Country houses for sale

House buyers leaving cities in search of homes with space, gardens and home offices

James Fisher reports on how the house market looks to be changing as a result of the coronavirus.

Last month estate agents up and down the country rejoiced, as an easing of lockdown rules allowed viewings to restart, providing the housing market a much-needed boost.

The month of April was a tough one. Residential property sales hit their lowest monthly level since 2005 and mortgage approvals dropped 80%,  numbers which have prompted many doom and gloom headlines. The full impact won’t be clear for a long time — not least because the furlough scheme is still operating — but there’s some optimism that the market will rebound.

Liam Bailey, Knight Frank’s global head of research, acknowledges that ‘all metrics are sharply lower’ when it comes to the market, but says ‘there is perhaps more activity than we initially anticipated back in late March’.

Mr Bailey adds: ‘Would-be vendors can take heart from the fact that, despite an effective lockdown of the market, a sizeable number of buyers are still registering their interest to purchase.’ With a loosening of restrictions, it’s expected that the market will now begin to recover — yet it also .

The pandemic has not only had an impact on demand, but has also affected our preferences, according to research from Savills. According to a recent survey, prospective prime buyers have become more committed to moving in the next 12–24 months, as priorities have changed in response to the lockdown.

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“People are now looking for studies, home offices or something similar”

‘In the short term, we were expecting people to be cautious, but we’ve seen that, in the longer term, people are now far more willing to move,’ says Savills analyst Frances Clacy.

‘The virus has perhaps made people accelerate their thinking about when they want to move to a more rural location. It was five years of waiting before the pandemic, but now it’s a lot less.’

Indeed, the research shows that space is now a ‘must-have’, with 49% of respondents expecting home-working to continue post-lockdown. As a result, 39% of under-fifties are chasing a bigger home, 40% of respondents are more likely to choose a village location and some 70% of younger buyers ‘crave more outdoor space and rural locations’.

‘Previously, outdoor space might have been something that people compromised on,’ says Miss Clary. ‘Now, it’s obviously come to the forefront of people’s thinking.’

It’s difficult to predict the future, Miss Clary admits, but ‘people have proved that they can work from home and have shown their employers that they can be just as effective there,’ she says. ‘People are now looking for studies, home offices or something similar, and that’s particularly relevant to younger people.’

It seems as if buyers are looking to escape to the country post Covid-19, and who can blame them? ‘Remember,’ Miss Clary says, ‘rural prices look like a bargain when compared to urban places.’

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