The ongoing covid-19 pandemic shows no signs of releasing its grip on UK industry and commerce, and the housing industry is among the hardest hit of all. The past few months have been difficult for everyone, so how have the lockdown restrictions affected the approach to property hunting. Has the industry seen any changes or developments, or are homeowners simply waiting for a return to ‘normal’, if there is to be such a thing in the near future?
Some of the changes that the housing and property industry has noticed are in the way people are searching for houses, while others, perhaps more telling for the futures shape of the market, are changes in the ideal home and location that buyers are now looking for. Let’s cover all these areas individually.
Online Searches Are Booming
With the second lockdown underway from early November it was back to online searches for homes and other properties. Once again, estate agents accompanying potential buyers on a viewing became impossible, yet while the request for searches slowed, there were still many people making enquiries about available properties.
Estate agents have pushed their online marketing to the full in order to grab those looking for properties during the lockdown period, and with time to spare there has been no shortage of searches. The problem is that buyers still need to see a property in the flesh, so actual sales will remain low for now.
Notably, recent surveys show that despite the crisis, the vast majority of those who were planning to move before the crisis will still be doing so once we reach a point where it becomes workable, with very few having abandoned the idea completely. In fact, as the next two parts of this article show, the situation may have inspired a good number of people to look for a new home.
Moving Out of the City
One of the notable effects of the lockdown periods has been the manner in which people have realized how necessary it is to spend time outdoors. With restrictions on where people can go and when, the increased time spent in the home was pushed to the fore. This change has been most notable for those living in city homes, and homeowners without gardens, who had no private outdoor space in which to take time outside.
An interesting result of this has been a massive increase in city and town dwellers who now say they will look to properties outside the built-up areas, for a better quality of life. This is understandable as the enforced stay-at-home situation has meant people who would normally enjoy time out – even if just for shopping – have spent more time indoors than is healthy and acceptable.
Industry commentators expect that once the market begins to move there will be a premium on suburban properties with sensible sized outdoor space, as well as for semi-rural locations that offer even more in the way of outdoor freedom. It would appear that the extra journey time to the place of work is now less important than guaranteeing a family time outdoors should situations such as this occur in the future, which is far from unlikely.
A further inspiration for this change of heart is that the lockdown periods have forced many thousands of city workers to do their job remotely from home. They have seen that, in fact, it is more efficient and easier than they believed.
Many employers have also seen the benefits and come to the realization that an integrated remote working system would provide the results they need at potentially lower costs, hence many businesses are looking at allowing desk-based operatives to work from home for, for example, three days of the week. This further negates the need for the commute and allows for more opportunity to live further away from the place of work.
Looking for Bigger Homes
Another change in ideals when property hunting, and not too dissimilar to the above, is that of families realizing that they need a bigger home. With schools, offices, factories, shops and workplaces in general closed and everyone being at home at once, houses that were empty for many hours a day or where just one member of the family would normally be home have been full.
A house may seem a decent size when it is not used by all inhabitants 24 hours a day, but when it needs to be so the true limitations of the property become clear. Not enough bathrooms is one of the main reported problems, while others include the need for living rooms where youngsters and adults can spend time separately.
More space in general is cited as one problem, and it stands to reason why this has come to light now rather then before. Estate agents are expecting many people with smaller homes to make a bigger jump than they would previously have done in the search for grater space, hence larger homes will be in demand.
With the advent of faster internet speeds in more remote parts of the UK, the need to be close to a city or town may no longer be the priority it once was, so it will be interesting to watch how the market unfolds once the market begins to awaken, which will clearly not happen now until the early parts of 2021 at least.
What the Future Holds
It is difficult to predict when the property market will start to see an actual revival. That will depend upon people being able to meet outside their prescribed ‘bubbles’ freely once more, and there is certainly a long way to go before that can happen.
What is clear is that while sales have dropped, searches continue, and homeowners are still considering where their future home lies. It could be that the revival of the market sees a boom as people move their families to more desirable – in the light of current events – locations and to bigger homes with outdoor space.