Homebuyers in the UK have been increasingly looking at buying properties in smaller towns and villages, as per leading property website Rightmove.
Rightmove reported that searches for properties in nine locations in England in particular, with populations under 11,000, have doubled, indicating a shift in lifestyles as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The demand for homes in Lightwater, a Surrey village with a population of fewer than 7,000 people, saw the most significant increase, with 130% growth in interest over the past year. In Lightwater, house prices can range anywhere between £155,000 for a studio flat, to more than £3.6m for a five-bedroom house.
Similar interest has been observed in locations like Hungerford in Berkshire, Aylesford in Kent, Shaftesbury in Dorset, and Dartmouth in Devon, among others. The harbour town of Dartmouth has also achieved the largest increase in the number of sales agreed at 179% in the last 12 months.
The interest in smaller towns has picked up just as searches around some of the most popular urban areas has begun to decrease. Data from Rightmove on the city of London indicated that previously popular locales such as Earl’s Court in West London, and New Cross observed decreases in searches of 40% and 20% respectively.
It seems the desire to move to rural locations has evolved from a short-term shift to a more persistent trend, especially as businesses have begun to adopt more flexible work policies for employees. Data from the ONS indicates that in April, some 46% of the employed population worked from home.
The shift to remote work has had a marked impact on property buying trends. For one, homebuyers now prioritize space more highly. Hamptons International reported that 34% of new tenants moved to flats with at least one extra bedroom. Many of these tenants have indicated that they need the extra space to set up home offices. Additionally, access to the outdoors has become increasingly important to homeowners who foresee local lockdown regulations restricting their lifestyles.
While the pandemic has led to many people reassessing their lifestyles, making a move to the country may not be as easy as it looks. For one, it is unclear whether smaller towns will have the supply to match the increasing demand for properties. Correspondingly, homeowners looking to sell their properties in urban locales to move to the country may face challenges in finding buyer demand during the coming winter months. Finally, with the squeeze on mortgages, it may be difficult for buyers to access financing to purchase new properties in the first place.
It will be essential for the government to ensure job security and access to finance to keep consumer confidence high and the housing market active.