WFH, what does it mean for property development


Research from Rightmove shows that the number of city dwellers interested in buying a village home in June/July 2020 rose by 126% from the previous year, with a 68% increase in those looking to move to towns. While this trend was apparent pre-Covid, what is staggering is the rate of acceleration. Add to the mix that requirements for those relocating now include certain ‘must haves’ that weren’t previously on the essentials list, means developers will need to re-look at existing plans. Those developers whose schemes have passed the planning stage and are mid-construction, will need to be creative in terms of fulfilling the new wish list if they want to compete effectively.

The new reliance of the home needing to be all things could be a catalyst for developers, architects and local planners to work together. This partnership could have the potential to create homes which would include outdoor and multi-use internal spaces as standard – underpinned by the idea of wellness being part of function and form for all. For developers, the two obvious chart toppers for inclusion are home office areas and outdoor space, which are seen increasingly as indispensable by purchasers. It doesn’t matter if you’re a solo buyer or a family needing two offices – people seem to have re-evaluated what they will need for the perfect work/life juggle and it’s unlikely this will change. As the government continues to advise working from home as the preferred option during lockdown and tiered systems, it is estimated that 50% of the workforce in the UK has been working remotely during thepandemic.

Although this figure won’t remain as high post- pandemic, it is anticipated that blending home working and a return to the corporate office will permanently change how and where people want to live. This will determine what we demand from our homes for the foreseeable future.

Going forward, the public expectation is for developers to deliver more than minimum sized,standard homes – whether for families, couples or solo dwellers. This is an opportunity, for developers who are still at the planning stage, to anticipate this demand and rise to the challenge. Although it may mean less units occupying a site, the flip side is that it is likely that purchasers will be prepared to invest a little more to relocate to a more generous sized home. The investment pay-off is that it allows for faster funding for subsequent developments and then the potential to do more schemes. However, many developers we are working with are currently mid-development and facing the challenge of having to react swiftly to remain competitive. Some are including options to have garden offices built at reduced cost, while others have instructed architects and interior designers to explore new internal layouts to examine ways to present some of the space as dual purpose. These include introducing luxury concepts as standard, such as integrated sliding doors and ‘invisible offices’.

A crucial factor, which developers can’t control, is an inadequate provision of mobile connectivity in many non-city locations, rendering some parts of the UK as WFH unfriendly. This has proved to be a deal breaker for potential purchasers in the past. But there seems to be some good news for buyers and developers alike. The main UK mobile operators have recently signed a legally binding commitment to collectively increase mobile phone coverage throughout the UK to 95% by the end of 2025, which will help roll out the latest 5G technology faster and wider than previous generations. In addition, it is anticipated that this will increase capacity for current 4G technology, helping to improve connectivity for the largely rural ‘not-spots’.

Of course, there are no certainties as to what will happen. But the overwhelming consensus is that the relationship between home and work has changed permanently for many. It will be interesting to see how developers respond to the challenge to compete in a market where space, both outdoors and indoors, has become king.