Edinburgh is ripe for another renaissance - Matthew Gray

The property market in Edinburgh continues to boom – hardly surprising given the regularity in which the capital features in “best places” analysis. Even over the last year where it was expected Covid-19 might put a dampener on house prices, figures from the Registers of Scotland revealed that properties in the city rose by 5.3 per cent year-on-year.

The conversion of the old Donaldson’s School into residential properties has given the building a new lease of life

Our homes have become more special as they are now in many cases the place where we live and work. In turn, the success of remote working is making many business leaders reconsider future working practices. After all, it’s been proven that teams can be as productive working from home as they would be in the office, raising questions about the future of city centre-based offices.

While the office used to be a place for people to gather to work, for many businesses it’s likely to evolve into a client-facing HQ, whereby the main role of the premises is to host meetings.

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But when is the right time for a business to decide about its office future while there is still uncertainty around guidance on moving the workforce back to an office environment?

Matthew Gray is Managing Director, Gilson Gray Property Services

Put simply – the time is now. Businesses need to be considering what approach will work for them, their teams and clients in the future and whether the space they previously occupied will suit this. While many large corporates are committing to a hybrid approach when the time comes to return to the office, it is harder for SMEs to follow that same path as they would simply be paying rent for offices to sit empty some of the time.

As businesses that had previously based themselves in the capital’s New Town may either downsize their space or close completely, a significant opportunity has been sparked for developers looking to transform these premises back into the grand Georgian residential townhouses they once were.

The move from commercial to residential properties in the West End is nothing new – think what has been done with the old Donaldson’s School over the last decade; the new life that has been brought back into the distinctive property will protect it for decades to come.

When completed in the 1850s, the New Town was to house the professional and merchant classes who had previously lived in cramped conditions in the Old Town. Now, we are likely to see the reinstatement of residential premises into the area for similar reasons. Whether kept as one large townhouse or split into apartments, the opportunity is huge.

The pandemic has allowed each of us to consider what is important in our lives; while friends and family will remain high on that list, so too will our surroundings.

Given the commercial adaptations which have been made to these buildings, there will be some work to be done to restore them to their residential glory. From a developer’s perspective, looking at how people are using their homes (or would like to use them) should play into how they look to adjust the majestic townhouses that give Edinburgh’s New Town its character. More time at home has increased the desire for more space to separate personal and professional lives. The ability to shut the door on the home office, rather than simply push the laptop aside to serve dinner, at the end of the day is highly desirable.

While the scale of these properties may convince many developers to create several apartments, there will be other premises that would benefit from a grandiose redevelopment – think rooftop terraces and penthouse study. Either way, the investment opportunity is significant.

The local village nature that pockets of Edinburgh benefit from are being resurrected, particularly in the West End where high-quality coffee and food shops, green space and excellent connectivity, mean that those who relocate here have a broad range of services on their doorsteps. We’ll no doubt see this grow further once the St James Quarter opens later this summer and the development of the Haymarket Edinburgh site evolves.

The opportunity sparked by the reinstatement of these wonderful buildings is huge – not only to those who invest in their redevelopment, but also those who look to call them home. Edinburgh is entering another renaissance, who knew that would be one of the outcomes of a global pandemic?

Matthew Gray is Managing Director, Gilson Gray Property Services

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