Outdoor space and broadband top UK homebuyers' lists as pandemic changes housing needs

·4 min read
The stamp duty tax break and the 95% mortgage guarantee scheme for first-time buyers have also created a further surge in housing market activity after the first COVID lockdown was lifted last year. Photo: Getty
The stamp duty tax break and the 95% mortgage guarantee scheme for first-time buyers have also created a further surge in housing market activity after the first COVID lockdown was lifted last year. Photo: Getty

The coronavirus pandemic has drastically changed the way people live their day-to-day lives, prompting companies to change the way they do business and UK households re-evaluate their housing needs. 

New figures highlighting the shift in trends, show demand for family houses with outdoor space, proximity to parks and broadband connectivity rose during the crisis as lockdowns, social distancing and remote working confined people to their homes. 

Outdoor space, broadband connectivity and proximity to parks have become more important qualities amid COVID, with transport links and the distance to nearby cities bearing less weight in homebuyers decision making. 

According to a report from London-based bridging lender Market Financial Solutions (MFS), 92% of UK buyers consider the garden or outdoor space to be the single most important factor when house hunting. 

89% of those considering purchasing a property, said square footage was the most important. 

With the changes in the workplace and rise in working from work, broadband connectivity is now the third most important consideration. In April 2021, 88% said this was a crucial factor, compared with 82% in 2019.

"It is no secret that the pandemic has altered people’s perspective on what they want and need from their homes," said Paresh Raja, CEO of MFS. "Remote working and social distancing mean the majority of Britons now spend much more time in their own homes, while access to outdoor space for both exercise and socialising has become far more important."

Image: MFS
Image: MFS

The Homebuyer Wishlist 2021 report shows quality and finish of the interior (85%) was fourth on the list, with proximity to public spaces and parks rising six places to number five — 84% of homebuyers consider this to be important, whereas only 79% said the same two years ago.

Signalling a true shift in housing needs, transport links were only cited as important by 67% of buyers in April 2021 – a 13% fall from 2019. 

Proximity to the nearest town or city has also declined in importance, with 74% selecting this option compared with 87% previously.

Industry data throughout COVID has pointed towards an exodus of homebuyers from towns and cities into the countryside, where they can purchase larger properties and have access to more green space. 

MFS’s research found 24% of buyers had become more tempted to live in a rural area since March 2020. But, when it comes to long-term outlook, 27% think remote working will remain the norm post-pandemic.

"The tapering down of the stamp duty holiday is also going to have an impact on the market," Raja added. "Buyer demand is sky-high at present, and while this is unlikely to suddenly evaporate, the removal of the tax break might curb this demand somewhat."

Read more: Space race: Property prices in least populated areas soar amid remote work boom

The stamp duty tax break and the 95% mortgage guarantee scheme for first-time buyers have also created a further surge in housing market activity after the first COVID lockdown was lifted last year.

It comes amid recent reports about the UK's stampede to buy homes before the end of the stamp duty holiday — a discount brought in by chancellor Rishi Sunak to support the market under strain from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The tax break can mean a saving of up to 12% on the UK's most expensive properties. It was due to end on 31 March and was extended until 30 June.

UK house prices rose at the fastest pace in nearly 14 years in March after Sunak announced the extension of the stamp duty holiday. Property prices increased 10.2% in the year to March 2021, up from 9.2% in February this year. This was the highest annual growth rate the UK has seen since August 2007, according to official figures.

According to Rightmove’s (RMV.L) house price index, the average price of houses coming to market in May were up 1.8%, or £5,767 ($8,183), to £333,564, surpassing the previous all-time high recorded in April. 

Data from the Bank of England also showed mortgage borrowing in the UK hit £11.8bn in March, the strongest month since records began in 1993. The previous peak was in October 2006 at £10.4bn.

Meanwhile, figures released by housing website Zoopla at the end of April showed demand for UK property is up 27.5% year to date in 2021 when compared with average levels in 2020.

Watch: What do stamp duty cuts mean for buyers and house prices?