It seems that everyone is on the move. So many of my phone messages are full of Rightmove links and property photos. As the photos of kitchens, gardens and bathrooms start to merge into one, I wonder why is it that it seems like everyone I know has decided to move?
Well, since March when we went into lockdown, everyone was forced to spend all of their time in their home with very little escape. Remember when most of us were only going out for one hour a day? This threw up a variety of issues; a flat with no outside space, a small place with no home office, gardens with no sunshine, noisy neighbours, nosy neighbours, no space for children and a whole host of other issues. This prompted people to ponder whether now is the time to move. Add to that the fact that we were also stuck in our homes surfing TV channels, with Location, Location, Location, Your Home Made Perfect, Love It Or List It and other TV shows prompting thoughts of a new project. It’s no surprise that moving has been on people’s minds.
When lockdown measures eased and house viewings were possible again, there was a surge of properties on the market. Some of this was pent-up demand from people who were already going to move and had to delay; much of this was people who, after months of being in their home, had decided it was time to move. With most people not going away on holidays, the traditional summer slump in the housing market has not happened with £37bn in property deals agreed in July and Rightmove saying sales are up 60 per cent compared to last August.
Rishi strikes again
Add to that the fact that Rishi Sunak struck again with his announcement in his mini-budget on 8th July that stamp duty will be frozen until March 2021, saving people up to £15,000. Cue a surge to Rightmove and other property search sites as many homeowners decided that offer is too good to miss. A survey found that 80 per cent of homeowners were more likely to move after the announcement, with 57 per cent now looking at higher value properties.
I am part of that story. It was during lockdown that my husband and I decided it was time to make the move that we have been talking about for a while. Putting our house on the market gave us an insight into the people who are on the move through the people viewing our house. It was viewed by several families from London who have decided that as they have been working from home since March, why not move near the seaside for Brighton life, cheaper house prices and a change of scenery? We found that the competition for houses in Brighton was as fierce as we remembered when we were last buying eight years ago. If we didn’t view a house immediately, it was gone!
Friends and family who are moving cite the stamp duty freeze as a prompt to get on with it and start the process of moving. That’s just the prompt though: the real story is in the messages that follow. “I can’t get any work done, in between toddler TV and the neighbour’s music, I need somewhere to get some work done”, or “my tiny kitchen is driving me insane with everyone making a mess every single minute of every day”.
Out of the office
What we are seeing is a clear shift for office workers. As more people work from home, will we see more people moving outside of the major cities? Capita have announced they will close a third of offices, Royal Bank of Scotland are allowing 50,000 people to work from home, Google have extended working from home to July 2021. Many companies are following this trend to continue with employees working from home, with more and more companies not renewing their office leases. It seems there are more people leaving the cities as they can now work from home, meaning that there is less pressure on the housing available in cities. Could this help to solve problems of high house prices in desirable cities, and lack of affordable housing for the key workers who need to live in these places? The fact that house prices have just hit a 16-year high suggests otherwise.
And what of the office spaces that will be vacated as more people work from home? Is the housing conversation a bigger one about where we can house everyone? Can the empty offices in cities house those who are homeless? Can key workers actually afford to live near their place of work? Can more families move out of cities and to the countryside? Well, with Robert Jenrick’s planning reforms the worry is that we will see substandard housing emerge to create a new problem instead of solving one.
We need to have a much bigger conversation about how we can logically solve housing issues for the country. How we see our homes and workplaces has changed, possibly forever, and the time for imaginative thinking has come. With the government unlikely to rise to the challenge, here at Sussex Bylines we will be covering ways in which local groups are helping people to move on up. Watch this space.