The government’s latest work from home announcement has sent many of us retreating back to makeshift desks in living rooms, spare bedrooms or simply the kitchen table. Once again, it poses questions about the place of ‘home’ in 2020, what we now want and need from the places where we live – and, in turn, the implications for the residential property sector.
Seeking out the good life?
We’ve heard much about the supposed exodus to the countryside and suburbs as buyers and tenants search out more space for their money, a garden to relax in and easier access to ‘the great outdoors’. But, does the pandemic really mark the death knell for our town and city centres? Should developers and investors be tilting their portfolios towards greener, more suburban settings?
It’s likely some residents are being encouraged to make a change, one they might have previously considered but hadn’t acted on – whether it’s the couple hunting space for a growing family or the parents with toddlers deciding that a private garden really is a must-have.
But we shouldn’t overestimate the decline of our urban areas. The reason why people choose to live in towns and cities isn’t just about trimming time off the commute. Cities offer a lifestyle that can’t be replicated in the shires – restaurants, bars, museums and cinemas, plus access to services like Deliveroo and same-day Amazon Prime deliveries. These areas also provide an opportunity to live close to friends, meet new people and have busy social lives. To quote the Times journalist Robert Crampton writing about his enduring love of London this weekend, “some like it quiet and slow. I don’t. And the evidence is I’m in the majority.”
The place of community
The urban residential market will remain resilient in the long term, at least in the UK’s most prosperous cities, but that doesn’t mean nothing has changed.
Lockdown has brought people closer to their communities. In future, they’ll want to live in places where they feel connected and engaged with their neighbours and local businesses. Developers and property managers need to respond. Helping to create strong communities at large-scale new, urban developments will be especially important. That might mean setting up community forums, cultural and social events or apps with information about what’s going on locally.
Access to amenities remains a major draw of city life and what’s on residents’ doorsteps is only likely to become even more important in the context of Covid-19. The home working revolution means that many of us are spending a greater proportion of our time in our local neighbourhoods. If people are no longer commuting, why would they travel several miles away to buy groceries or to use the gym?
New residential developments will need to think carefully about their retail and leisure offer, but relying on the usual high street chains will no longer cut it. Developers who can offer more localised, personalised services, helping to create that community feel, will be the ones who set their schemes apart. A butcher, greengrocer and barista who remember a regular customer’s name are the people and services that will make a place feel like home.
At a time when gloomy headlines continue to dog the retail and hospitality sectors, this shift in consumer taste could be a boon for Britain’s small and independent shopkeepers and businesses. The same goes for the property sector. We have an opportunity to put our development and placemaking skills to the test, showing our ability to respond to evolving customer needs and to create truly distinctive places where people want to live and work (even if it is from the kitchen table).