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Expert Insight: How the pandemic has changed the London sales market

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By John Ennis

It has been much-publicised that the pandemic has driven a trend for moving out of London to rural and coastal areas. However, just as London survived the plagues of the past, its appeal has endured and it continues to top the list of the world’s most desirable cities to live and work in (Boston Consulting Group and TotalJobs). This is reflected in that fact that London house prices rose by 7.3% during the second quarter of 2021 (Nationwide) – a slower rate than the rest of England, but a significant increase nonetheless.

While it is clear that the capital’s property market has remained buoyant, it has undergone seismic shifts. The pandemic changed the way people worked and lived, putting the home at the centre of their lives. This, in turn, has changed what many buyers look for in a property.

Location, location, location

The pandemic made people aware of aspects of their living environment that they hadn’t really noticed before, or hadn’t seemed important previously. Months spent at home during lockdowns and quarantines amplified any perceived negatives of an area, such as noisy neighbours or busy traffic. Those who were suddenly stuck at home in the daytime after formerly being out at work all day became much more aware of their neighbourhood and the view from their windows.

When selecting a London location, proximity to a tube or rail station – or ideally, a junction – used to be a key deciding factor. Lots of buyers made their pre-pandemic housing choice based on commute time. However, now that many workers don’t need to travel to the office every day, a good transport link has moved down the list of priorities and competition for larger houses in zones 4, 5, 6 and beyond has increased, with buyers choosing to purchase further out in order to afford a bigger property with more open space.

With a daily walk being one of the only opportunities to leave the house during lockdowns, access to a green space became a significant factor in many searches, as people connected with nature and realised its effect on their sense of wellbeing. Working from home more helped people enjoy a new work-life balance, with less time commuting and more time spent on leisure pursuits or with family.

All this has led to a focus on quality of environment and quality of life, and the degree to which these are influenced by location. People are yearning for a better view, a quieter road, more greenery, and easier access to open spaces and water. Buyers are willing to gain tube stops on their commute if it means they also gain space, or to have fewer local shops to be closer to a park.

The effect of these new priorities is high buyer mobility. Buyers are more open-minded than ever before with regard to the areas of London they are prepared to purchase in. In the past, it was common for buyers to specify a road or postcode they wanted to live in. Now, they are naming a borough, or even just a zone, so long as it has the elements they are searching for.

Centre of attention

While there has undoubtedly been a trend for moving to the outer zones of London in a bid for more space and a different lifestyle, sales in the centre have not stagnated. Buyers have been snapping up flats in zones 1 and 2, taking advantage of the better value to be had thanks to prices either slightly decreasing or rising more slowly than elsewhere.

As normality returns and theatres and restaurants re-open, people are starting to come back to Central London to enjoy a vibrant lifestyle, and offers for flats are increasing again.

People are also moving back to the centre for work, as businesses encourage staff back into the office to preserve their culture, retain employees and attract new ones. Sales of central flats for use as pied-à-terres are growing as workers who have moved out of London seek a place to stay for two or three nights a week as they return to the office.

It takes a village

Other in-demand parts of London are the village-style areas. For some buyers, London village-style locations represent everything that has become important to them over the past year. Areas such as Greenwich, Wandsworth and Hampstead offer good schools, shops and restaurants and a village feel thanks to green open spaces, florists, bakeries and artisan coffee shops.

The pandemic re-affirmed the need for human connection. At a point when people couldn’t spend time in person with friends and family, a few words exchanged with a friendly café owner who knew their name felt heartening and reassuring. Moving away from mass production to support small, local and artisan businesses really resonated with people during the pandemic, and village-style locations are able to offer this more personal experience.

Room with a view

Hand-in-hand with changes to location priorities is a re-evaluation of what buyers need and want from their homes. The warm, dry weather of the first lockdown fuelled desire for private outdoor spaces, leading to an increase in searches for properties with their own garden, terrace or balcony.

As well as space outside the home, space inside the home and room configurations are more important than ever. Months of uncomfortable hunching over a laptop on a bed, or clearing away computers and paperwork from the dining room table at every meal time, means buyers are keen to gain a dedicated working space – a corner of a bigger lounge, an additional bedroom, a garden office or a study, ideally with a window to look out of while working.

There’s no doubt that the pandemic has accelerated change. Spending more time at home combined with the stamp duty holiday and a sense of wanting to seize the day galvanised many people into bringing forward a move to a more suitable or more desirable property that they had been considering for the future.

Looking ahead

Working from home for at least part of the week seems set to continue for many office personnel, so the need for dedicated work space is likely to be an enduring requirement for many London buyers.

As for central London, it is expected that there will be a strong return to the prime central housing market by international buyers as borders start opening up again.

Whichever part of London you’re looking to buy or sell in, Foxtons offers unrivalled knowledge of the London market and the expert advice you need.

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