What buyers want now: Top town & country buying agents compare notes on post-lockdown demand trends

10 June 2020, Prime Resi

Two top buying agents – one focused on prime London, and one on prime country houses – reveal what is on their clients’ most-wanted lists.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected lives in many ways, and talk of property markets may seem inconsequential in comparison to some of these. But the lockdown has had a dramatic effect on the resi sector, with some potentially long-lasting shifts in home-buyer priorities.

At the top end, luxury property buyers seem to be re-assessing what they value most in a prospective new home. Space to live and work has risen up the priority list in both town and country, while location has in some instances become less of a factor.

Two top buying agents – Camilla Dell, focused on prime London, and Charlie Wells, focused on prime country houses – reveal what is on their clients’ most-wanted lists.

Mayfair-based Black Brick has been sourcing homes for wealthy and corporate clients in London and the South East since 2002. Founder and Managing Partner Camilla Dell talks us through the changes she is seeing in her clients’ priorities since the Coronavirus lockdown:

In Town: Camilla Dell of Black Brick

What’s Going Up:
  • Home offices. With many large corporations struggling to navigate how to bring people back to work safely, let alone get on a tube or airplane, top of the list right now is home office space. Clients want spaces where they can hide away from the kids, ideally with sound-proofed walls, but lots of natural light and adequate space to avoid hunching over a small desk, making it a pleasant space to work for extended periods

  • Wifi speed. There was a time a few a years back when buyers would ask for space for large clunky servers. The use of the “cloud” and technology like Office 365 negates the need for large servers with air conditioned units to keep the room cool. Whilst tech has moved on, fast wifi speed is still critical.

  • Basements / cellars. We’ve become accustomed to working out by ourselves with an online class or 1:1 personal trainer on Zoom. So many buyers are happy to convert a basement or cellar into a personal gym. Clients are also asking for space to consider building a swimming pools, sauna and spas

  • Gardens with space for veg patches. A big trend for those with gardens and some extra time on their hands, is buying and planting veg. Over recent months, many have valued self-sufficiency, showing children when their food comes from and the satisfaction of growing your own. The kitchen is evolving into the kitchen garden. And much like the premium that goes on a “starchitecht” property, gardens which have been designed by a celebrity garden designer have added cache.

  • Sustainability features. Clients see the benefits of developments which have recycling and waste disposal services to help control rubbish, especially where public serves have been under strain with reduced pick ups

  • Larger kitchens/ dining areas. Going forward, we expect people to do more home entertaining with a small “bubble” of friends, therefore space to cook and entertain will be higher up the wish list, possibly with personal chefs catering for small groups, with hygiene front of mind.

  • Large play rooms/ space for children to learn/ home school. Once the British winter comes and children can’t get outside as readily, space for children to play with siblings or a small bubble of friends will become the ‘new normal’ – we expect a demand for flexible spaces where children can play as they grow

  • Additional services. This has always been popular, but with an increase in online shopping and deliveries, a property with a concierge or housekeeping services will have added influence. We’re also seeing some developers being clever with added services such as private health care plans built into their management packages.

What’s Going Down

  • Proximity to the tube. The latest news from the BMA that any enclosed spaces will increase risk, means that people will be looking for alternative means of getting to work, or indeed, simply working from home more

  • Proximity to airport links. Similarly, the increase in remote working, will decrease the demand for international travel, so a home on the Piccadilly Line or close to the Heathrow Express will be less important

  • Apartment blocks. Especially those with shared facilities such as pools/gyms will become a lower priority, as people are now adept at training in their own homes

In the Country: Charlie Wells of Prime Purchase

Prime Purchase is the independent buying arm of Savills; it has been representing and advising purchasers across the country since 2002. Hampshire-based Managing Director Charlie Wells reveals what is on their clients’ most wanted list:

  • Number one is the general aesthetic and how the house looks – everyone wants a home they perceive to be attractive. This is where it gets tricky as tastes differ. One buyer may want a period property with high ceilings and Georgian splendour, another may want a more modest farmhouse or cottage. Some will want to preserve existing features and make the most of them, others will say they want period charm and then replace that charm with clean lines and modern finishes. It is all down to personal taste.

  • The need for square feet and acreage is important with buyers potentially requiring room to accommodate a hobby. The space you need and the space you want are two different things so never sell off outlying land until the main asset is sold.

  • Privacy and seclusion, particularly in the country, are high on the must-have list. Privacy comes in different forms, from not wanting your neighbours to see you from their upstairs study window to not seeing another house at all. For most people, it’s about not seeing anyone else and ideally not hearing them either.

  • Absence of blights, usually planes, trains and automobiles but also pylons and electricity wires which blight the view. However, the very presence of a blight can make a house affordable to the buyer so it’s not the end of the world to have them. Noisy neighbours tend to be highly undesirable, but it comes down to what you are used to – I live near a farm that houses 350 cattle in winter. Their bellowing and general smell is reassuring to a country boy like me but others might not be able to cope.

  • Train, rail and road access. Is your property an hour from the capital or two or three? Buyers have their limits whether they travel daily, weekly or occasionally. Covid-19 and homeworking will, I think, relax people’s views on a slightly longer commute in order to gain more space.

  • Proximity of schools, whether a good state primary and secondary, or private. Many of our overseas buyers won’t consider boarding schools and need to live near a good private school so they can take their children to school every day.

  • Surrounding countryside. Having quiet country lanes and a network of public rights of way for walking, running, cycling or riding have become especially important recently.

  • Proximity to an attractive town or large village. Most buyers want some decent pubs, restaurants, cafés and bars fairly nearby – most popular areas will already have these.

  • Friends, old and new. People want to be near their friends or have the opportunity to plug into a new social network for themselves and their children. Schools, pubs and sport all play a big part here.

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