What we want from a home is changing. Not long ago, the ambition was to climb the ladder rung by rung, hoping for gains along the way, with the plan of staying put one day.
But such ambition was already going out of style and now, thanks to the pandemic, it is rapidly being replaced by the search for a ‘forever home’ in which to settle down for decades, or even a lifetime.
The objective is long-term comfort, convenience and community. Such is the demand for a property with the potential to be the place to put down roots that, last month, a near-derelict cottage in the Shropshire village of Aston with an asking price of £200,000 fetched £400,000 — as rival buyers vied to become its occupiers.
Settling down: Four-bedroom Vine Cottage in Wiltshire recently sold for £725,000
Our dream home is now in a leafy suburb or the shires, with a decent-sized garden and scope for multi-generational living.
Grown-up children have been returning in greater numbers to the parental home, thanks to lockdowns or pandemic job losses. Families may also need to accommodate older relations.
In the U.S., properties that suit such households have become so in demand that one developer, Lennar, offers a so-called Next Gen home. Different generations share the house, but for privacy each has their own entrance, kitchen and other facilities.
Richard Donnell, research and insight director at Zoopla , says the ‘forever trend’ has been accelerated by the experience of home-working during the pandemic, and facilitated by the nine-month stamp duty holiday introduced in July.
But he believes it is likely to continue, even when we return to normal life. He says there has been a ‘once-in-a-lifetime reassessment of what a home is really worth, and what you want from your home’.
The impact of the new preference can be seen in property values. The prices of flats and maisonettes rose by just 2 per cent in the year to September, according to Land Registry data for England.
The prices of detached, semi-detached and terrace houses leapt by 6.7 per cent, 5.2 per cent and 4.9 per cent respectively.
One cause of these increases is the reluctance among older couples to downsize. Jeremy Leaf, of the estate agency Leaf & Co (jeremyleaf.co.uk), argues that the desire to stay put is being fuelled by the prohibitive cost of moving home.
The total fees — including estate agency, legal, removal and other costs — for selling a £350,000 home in Birmingham and buying a £450,000 property in the same area are estimated at £10,800. After the stamp duty holiday ends on March 31, this will be as much as £23,300.
Among those anxious to pay such costs only once are first-time buyers in their 20s. A city-centre flat used to be their starter-home choice. But they are now househunting in the suburbs for homes with three bedrooms, one of which will be an office and another a nursery.
Affluent thirtysomethings with larger budgets are shopping in London’s comfortable outer boroughs such as Ealing, rather than chic Fulham, once the favourite inner-city haunt of such buyers.
Ealing, with its mix of schools, is said to offer ‘longevity’ — the key element in the forever home search in any region. The commute into Central London is also easy.
Paul Daniel, of Hamptons, (hamptons.co.uk) says: ‘Our buyers in Ealing are looking for detached period properties, with five to six bedrooms, with the view to starting a family. Outside space is cited as a must, together with ample space to work from home — this can either be a garden office or separate space within the house.’
The quest for a forever home may be more about nesting than investing, but experts suggest that househunters must be hard-headed.
The appeal of the rundown Shropshire cottage was its view. But remember there can be no assurance that a view will remain unchanged due to the risk of development.
So before making a long-term commitment, it’s wise to establish whether, if circumstances alter, the property of your choice would be easy to sell. If you are reasonably content, then cross your fingers and hope for happy ever after.
On the market… houses for life
Gloucestershire: One mile from Stow-on-the-Wold, in the sought-after village of Lower Swell, Cranmer Cottage is a Grade II-listed home with three bedrooms. knightfrank.co.uk, 020 4502 8066. £750,000
Kent: This six-bedroom home in East Farleigh has been recently refurbished and extended. It’s in a popular village and has a large, landscaped garden. fineandcountry.com, 01732 222 272. £950,000
Cheshire: There are five bedrooms in this family home near Macclesfield. It has a drawing room, games room, study and open-plan sitting room. jackson-stops.co.uk, 01625 540 340. £895,000