, there is a real need for local authorities to step in, to guide and be at the forefront of OSSs in Europe. Local authorities hold trust for many homeowners and are the natural go-to when looking for information or resources on renovation.
What we have seen in our project is that local authorities may need to become similar to businesses, since they have to think hard about their customers’ needs, but also their potential business models and the kind of services they are willing and able to provide.

To do this, local authorities may follow a three-step model when developing an OSS:

● Advice: In the beginning stages, local authorities can set up a service, a person in charge, or even a simple information website or phone number that can provide general advice about the renovation process. This kind of information seems simple and straightforward, but can still go a long way in leading homeowners to initiate their renovation journey.
● Support: Next, ideally, local authorities will be able to provide more detailed and tailored services that really guide the homeowners in the maze of renovation. These services need to go beyond the website and be an actual place or team of persons that can be contacted, specific information can be looked for in terms of technical solutions, providers, financial procedures, and more. At this level, the local authority is partnering up with the private sector, collaborating on a daily basis, providing solutions to concrete information needs, and treating the homeowner as a customer.
● Implementation: Lastly, and this is still rare, but when the local authorities have done the previous step successfully, they may partner with the private sector to such an extent that they can oversee the renovation projects to completion. For now, this seems like a distant future, and it may be more in the remit of private companies. But, let us not forget, it is the local authority that initiates the steps and has the trust of the homeowner!

Public-Private Partnerships Are Key

In order to carry out most of these steps, we would suggest that an OSS always involves a public-private partnership—one that needs to be established with the technical and financial actors of any given municipality. The public aspect of the partnership is mainly responsible for the coordination process, while the private is mainly responsible for the actual renovation process. In practice, this requires the one-stop shops to guide the homeowner throughout the entire process. Such a process will take the form of eight general stages, or contain the following elements:

Information/Marketing—The OSS will be responsible for raising homeowners’ awareness regarding how they consume energy, why it is important to reduce their consumption, and how to generally do so. Some OSS initiatives have been very creative with this process and have had success in engaging citizens with campaigns that are similar to advertising and marketing campaigns of private companies. This is where the usefulness of the public-private partnership model is clear.

Early detection—Since many homeowners are not ready to make major decisions regarding renovation, the OSS needs to find the right moment to offer this opportunity. We have learned from other projects that home buyers are the key target group for this kind of engagement, as resources can be given to them prior to them buying a house. This can also work for the issue of energy poverty - we need to have ways of identifying those that are vulnerable so that public resources can be spent effectively.

Simplified Diagnosis and Recommendations—Once a homeowner is identified and is interested, it is important to assess their situation and give them a general guide of what the home renovation process will look like. This requires a lot of technical knowledge, but also the human resources to ensure that there is a follow-up and that the homeowners know what the next steps are, especially if they will contract and carry out the project on their own.

Project Design—If the homeowner agrees to the renovation process, but cannot deal with the actual steps of it, then the OSS can decide to become even more involved by providing an on-site audit and creating a detailed list of the work that needs to be done.

Selection of Companies - The OSS can assist with the selection of companies and help standardize the renovations to lower the costs and the potential for any hidden fees. This can be done quite early on in the process, and many OSS will successfully engage homeowners only with the fact that they have a good source of selecting and recommending companies to carry out the work.

Financing Plan and Solutions—The OSS can be an ideal place to develop a financing plan to show the feasibility of the renovation project and provide access to financing solutions through consumer and secure housing loans and public grants. This should however not only depend on whether a subsidy exists - it needs to take place of a real collaboration with financial institutions so that all solutions are explored, and homeowners have a clear overview.

Worksite Supervision—Supervision will need to be carried out to ensure that contractors do not deliver faulty work. This, again, requires excellent technical knowledge and a personal approach but can go a great way towards also creating a real economy of scale and a potentially bigger renovation wave!

Quality Assurance—The short-term success of this project is critical to its long-term success, and therefore providing quality assurance is necessary to ensure its attractiveness to future homeowners. This is often overlooked, but ways to create such an assurance will increase the trust that users have in the OSS.

By implementing renovation-based one-stop shops in locations around the EU, European homeowners will have an easy and convenient solution for home renovation. As a result, home renovation will become easily accessible, more affordable, and an attractive option for homeowners. This will in turn boost the resilience of a local authority to deal with challenges posed by rising energy prices and difficult access to energy, which we are experiencing all over Europe.