‘Rural renaissance’ predicted as prime house hunters consider moving to villages

Many house hunters at the top end of the property market say having a dedicated space to work from home has become a bigger priority, a survey has found.

The research also suggests more prospective buyers could be expanding their searches to look for well-connected village locations where they can split their working week between home and their office.

Savills surveyed nearly 700 registered buyers and sellers in the prime property market between April 21 and 27 to find out how their attitudes to moving have changed during the coronavirus crisis.

The prime property market generally includes the top 5% to 10% of homes by value, depending on where properties are located in the UK.

Some 49% of those surveyed said they will be more inclined to work from home even after lockdown restrictions are lifted.

As a consequence 44% said a separate work space has become more important, rising to 61% of under-40s. Savills said good access to Wi-Fi is also becoming more valued, with 48% saying its availability is now more important.

“It is clear that the current crisis has made people think more about the space they live in, the attributes they most value in a home and in some cases, where they want to live, all of which is likely to drive activity at the top end of the market as we come out of lockdown,” said Lucian Cook, Savills head of residential research.

The desire for a garden or outdoor space has also become a more pressing consideration for 71% of under-40s, the research found.

Nearly four in 10 (39%) people said they would find a village location more appealing than previously, while 54% of those with school-age children find the idea of a countryside location more attractive.

Frances Clacy, an analyst at Savills, said: “The potential for a rural renaissance comes at a time when country property looks increasingly good value compared to prime houses and flats in our most desirable towns and cities.

“Well-connected village locations, ideal for those who can split their working week between home and office, are likely to be in particular demand.”

The housing market has been put on pause during the crisis, with people being told by the Government to put off moving until a later date.

Buyers can still do virtual viewings online and make offers if they want to.

Savills also predicts that, with some uncertainty around Brexit lingering into next year, there could be a bounce in housing market activity in 2022.

It found that, while prospective buyers in the prime property market have become less committed to moving in the near-term, the experience of Covid-19 has made them more determined to move in the next couple of years.

While 37% said they are now less likely to move within the next six months, 27% believe a move is more likely, creating a net balance of minus 10% who are more likely to move in the next six months.

The net balance moved to a positive 9% for people who are more likely to move within the next 12 months – with 25% less likely to move versus 34% who are more likely to move – and a net balance of 29% who are more likely to move within the next two years – made up of 10% who are less likely to move versus 39% who are more likely.

Just under half of those surveyed do not expect the selling price of their existing home or the amount they would be willing to spend on a new property to have changed as a result of Covid-19.

The other half felt both would fall, the majority by up to 10%.

Only 5% of those in the survey believe the value of their home could have increased.

Savills predicts that house prices across the mainstream market could fall by between 5% and 10% in the short term as few transactions take place.

But it still expects the average UK house price to increase by around 15% overall across the next five years, assuming that there is a V-shaped economic downturn followed by a recovery.

It expects the prime markets, which are less reliant on buyers needing to obtain a mortgage, to be the first to recover, led by prime central London.