2020’s Lockdown and 2021’s Bounce Back

MakeUrMove has recently published a report on the changing needs of tenants in the wake of the pandemic. While the report focuses on rented accommodation, many of its findings can be applied to the property industry as a whole.

One of the points raised is something we have seen before in similar studies, but it bears repeating – that being many people swapping the bright city lights for the tranquil open space of small towns and villages.  The report notes that demand from prospective tenants in city centres across Britain fell by 23% in light of lockdown.  While this doesn’t directly impact private sales, it could have a knock-on effect that private sales developers will want to keep a close eye on.

At the start of the year, there were approximately 2.7million tenants in London and as recently as 2017, there were 4.5 million households in the private rented sector in the whole of the UK.  If a mass exile from cities continues, the former city dwellers may find limited options for renting, especially in more remote areas.  This may encourage more people to look to buy, especially with the new Help to Buy scheme for first-time buyers.  As such, developers may continue to divert their attention away from cities, looking at affordable parts of the country that still have good transport links to major cities.

The report also lists tenants’ priorities when looking for a rental property, both before and after COVID-19 rocked the world.  Again, these priorities likely transcend tenants and apply to anyone looking to move home.  Predictably, travel links and proximity to amenities dropped from top and second highest priority to the fifth and sixth priority, behind internet connectivity, mobile phone reception, garden and outdoor space, and proximity to family and friends.  Surprisingly, space to work from home is as low as seventh (although still cited as a priority by 63% of those surveyed),despite 57% of workers wanting to continue working from home.  This suggests that, contrary to initial belief,a home office is not viewed as being essential, with some remote workers clearly happy to adapt living rooms, dining rooms, kitchens, bedrooms and, for the especially warm-blooded, sheds into makeshift offices.  A strong internet connection and mobile phone reception, however, are viewed as being vital, as a lack thereof can significantly hinder the ability to work remotely, while stock of outdoor space and proximity to loved ones has risen considerably, and is seen as being integral to looking after one’s mental health.

Ticking all of these boxes is a challenge for developers,particularly when developing in more rural areas that perhaps don’t have the kind of internet and mobile coverage that people moving from cities will be used to.  Remote working places a big reliance on internet connection in particular, and coverage around the home is important.  The very idea of rural areas overtaking cities as tech hotspots will have sci-fi buffs desperately reaching for a pen and pad, and scouring the internet for Steven Spielberg’s email address.

The priority list really underlines the importance people are placing in living somewhere conducive to achieving a strong work-life balance.  The first lockdown was a testing time, especially for those who had no outdoor haven to escape to for some sunshine (something everyone can now relate to, following the winter lockdown).  It’s no surprise to see outdoor space high on the priority list and this is something developers will surely be wary of when designing homes in the future – and is also something that will be made easier for developers moving away from cities.

MakeUrMove’s report goes on to explore the role technology has played and will continue to play in the property industry, as an alternative to physical viewings and face-to-face meetings.  We have seen evidence of this in the sharp uptake of clients ordering Spaciable, our award-winning online portal.  Spaciable has helped sales and customer service teams continue to operate efficiently without needing to be in the office or meet in person with buyers and homeowners.  Its dual functionality as an admin tool forin-house teams and a source of information for homeowners and tenants makes it the ideal way to redefine processes in the ‘new normal’.  As for viewings, our professionally produced and presented 3D VR home tours, fly-through videos and home demonstration videos have proven an invaluable tool for developers unable to carry out viewings and demonstrations in keeping with social distancing practices.  With Zoopla reporting a 215% increase in virtual viewings on their site, it is clearly an important marketing resources for developers that can save time for sales staff and homebuyers alike.  Aligning with tried and tested technology,such as Spaciable, can help developers seamlessly make the transition.

As this uncooked Brussels sprout of a year draws to a close,we are sure to see many more reports of this kind doing the rounds, summarising year of change and what it will mean as we (hopefully) get back to solid ground in the new one.  It will be interesting to see which points are agreed upon, which are contradicted and which seem overly speculative.  While Focusing on the rental market, several points from MakeUrMove’s report translate very well into the private sales sector, perhaps none more so that the changing requirements of tenants/homebuyers, and even that throws up a couple of surprises – internet connectivity being a higher priority than outdoor space, proximity to family and friends, and space to work from home being chief among them.  I guess alag-free stream of Strictly is more important than a BBQ with loved ones!

It seems like one of the biggest challenges for developers will be filtering through all of the points raised in these reports and deciding on which elements to focus on. As mentioned, some go hand-in-hand, while others are comparable to asking for an umbrella that doesn’t get too wet.  For some developers, 2021 may be a year of rediscovering their niche, taking bold decisions and riding the wave of change.  Not always a bad thing.

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