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How the COVID-19 pandemic will transform developer designs to meet new buyer expectations

Bruce Burkitt, founder & managing director at Property Experts

Following a year that saw a fundamental shift in how we interact with our homes, property developers are now faced with re-evaluating their offering to meet the changing demands of new buyers.

COVID-19 profoundly impacted how people view their homes. After nearly a year marked by three lockdowns, people have been forced to get up close and personal with their homes like never before, causing a significant shift in what buyers now look for.

The housing market is currently in the midst of a remarkable boom, as much driven by pent-up demand as people realising their present living conditions are inadequate. For developers we should view it as a once in a lifetime opportunity to reassess the nation’s housing needs to build better homes for customers.

New challenges require smart thinking and for developer’s success will be determined from striking the balance between the short-term trends and long-term requirements.

One area where developers will need to pay specific attention is the internal layouts of homes. For the past two decades open-plan living has been preferred, now with the rise of home working the ability to close a door in order to secure some peace and quiet is a must. The acknowledgement of this issue has sent many developers back to the drawing board causing a rush of reapplications for planning permissions.

Lockdown has meant our homes are now spaces we need to work, home school, exercise, play and relax in and as a result we are likely to see a shift towards more flexible floorplates to accommodate this. Developers will need to maximise the available space in each unit and to consider the potential multiple uses of spaces throughout the day.

One interesting area of design we are exploring at Property Experts is the incorporation of more multi-functional bespoke units and smart storage solutions into our properties. We have been speaking to a number of different designers to assess the best ways to create rooms that are reconfigurable depending on the time of day.

A concept we are also researching for spare rooms is to replace fixed-frame beds with a folding bed, which could potentially be built into a storage wall or cleverly disguised as a wardrobe. This could free up space for buyers to create a multipurpose room for an office or home gym.

Communal facilities have also risen to top of the priority list for buyers. Again, flexibility will be key and the relaxing of planning rules centred around commercial to residential conversions creates opportunity to envision new types of communal spaces by adapting existing sites.

We recently acquired an interesting site, a former Lloyds Bank building in Horley, where we currently have planning permission for 22 units. In part what drew us to the site was the potential of the commercial units still in place on the ground floor. We envision this space as an exclusive serviced business centre equipped with high-speed broadband and a range of amenities to benefit the occupants.

Demand for outside space is also at an all-time high. It is well documented in multiple studies that these spaces play a crucial role in helping with physical and mental health. So, it is no wonder buyers are now prioritising access to high-quality outside spaces. We learned from experience in the pandemic just how much people value these sorts of spaces.

At our Welcomes Road development in Kenley, the feedback was the landscaped green spaces were a real selling point. A further testament to this point is our latest development in Northwood Road, Purley where all apartments benefit from either private terraces or outside space. Although the development is still currently under construction, we have agreed sales on 5 out of the 7 units.

Given the greater demand for space and with homeworking looking to become a permanent fixture in our lives, an important area for developers to consider is location. Buyers are already willing to undertake longer commutes in exchange for living in a bigger, more versatile home that meets their post-covid demands and ultimately for a fraction of the price of having this in London.

For any developer to be successful, it is a crucial to recognise the shifts occurring in the marketplace driven by the changing requirements of buyers. It is an exciting opportunity to rethink and improve how we create homes to meet the ever-changing requirements of 21st century living. Those who intelligently adapt their designs and rise to the challenge to meet these needs, will be in a far stronger position going forward than those who do not.