Do not dismiss the future attractiveness of purpose-built living

Elspeth Carson is a partner in the commercial real estate team at one of Scotland’s largest independent law firms, Morton Fraser

Prior to Coronavirus lockdown restrictions in the UK, purpose-built, and shared living accommodation developments had become an increasingly popular lifestyle choice for many over traditional housing. As such, construction and development projects were increasing exponentially. With an abundance of shared amenities such as communal areas, cinemas, gyms and libraries, co-living spaces provide a social element to city centre living. As well as providing a sense of community, shared living spaces are often more affordable with lower maintenance than traditional homes, and so particularly attractive to working millennials.

The natural reaction to the global Coronavirus pandemic and the adoption of self-isolation procedures and social distancing measures would lead you to believe that the writing is on the wall for the previously sought after purpose-built and shared living spaces. However, there is another side to this argument that needs to be considered for future developments and we shouldn’t yet draw a line under the attractiveness of communal living spaces.

Coronavirus has meant that living alone can be very isolating for many, with the lack of opportunity for socialising, dining experiences or use of communal facilities. Similarly, living alone often means a lack of support if one were to fall ill and needed to self-isolate. Purpose-bult living, with added facilities, can provide that support. Whether it is mail delivery and collection, shopping, a shared gym, or other ad hoc services, it has the potential to add a much needed sense of community, togetherness, and support, especially for vulnerable people when they need it most.

For developers, purpose-built living is attractive as it provides a solution to the growing problem that city centre living is becoming increasingly expensive and so smaller studios with amenities are likely to yield a strong return. Co-living homes in many cases have allowed younger generations to move to big cities on their own and in some cases, get on the housing ladder for the first time. Although currently a small percentage of UK housing stock is made up of co-living homes, it is often recognised that this style of living has the potential to deliver a significant number of affordable homes to the UK market, with the ability to aid in the national housing crisis.

What the future might look like for shared living developments is still unclear. For occupants, living with people you don’t know always carries risks, and the same can be said about purpose-built living. This is likely to be a weighty consideration for people following the pandemic when considering homes with shared living spaces. There is no doubt that future proposals for purpose-built living developments will need to consider how they can realistically provide safely designed and operated spaces for occupants still to enjoy a sense a community.

Looking forward, we are going to see buildings being redesigned to allow for social distancing. Purpose-built facilities with existing open areas offer more flexibility to do this – layouts can more readily be adapted, screens and non-structural walls erected which is often not possible in older buildings.

We are all also going to be more screen-reliant – using Zoom, and other online platforms for work and social interaction – and so modern purpose-built living may be able to offer better Wi-Fi links and quicker IT solutions as an attractive selling point, but also provide an easy way to work from home in a safe space without feeling isolated. For younger generations that have missed the sociability of the office environment – they may find they need to replace the office interaction with socially distanced community living.

There is one thing that we can know for certain and that is that for many, co-living provides a support system that they might not necessarily have available and that shouldn’t be underestimated or forgotten in light of the pandemic. There will still be a demand for developers to deliver a multifunctional style of living.