Stephen King’s cellphone began ringing almost immediately on Jan. 25 after he submitted the listing information for the Riverhead, N.Y., three-bedroom, two-bath home to the MLS. The flurry of interest wasn’t merely because well-priced new-construction properties were hard to come by in his Long Island market. The listing itself was a notable feat: the nation’s first legally permitted 3D-printed house to appear on a multiple listing service.
Considering the exciting technology involved, it was little surprise that CNBC, CNN, and Fox Business were clamoring for an interview with King, a salesperson with Realty Connect USA in Patchogue, N.Y., and a 2021 30 Under 30 honoree with the National Association of REALTORS®.
King was also inundated with calls from potential buyers drawn to the affordable $299,999 price tag for the 1,400-square-foot house. “On Long Island,” says King, “inventory doesn’t exist for $300,000 or less.”
By early March, the house was under contract, even though it had yet to be built—errr, printed.
King says that he and SQ4D, the Patchogue, N.Y.–based 3D printing company that will produce the Riverhead house, received “hundreds of offers,” adding that it took some time to sift through all the potential clients. According to King, it was important to the builders to have the home be owner-occupied, rather than sell it to an entity that would buy it as an investment property and rent it out.
Thanks to upgrades to be provided by local businesses, King says, the house sold for more than its asking price, though he adds it still went for less than market value.
Affordability is critical in a time when the U.S. remains mired in a housing shortage. National housing inventory plummeted 49% in February compared with the same month last year, and median home prices also rose 13.7% annually, to $353,000 in February, according to a recent realtor.com® report.
Strong buyer demand and low interest rates are driving prices up. But the soaring cost of materials is also a contributing factor. According to the National Association of Home Builders, lumber prices have risen 180% since April 2020, adding an estimated $24,000 to the price of the average new single-family home.
3D printing offers a solution to these issues, says Lawrence Ruisi, who serves on the board of directors of SQ4D. Printing for the Riverhead home is slated to begin in April; the house should be ready to move into in June.
The company’s autonomous robotic construction system squeezes out concrete like toothpaste to create the structure of the house, including the footings, foundation, interior and exterior walls, and utility conduits, which make up 41% of the finished product. The process is three times faster than traditional wood-frame construction and reduces construction costs by as much as 70%. Only three laborers were required from SQ4D to create the model version of the Riverhead house, says Ruisi, which was printed in 48 hours. The roof, electricity, HVAC, and communications were added after printing, bringing total construction time to a few weeks.
The results, Ruisi says, are revolutionary in the construction world, which, unlike the telecom and computer industries, has remained largely static. “We build the same as we did seventy-five years ago,” he says. “We wanted to find a way to build homes for less.”
Getting the Riverhead listing ready to market has taken time—in fact, more than three years. According to King, the builders had to identify a town that would issue a certificate of occupancy, purchase land there, and print test models. Zoning wasn’t really an issue, he says, since the house was a standard concrete construction.
“The challenge was in the inspection,” King says. “Inspectors are used to coming out to a project for an hour once every two to three months to inspect each process as it’s completed. That doesn’t work when you can print a structure in 48 hours. We had to find a place that could get creative with the inspection process and adjust the schedule.”
King was brought into the project early through a networking group he’s involved in. “The owner of SQ4D reached out to me to pick my brain,” he says. “I jumped at the chance to be involved.”
When asked what an agent needs to know to sell a 3D-printed house, King laughs. “All I can say is, ‘all hands on deck.’ This is all new, and there are many things we can’t predict.”
As for marketing, King says that the Riverhead house essentially sold itself. “My marketing can’t touch the power of the national media.”
King has been showing clients the model home that was completed for the town of Riverhead to convince them of the project’s viability. When the publicity began, area businesses donated upgrades to the house, such as windows, doors, countertops, and solar panels, all of which will be incorporated into the finished home, he says.
King’s listing may usher in a new era of 3D-printed homes that will soon be available on a wider scale. Construction tech companies Mighty Buildings in Oakland, Calif., and ICON in Austin, Texas, have produced 3D-printed houses, but they’ve apparently not been marketed on an MLS.
Mighty Buildings has sold several 3D-printed houses using a modular home model. The homes range in size from 400 to 1,400 square feet, and customers can order the houses online and have them shipped and installed—but the customer has to provide the land. Mighty Buildings is also planning a community of 3D-printed homes to be completed next year in Rancho Mirage, Calif.
In March of 2020, ICON completed the 3D-printed Community First! Village in conjunction with the nonprofit Mobile Loaves & Fishes in Austin. The community was planned to provide housing for people transitioning out of chronic homelessness; the first resident moved in last September.
ICON announced on March 4 that it is offering partially 3D-printed homes for sale in Austin in conjunction with the Kansas City, Mo.–based developer 3Strands. The community, East 17th Street Residences, comprises four homes that have a 3D-printed first floor and a traditionally constructed second floor. According to the community’s website, one house has sold already and another is under contract.
ICON even has plans to take construction to a higher level—literally. The company has received funding from NASA to begin research and development of a space-based construction system that could support future exploration of the moon.As for the future of homebuilding here on Earth, King says it’s already arrived. “3D technology has to become mainstream,” says King. “Rarely do you get cheaper, better, faster, stronger all at the same time.”