How coronavirus has changed buying a house: priorities now include space for a home office and room to extend


Lockdown has been life changing for many people who have already actioned their new priorities. Some children will go back to school on Monday in a major easing of the restrictions, but daily life will not return to a pre-coronavirus normal.

Over the last two months householders have taken a good look at their lives and their homes and will make long-term decisions based on the pandemic. Even when offices reopen, many people will opt to work at home more and commute less. Newly created pop-up studies in the attic, kitchen or garden will become permanent and working from home could spell the end of open-plan design as families work and study side by side.

“I do not think this is going to be a one-time crisis or a one-off lockdown,” says Professor Yolande Barnes of the Bartlett Real Estate Institute, University College London. “Homeowners are reassessing their space for what lies ahead.”

Rory Gordon, the founder of Good London Builders, agrees. “People have spent the lockdown inspecting where they live and working out how to improve it,” he says.

The lasting legacy of lockdown

Lockdown will also drive demand to move house. According to Rightmove the number of Londoners searching for rural properties is up 10 per cent because of Covid-19.

Others, inspired by the 60 per cent fall in air pollution in London, may go in search of a greener existence with better access to cycle lanes and nature.

“Buyers and tenants will be more discerning and from now on, every time they view a new property they will be thinking, Can I live in these four walls in a lockdown?” says Yolande Barnes.

Developers will react, too, squeezing desks into alcoves, providing communal workspaces with desks spread out and installing more electric car charging points.

Barnes predicts that while we will commute less, the pandemic “won’t spell the end of office life – we need to work in teams for dynamism, creativity and competition”. But she adds: “I do worry about the central business districts. I think we will see more people living in good-quality towns with smaller satellite offices on the high street.”

She concludes: “We are on the threshold of lifestyle change. These changes were coming but will be accelerated by lessons we’ve learnt during the lockdown.”

Coronavirus changed our priorities

City workers Katie Bagley, 31, and 30-year-old Alex Friel were due to get married this month but with the lockdown looming they cancelled their Big Day, saved the money they would have spent on it and bought their first home.

The couple had been renting a one-bedroom flat in Stratford and had earmarked East Village, the residential development on the former Olympic Athletes’ Village. They found a three-bedroom house in the New Stratford Works development at nearby Chobham Farm in E15, viewed it in March, completed the purchase during the lockdown and moved in.

“After the disappointment of having our wedding cancelled we really wanted to move into a new home this year,” says Katie. “Finding a three-bedroom home was perfect because we can start a family there.”

Prices start from £691,000 for a three-bedroom home at New Stratford Works. Call 020 8534 3338.

Renovating in the lockdown

Bryony and Neil Sinclair are renovating their 18th-century granary and have adapted their plans due to lockdown.

The couple – both self-employed – live in a hamlet in East Sussex, near the commuter town of Haywards Heath. They are in the process of adding two bedrooms and two bathrooms, extending the kitchen, converting the garage into a boot room and moving the staircase.

Lockdown has brought home the need for different spaces for different family members.

A mezzanine alcove overlooking the living room is being turned into a games space for their sons Cameron, Alex and Lochy, while any thoughts of creating an English country garden have gone out of the window. “We’re not doing any landscaping, we want space for the boys to play football, ride bikes and make dens,” says Bryony, 41.

Future-proofing: self-employed Bryony and Neil Sinclair are adding bedrooms and bathrooms and extending the kitchen at their former granary in East Sussex (Andrew Hasson)

Her wellness and nutrition coaching business (www.insincwellness.co.uk) has taken off during the Covid-19 crisis. She has been running a virtual wholesome cookery club for children and filming it – and she is now designing her future kitchen with this in mind.

The other adaptation of the plan has been the addition of a log cabin which will become her office-cum-studio. Neil, 47, bought the cabin off eBay and put it together.

“It’s been good for us to spend so much time together,” says Bryony, “but I have realised how important it is to have space to think and have a corner to retreat to.”

Reworking the home

Tania Thomas, co-founder of Maison Communications, a property and lifestyle communications consultancy, has reordered her entire household to create two home studies.

Tania and her husband, who live in Acton, moved their two young daughters into the main guest bedroom and turned the two-year-old’s nursery into a study.

“Realising the importance of backdrop on Zoom we made this room really smart with in-built shelving. We painted it Hicks’ Blue by Little Greene and hung artwork,” says Tania. Her other daughter’s former bedroom is now the second study. “The girls love sharing. This is permanent.”

Developers, architects and interior designers are in discussion about how to incorporate a desk or study into new homes, according to Richard Angel, director of interior design firm Angel O’Donnell. “People have been making the most of it so far but in the long term they will need fit-for-purpose spaces,” he says.

Good London Builders’ Rory Gordon, who has projects under way in Chelsea, Fulham and Shepherd’s Bush, adds: “More people are asking for outbuildings and basement conversions for home offices.”

Commuter homes in Surrey

Felicity and Michael Barnard, who live in a terrace house in Wandsworth Old Town, started looking at villages in Surrey last year but the lockdown has spurred on the search.

“Our family has doubled in size in five years so we’ve been looking for a Surrey village, close to friends with good commuter links to London,” says Felicity, 37. “Cabin fever in the lockdown and trying to entertain two small children in four walls has made us long for space and a tighter, less transient community.”

Estate agent Robert Leech is selling homes in a new gated development in the heart of the Surrey village of Oxted. Every apartment at Courtyard Gardens has a balcony, terrace or views over a central garden or towards the North Downs. Prices start from £332,000. Visit courtyardgardensoxted.co.uk for full details.

Going green

Jane Devin, 30, was wedded to life in the capital but the lockdown motivated her to move from a flat in Wandsworth and find a house with a garden, closer to nature.

Last month the engineer found a three-bedroom townhouse online at the Millfields development by Redrow in nearby Mitcham. and bought it.

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At Millfields in Mitcham, a Redrow development, prices start at £580,000 for a three-bedroom house with a garden

“I was drawn to the area as it has a country village feel despite being so close to central London,” she says. “The development is connected to walking and running trails which lead to Wandle Valley Regional Park.”

The 2,200-acre park is a vast tract of wilderness that stretches into the boroughs of Wandsworth, Merton, Sutton and Croydon.

Prices at Millfields start from £580,000 for a three-bedroom house with a garden. Call 020 3811 6277.



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