In March 2022, I joined a panel discussion hosted by Zebra Property Group with several influential figures from the property industry in London. The purpose of the evening was to discuss the impact of Covid-19 on property development in the Capital; the changes, opportunities and current trends.
The event highlighted some interesting themes summarised below. All these trends impact how we design properties for our clients, whether they are a family doing a self-build project, or a developer thinking about the best possible ROI from a commercial development.
A critical impact of lockdown is that it provided our clients with more thinking time. This extra time has changed their overall perspective on housing and the value of a quality environment. We have fewer conversations about the number of bedrooms. Instead, people have reassessed their personal environment and questioned the quality of their space, and flexibility it enables.
The perspectives for the ideal house ‘floor plan’ have altered since the pandemic. For example, there is now a greater focus on people working remotely, and this has forced a re-think for homeowners.Whether working remotely is a long-term shift or a temporary trend remains to be seen. The consensus among the panellists is that within creative and collaborative industries like architecture, or construction it doesn’t work well either as a business model or for the individuals. However, this is different for employees in IT for example.
Another key trend is that Individuals have changed their preferences from the open plan house. We are seeing an increased requirement for versatility in the home, with rooms having multiple functions. Ownership of pets peaked during Covid and people are now demanding better quality external private space. This means that private gardens are more of a priority and clients are prepared to invest more than ever.
As a result further thought is now required when planning gardens and outdoor spaces, for instance specifying long reach broadband connections and external electricity sockets; these are essential features for those working from home. Of course, the garden room/office is one way of delivering for home workers, while giving some physical separation from the family home.
We have noticed homeowners are seeing the benefits of investing in their properties as a tool to improve their quality of life, in the short and long term. The emphasis is less on financial gain and more on lifestyle enhancement. Another impact of Covid has been to accelerate trends. Homeowners have re-evaluated their day-to-day life choices, as well as exploring their unexplored neighbourhood. This might be sourcing a local supplier or bread-maker or engaging with a local community group. There’s a further pursuit of quality of life and creating a functional environment for an office, a living room and a kids room etc.
The London Property industry must think similarly if it is to tap into providing what our clients want or need.
Clients’ Changing Design Requirements:
When it comes to specifics in homes, people are asking for pocket doors or screens to isolate themselves from their family so they can fully zone in on their work or play! They also want a free flowing internal-external space so they can use it appropriately throughout the whole day.
There is a further creativity requirement for versatile internal and external spaces. For instance a “wardrobe can’t just be narrowed down to a storing device, it must have multiple functionalities such as a workstation or dressing table. This is especially important in small apartments where rooms have multiple uses and must be flexible for different people and different times of the day.
There has been considerable shift in focus from homeowners looking to design utility rooms into their homes. Now more than ever, further innovative ways are required to deal with individuals’ growing needs as people have reprioritised. On a macro scale, covid has accelerated employers’ ability and intentions to become flexible to attract the next best talent – the home has to be designed to keep up.
The opportunity for Architects and Developers:
The changes London has experienced in the aftermath of Covid has emphasised the significant shortage of houses. The UK Government is massively behind on their projections, therefore there’s a need for an innovative strategic policy in the family home sector.
Demand is strong so it’s forecasted the London property market will remain resilient. Most of the high street isn’t fit for purpose because the idea of retail has changed so much in recent years. Covid has spurred this on with the rise of Amazon and online purchasing, creating opportunities for communal office hubs or alternative commercial enterprises with a focus on local and small artisanal producers.
With Covid starting to become a distant memory, its presence will continue to have a long-lasting impact on how we operate. There has been and remains huge value in areas in London, such as Paddington, Earls Court and Hampstead, as their shared external gardens are huge selling points. Generally, developers aren’t building anything now without significant outdoor space, both private and shared.
Aside from meeting the London Plan standards, or meeting a Planning Condition, clearly many can see the financial benefit of investing in high quality gardens and attracting a more discerning buyer. It’s the spaces between the buildings that become more important than the buildings themselves.
If we as Architects can work with developers to provide beautiful well designed, flexible homes, but also high quality external gardens or amenity space – in essence creating a place that communities can grow into – then we can tap into this massive market opportunity.