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The New Normal

Sam Gibson from the Hexham office assesses the likely impact of mass home-working on our property preferences.

At the time of writing (late March 2020) the Covid-19 pandemic is really starting to take hold in the UK. Many of us are working from home until further notice, while school-age children are also confined to barracks, with regular school work assigned by Intranet. Government advice has been to postpone any house moves wherever possible.

As some families have two or more children each studying (or pretending to study) in their bedrooms and two parents also working from home in separate rooms, this is a rather odd new reality for many of us. The consequences for the economy will be far-reaching, but in terms of the property sector, how will this major change affect the way that we view our homes?

The home office

Where once this may have been a spare bedroom too small to be useful for any other purpose, or an area squeezed in at the foot of the stairs, the home office is now a major consideration. Some families will require two, if employers switch to more flexible work patterns.

The best home office for prolonged periods of home working is one that is light and airy, has a window with a nice view, or better still a small balcony or access to outside space. At the very least this should be a room that isn’t a thoroughfare to another part of the house and has a door which can be closed.

Broadband speeds, running costs and the potential for a renewable energy scheme

Broadband speed is at the top of the list of requirements for most house hunters. The ideal would be superfast speeds of 24 Mbps or faster – but a typical family home requires 12 Mbps, according to Ofcom. In rural areas, speeds vary, but the government has been working towards rolling out superfast broadband for all and it is likely this will continue in the near future.

The prospect of spending more time at home equals greater running costs. A house which offers the potential to reduce our energy consumption, thereby reducing our carbon footprint and cutting our energy bills, will hold significant appeal. Houses with solar panels, a ground-source heat pump, or a wind turbine will catch the home worker’s eye in the short to medium term.

The Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive is a government scheme designed to promote the use of renewable heat, including installation of an eco friendly system (e.g. a biomass boiler, solar thermal panels, an air-source heat pump or ground-source heat pump). Payments under this scheme will help offset the cost of installation and furthermore the overall cost of running your home should be reduced.

The government’s Feed-In Tariff scheme offers a payment for electricity generated by the home owner from renewable sources. Although now closed to new entrants, homes which have a FIT scheme in place continue to receive payments for electricity generated and are only going to serve as a greater attraction to purchasers.

The garden & grounds

Although the current lockdown is not likely to last for too long, (hopefully) the importance of access to a garden has never been more apparent. We can at least escape to our garden, thereby benefiting from both fresh air and the potential to get some exercise at the same time.

The dream for many of us would be a couple of acres of land, either for fruit trees, perhaps keeping chickens or creating a vegetable patch, or a paddock and stable for those with equestrian interests.

On a smaller scale, an attractive garden may now be one that is fully enclosed, with a good degree of privacy, and perhaps a terraced area or summer house for eating lunch outside, weather permitting.

Three generations in one house

The current situation brings into focus the needs and wants of the different generations. The advantage of having this space already set up may be music to your ears if you are currently struggling to manage the demands of working from home and suddenly needing to home school your children as well!

It may be that we will give more consideration to having a dedicated games room for younger children, converting the loft to a chillout space for teenagers, or creating an annexe for older family members, either as a permanent addition to the home or for occasional use.

Commuting distance

Given the major hit to the economy from the current crisis and the likely repercussions, there is the possibility that employers will decide to reduce the number of office bases they maintain in the future, or decrease the size of their office space to accommodate fewer staff, sharing the same desk on rotation.

Across the UK as a whole, the average commute time is just under an hour. If more of us are working from home for the majority of the week, commuting distance becomes less of an issue. Previously unconsidered properties may now be well worth considering.

In Northumberland, areas around Rothbury and Allendale have always held a strong appeal despite their relative distance from the major towns, but this attraction will be even greater if the daily commute is no longer a factor.