At the same time, homeowners began to fence in their physical privacy, and as the real estate market adjusted to the “new normal,” space became a must-have. Space requirements for houses with larger gardens or apartments with balconies – and the wider and longer, the better. Before Covid, the garden was the last thing anyone looking at a house looked at; now it was the first. Interiors, too, took on even greater importance as millions were told to ditch the office for work from home.
Has the situation changed 24 months later?
At first glance one might think that people are returning to the high street and retail parks, to cinemas, theaters and pubs; to trains and buses. But the real estate sector is lagging behind this trend – if that’s the right way to put it – with space still at or near the top of the priority list for most buyers and renters.
Demand for large gardens may not be as great as it used to be, it is now known that Covid is much more communicable indoors than outdoors. However, the level of interior space on offer – and more importantly the layout – can still decide a real estate deal.
Well, hospitality staff may kick their socks off on Saturday nights, but within the white-collar class, particularly in the public sector, the desire to work from home (WFH) is still widespread, and many hope it will be a permanent feature , at least for part of the week.
Obviously, this has led more people to target executive apartments with extra square footage, as these WFHs are best able to facilitate from a corner of the kitchen or living room without impacting the rest of the household too much. The change in people’s habits was quite dramatic as a result. For example, even “Edinburgh-centric” guys who love the capital and swore they had nowhere else to live were willing to move to one of the three counties of Lothian, Fife or the Borders for affordable extra housing – before especially if they don’t have to commute to the office five days a week. Others have simply bitten the bullet and decided to take out a larger mortgage to buy more in the city, although given the forecast for further rate hikes in the coming months, that option is less likely.
A little further down the real estate ladder, however, the trend has increased demand for the standard three-bedroom suburban “semi”. In many of these properties accommodating adult families, the third (usually single) bedroom was used either as a closet or as a sleeping pad for a student son or daughter who otherwise spent most of their time at the university. But since WFH has become commonplace, the previously unloved and unappreciated low-cost third bedroom has been seen as ripe for conversion into an ideal home office where the breadwinner can work undisturbed from the distractions of the larger household.
This impact on the real estate market will continue as long as employees are allowed to stay away from work (relying, of course, on those with a variety of other skills). How long is unclear. In the private sector, while some employers may be happy to voluntarily adjust, others who prefer to see employees at their desks (rather than on Zoom) may have to wait until the ratio of job openings to applicants is more balanced.
As for attitudes toward WFH in the public sector…it’s probably best I don’t start with that.
David Alexander is the CEO of DJ Alexander