According to figures from Rightmove, the second half of 2020 saw the Cotswolds surge in popularity amongst people looking online for property, so escaping to the country. Admittedly, there is a long way between search and completion. There is also a big difference between six months and a long-term trend. The figures do, however, give food for thought.
Can the UK really give up city life?
The question of whether or not the UK can really give up city life is, arguably, very much connected with the question of whether or not remote-/hybrid work is here to stay. With the caveat that remote-/hybrid working is not yet suitable for every job or every employer, the answer to that question appears to be yes.
According to figures from LinkedIn, remote job listings are on the rise. Furthermore, it’s entirely possible for jobs to go remote-/hybrid without being advertised. It would simply require an agreement between the employer and the employee.
The more work becomes an activity rather than a location, the less need there is for people to be concentrated in cities and commuter belts. Of course, there is a difference between need and want. Everybody has their own idea of quality of life. Post-COVID19, however, people could be reassessing their priorities.
City life versus country life
Cities, literally by definition, are places with high population density. This means that space is at a premium and this is reflected in property prices. In cities, those on the lowest incomes may only be able to afford a very small living space. This might be a room in an HMO, a bedsit, a shared flat or a studio.
Tiny living spaces may not be an issue when you have all the facilities of a city open to you. COVID19, however, plainly demonstrated what can happen when those facilities are curtailed. Technically, once COVID19 is fully brought under control, this should not be an issue. In practice, the situation is a bit more complicated.
Firstly, it’s simply impossible to guarantee that the COVID19 situation will be a one-off. Secondly, even if there were, there’s still the fact that living small has its inconveniences as well as its benefits. For example, if your home is too small for a washing machine, then you need to use a laundrette. This costs extra money and can be a drain on your time.
How much of an issue this is, does, of course, depend on the individual. Only time will tell if the general attractions of cities remain strong enough to keep people there even when they don’t need to be. Similarly, only time will tell if the lure of more space will be enough to compensate people for the loss of easy access to city attractions.
What does this mean for the property market?
The answer to this question probably depends on your perspective. If you’re a first-time buyer, it probably means very little. You would simply go ahead and choose your first home based on your own criteria.
If you’re a homeowner, then you could find the value of your home changing based on the overall perception of your local area. If that change is downwards, it could reduce the level of equity you have in your home. Again, how much impact this would have would probably depend on your ability to wait and let general inflation do its work.
If you’re an investor, then the next few years could be a challenge to navigate. One option would be to sit out the residential property market. You could look at student property, retirement property and/or short-let property as an alternative.
Another option might be to look at areas just outside regular commuter belts, e.g. at the far end of train lines. These could appeal both to commuters and remote-/hybrid workers.