I’ve been a fool.

I’ve been a fool and completely missed the signs. For the last few weeks or months I have been amazed by all the adverts on TV for companies selling mass produced housing. Can you name them all? Stonewood Homes. Versatile Buildings. Fowler Homes. Jennian Homes. A1 Homes. Cavalier Homes. Signature Homes. Golden Homes. Platinum Homes. Sunshine Homes. David Reid Homes. Coloursteel roofs – the ‘roofshout of New Zealand’. GJ Gardner and their horrible squeaky monkey in a floral shirt. Certified Builders “I’m a Certified Builder and I’m Damn Proud of it”. Master Builders. Sovereign Homes. Many, many more. Here I was, minding my own business, thinking this was a sign that things must be picking up, even if I couldn’t figure out who these people were who were buying themselves a new mass-produced house. Here I was, thinking that perhaps the worst was over.

But now the truth is out. Sparked off by today’s news that Sovereign Homes has gone bust, it suddenly all makes sense. The reason they are all advertising like crazy is because they are all at the edge of a precipice. There is no new housing work out there in Suburbia Land. There is only one thing out there: an extreme shortage of work, due in part to the extreme shortage of liquidity, and the shortage of confidence and jobs. Expect, I suspect, Sovereign to be the first of many to go bust. I’ve never heard of some of these companies, despite them all saying that they’ve been around for years, and that they’ve built the backbone of New Zealand. And now, almost without doubt, some of them will start going bust.

It is like that period in 2007/2008, when all the Finance companies were going down like nine-pins. There, again, they were keen to advertise on TV, to secure your retirement dollars. The clever ones all scored deals to sponsor TV One News – the home of the aged white middle class. And one by one, every company that sponsored One News went bust – do you remember who the sponsors were? Merchant Finance. Hanover Finance. Mmmm, yes, they were a reliable way to be removed from your wallet. Dominion Finance. Bust and Face down. Blue Chip? Did they sponsor the news? They all did. And they all took your money to the cleaners, before going bust and fleeing the country with a few fat bars of gold in their briefcase.

But I’m not going to be as happy to see the Housing companies go bust. And, just luckily, by the Hand of God that took away 166 lives and half of our second biggest city, with a bit of luck there may be a building boom. It’s vaguely distasteful to talk of a housing boom, or at least some say so: but on the other hand, be assured that the crafty are manoeuvering to get a piece of the action. And, with Key’s estimated 10,000 to 90,000 houses to be axed, there is going to need to be a massive amount of new housing.

What would be good to see with all this though, is the move to a more logical method of building these mass-produced houses. Given that they are nearly all exactly alike, it just seems totally incomprehensible that these houses are built one by one, by a bloke with a dog and a radio, moving from site to site. Let’s get real – what is needed here is a decent bit of prefabrication. This is the perfect chance to build a prefab industry, with a few giant factories building houses like a car production line, house after house just rolling off the line. Don’t believe me? Here are some pictures from a US house production line, called Modular Homes, where they rack ’em and stack ’em. This is what we need to be doing: