Space, the final frontier for home workers - David Alexander

Two years ago, such was the fear brought about by covid, neighbours stopped talking to one another over the garden fence, terrified that this normal pattern of behaviour might now lead to illness or death.

David Alexander, head of DJ alexander
David Alexander, head of DJ alexander

Simultaneously, householders began to ring-fence their physical privacy and as the property market began adapting to the “new normal”, space became the must-have facility. Space in terms of wanting houses with bigger gardens or flats equipped with balconies – and the wider and longer the better. Pre-covid, the garden was the last thing anyone viewing a house tended to look at; now it was the first. Internal space too took on even greater importance as millions were told to swop the office for home-working.

Twenty-four months later has the situation altered?

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At first glance one might think so given people are returning to the High Street and retail parks, to cinemas, theatres and pubs; to trains and buses. Yet the property sector is lagging behind – if that is the right way of putting it – this trend with space still at or near the top of the priority list for most buyers and renters.

Demand for large gardens may no longer be as acute as it was given more is now known about covid being far more transmissible indoors rather that out. However the level of internal space – and, crucially, layout – on offer can still make or break a property deal.

The reason?

Well, hospitality staff may be working their socks off on Saturday nights but among the white-collar class, especially those employed in the public sector, the desire for working-from-home (WFH) is still endemic with many hoping it will become a permanent feature, at least for part of the week.

Obviously this has resulted in more people targeting executive-type homes with additional square footage on the basis that these can best facilitate WFH from a corner of the kitchen or lounge without impinging too much on the rest of the household. The change in people’s habits have been quite dramatic as a result. For example even “Edinburgh-centric” types who love the capital and swore they could never live anywhere else have been prepared to move to one of the three Lothian counties, Fife or the Borders to find affordable extra living space – especially if they are not required to commute to the office five days a week. Others have simply bitten the bullet and decided to take out a bigger mortgage to buy bigger within the city, although given the prediction of further increases in base rate, this option will become less likely in the months to come.

However, a bit further down the property ladder the trend has pushed up demand for the standard, three-bedroom, suburban “semi”. In many of these properties housing grown-up families the third (usually single) bedroom was used either for storage or as a crash pad for a student son or daughter who otherwise spent most of his or her time at university. But since WFH became commonplace the previously unloved and unappreciated third bedroom has, at marginal expense, been seen as ripe for conversion to an ideal home-office where the breadwinner can work undisturbed by the distractions of the wider household.

This impact on the property market will continue as long as white-collar employees are permitted not to turn up at the workplace (while, of course, relying on those with a multitude of other skills doing so). For how long is anyone’s guess. In the private sector some employers may be quite happy to adapt voluntarily but others who prefer to see staff at their desks (rather than on Zoom) will probably have to wait until the ratio of job vacancies to job applicants is more balanced.

As for attitudes to WFH in the public sector…..it’s probably best not to get me started.

David Alexander is managing director of DJ Alexander

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