We evaluate the impact Covid-19 could have on the priorities of those looking to buy, sell or rent in the near future.
Like many industries, the housing market had to adapt pretty sharpish to the changed landscape we now find ourselves in. People were only allowed to move home when it was “reasonably necessary”, flexible moving dates were encouraged and visiting an agent was out of the question. Things progressed nonetheless with adaptations such as virtual viewings and appraisals put in place. Now having been given the green light to fully reopen, agents can go about their work as before, providing extra precautions are taken. For instance, observing social distancing during viewings.
But perhaps some of the most significant and lasting changes to the housing market won’t be found in the running of things, but in the priorities of buyers, sellers and tenants. Having been confined to their homes like never before, Rightmove suggests a shift could be underway in people’s attitudes to moving. This would be brought about by homeowners placing greater value in things like outdoor areas, the capacity to work from home and a countryside location. Here, we evaluate the matter with some thoughts from our agents.
Having been confined to the same four walls for the last few weeks, it’s understandable that homeowners will have re-evaluated what’s most important to them when it comes to their surroundings. Never has outdoor space been more appealing. Likewise, the need for a home office is front-and-centre for a lot of people right now. Even before lock-down, nearly a quarter of Britain's workforce was working flexibly. This figure has increased two-fold since the pandemic hit - and will likely remain high as businesses get accustomed to this way of working. “There’s certainly an increasing number of those looking to upsize,” says Hamish Allan of Winkworth Islington. “It’s no coincidence that we’ve had people asking for study rooms or similar, and an increase in those looking for outside space,” he says.
On the matter, Marc Wiehe of Winkworth Streatham says, “It is probably too early to say whether changes in buyer and tenant behaviour are likely to be permanent – but outside space is definitely a much higher priority in the new enquiries we are receiving. It is now not just a wish or aspiration, but a requirement with the majority of the new registrations.”
It’s important to acknowledge that demand for outdoor space would naturally pick up as we come into the summer months. The best time to sell a property with a garden is when the sun comes out. Even so, it’s only natural that we will see an increase in the number of people valuing a garden or balcony more than they have done previously.
Lucinda Richardson, Lettings Manager & Director at Winkworth Notting Hill has had a similar experience in her market. “After Easter - I think the weather had a massive impact - as the lock-down progressed, there was a very clear indication that people started to rethink how they were living. Deciding they want a garden, a dog, or to work from home more often - made a lot of people decide to move,” she says.
“It’s been a very interesting time. There’s still a shortage of stock, particularly stock with outside space. It’s a perfect example of people deciding to change the way they are living. They’re re-evaluating what’s important to them,” Lucinda explains.
In addition to this, Hamish suggests it’s likely that the natural step-up from one to two beds, or flats to houses, may come earlier than would be expected. But of course it is dependent on market conditions.
2 bedroom apartment in Streatham - £525,000 Leasehold
This two-bedroom apartment in Streatham is hugely attractive with its generous garden. All together there is over 70ft of outside space, comprising a dining patio, a lawn with mature borders including rose bushes, a shed and a raised deck. The private garden has a sunny southerly aspect and can be seen from the floor-to-ceiling window of a large double bedroom. In the second bedroom downstairs is a boxed-out nook in the wall, which works perfectly for a desk, as the current owners have done.
4 bedroom house in Highbury - £1,400,000 Freehold
This fantastic family home near Finsbury Park offers flexible living arrangements with four large bedrooms and a fifth that can be utilised as an office or second living room. It sits at the upper end of the market but for the price, buyers are afforded a small front garden, a rear patio area, a basement and a utility room, as well as excellent transport links and the potential to extend further on the ground floor (subject to planning permission).
3 bedroom house in London - £2,500 per week (£10,833 per month) Fees may apply
On the market for a short let, this three-bedroom house presents a rare opportunity for tenants looking in W11 postcode. The huge private garden is certainly an enticement for anyone wanting an outside area during the summer months. An enormous kitchen/reception room provides more-than-enough space for new tenants, as do the three bedrooms which are all generously sized.
The thousands of home-movers who were unable to complete on their pre-lockdown purchases and sales, are now able to progress in a safe way. Surprisingly, this pent-up demand hasn’t altered the overall rhythm of the housing market too much. “Sellers who were obviously planning on moving pre-covid are wanting to get going. Although there have been changes and will be changes, it hasn’t phased the would-be sellers we had pre-lock-down,” Hamish says. The only difference is that there will be some who are less likely to enter the market right now on a whim. “The first-time buyer market is a little bit more weary because they’re moving those funds - physical funds that have been saved a lifetime - into an asset that the media is portraying as slightly wobbly at the moment. But for those moving up the ladder, with equity held in a property, there’s less cause for concern there,” he explains.
When it comes to location, Covid-19 doesn’t seem to have had too much of an impact on the priorities of buyers - at least right now. It’s too early to tell the long-term impact this will have, but the general consensus is that changing your location is often a pretty significant move and one that isn’t likely to be made on a whim, in the midst of this unpredictable time. A change in location is likely to be part of a house-buyer’s long-term plan. How this could be influenced in the future, is if the desire for space and the outdoors increased enough to attract more buyers out to countryside and village locations. But again, it’s too early to tell at this point.
And what of prices? According to Hamish, the housing market has remained strong. “We haven’t had that much of a swing. Initially in the first week or so of lockdown, we experienced some fall-throughs which made up somewhere in the region of 10% of the entire pipeline. But those fall-throughs were a result of personal changes in the buyer’s own situations,” he says. “What’s more, pretty much most of them have been tied back up. One property even went above the pre-Covid-19 price.” Of course there will be a number of people whose working and financial situations will have changed - perhaps affecting the ability to buy. It may well reduce the buyer pool that was there previously. “But a decrease in supply over the past few weeks combined with healthy demand, will mean that prices should remain quite steady,” says Hamish.