Has Covid-19 changed what we want from our homes?

Home buying & selling, Investing, Lifestyle
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OK, so who’s been stuck at home, in what you thought was a spacious property, right up until Covid-19 hit?

All of a sudden we’ve got people trying to find space to be able work, study and then relax all under the 1 roof and in many cases this has not gone well.

And this has now lead to new studies finding what people are now actually craving from a home or a Principal Place of Residence (PPOR) in order to meet both their practical as well as their lifestyle needs.

Australians are increasingly prioritising spacious living and separate study areas in their next home amid COVID-19 restrictions.

The COVID-19 pandemic restrictions have significantly changed home ownership goals and what Australians want most in their next home, according to new research.

The research by major bank Westpac has found that with more Australians working from home and juggling school and family commitments under one roof, spacious living is now the top priority.

The survey of 1,176 Australians aged 18 and over has revealed that 34 per cent of all respondents want to live somewhere less populated, 31 per cent want to be closer to either parks or shops, and 20 per cent are seeking suburbs with larger properties.

Meanwhile, 27 per cent have prioritised outdoor features like a backyard, while 18 per cent want an entertainment area. When it comes to being indoors, 20 per cent have rated having a separate study as important while 15 per cent want a larger kitchen.

It seems that Australians have been using the lockdown period during the coronavirus pandemic to re-evaluate their living space and how it would meet their future needs.

For many, staying home for an extended period has changed how we use the space we live in, whether that’s home schooling from the kitchen table or setting up a makeshift office in the lounge room, sound familiar?

Research suggests that this has started a behavioural shift in what Australians want in a home, with people now seeking more space outdoors, proximity to parks and beaches, and even larger properties.

Searches For Covid Related Keywords

With respondents saying they would like a separate study in their homes, it appears that more people want their homes to cater to both their professional and personal lives.

And the governments recently announced Homebuilder grants, it’s expected more Australians will be considering a major renovation to upgrade their home to better meet their needs, or even starting a new home build to cater for their changing lifestyle.

The survey also revealed that Australian home owners are less likely to prefer high-density living in a post-pandemic world, with 77 per cent saying they would now prefer to live in a house because of COVID-19.

This is compared with 22 per cent who sought a home in an inner-city or urban area back in 2019, according to the Westpac 2019 Home Ownership Report.

Is this the start of the resurgence of the quarter acre block? That was the great Aussie dream post world war 2 and this virus seems to have awakened our awareness to close proximity living. Has convenience to location all of a sudden been replaced by convenience of home & work style choices?

And when you consider the infection rates and death toll overseas, particularly in European countries like Italy, where it very accustomed for all generations of 1 family to live under 1 roof and interact socially, maybe this has been the reality check for Australians to reconsider their living and lifestyle choices?

And with the searches in the 1st half of 2020 coming up looking for the 3 main things of outdoor areas, a broadband connection and then a gym, the pendulum has turned in the 6 months to 31st of December as shown here:-

Most Searched Keywords For Houses

The home study has leapt to the most searched, then an outdoor area and a pool now becoming more desirable than earlier in the pandemic.

We have seen, during Covid-19, low auction and clearance rates. This has largely been due to a lack of vendors listing properties. Ultimately a lack of supply has led to these statistics and due to social distancing and inability to undertake home inspections, this has all been major factors and contributors to a slowly declining housing market.

Earlier in the pandemic, outdoor space was front of mind for house hunters.

Executive manager of economic research at realestate.com.au Cameron Kusher said the rapid adoption of working from home in 2020 and its continuation are having repercussions for the housing market.

“There will be an expectation from employees that flexible working arrangements will become more normal while others will have no need to be in an office going forward,” Mr Kusher said.

“This has resulted in repercussions for the housing market with people more inclined to look for regional properties and people being more focused on having additional bedrooms and studies so they can easily work from home moving forward.

“Of course these additional amenities and rooms in a home come at a cost so that may also be a key consideration for buyers who are choosing to purchase in relatively more affordable areas of the country so they can get more home for less.”

Dr Sing D’Arcy, senior lecturer at UNSW Built Environment, said extended lockdowns during the once-in-a-century pandemic had changed people’s normal pattern of living.

First home buyer New

A place to work from home is essential

Working from home has elevated the importance of a space to do the work.

Dr D’Arcy said a single person in a one-bedroom apartment could conduct meetings and organise a working space, but it was more challenging for two people trying to work from home and participate in virtual meetings in the living space while children undertake remote learning.

“That’s when we really need to think about how we can better design our living spaces to enable us to have some form of acoustic separation or even just a mental space within our own home where we can do our work,” he said.

When a number of people had to set up their computers on the dining table, Dr D’Arcy said the issue was what happened at the end of the working day.

“What happens at five o’clock? Is everybody prepared to pack everything up to turn it back into a home or do you really start to be living in your office?”

Having a separate study may be the ideal, but Dr D’Arcy said it was not financially possible for everyone.

He suggested one of the solutions may be to borrow from contemporary ideas of workplace design to accommodate the presence of work at home, using the lessons learnt from activity-based working that allows multiple functions and zones on a floor plan.

“It could be, for example, a specific type of furniture that has a high back and high sides so there’s no visual interference and the noise is reduced. That would be perfect for having a quick Zoom meeting without necessarily building a studio or a granny flat out the back.”

More space for more time at home

COVID has led many Australians to make the move to regional areas or outer suburbs that offer more space, in the expectation they will no longer need to go into an office every day.

“In some ways rather than house design changing really quickly, because it can’t because it’s a slow process, people are making those choices,” Dr D’Arcy said.

“They are deciding: ‘OK we need more space – I’m going to choose a house further out that will give me the study, everyone gets their own bedroom and we’ve got a backyard’,” he said. These findings have come at the same time as ING released a new report on home ownership patterns in Australia, with a focus on shift in trends amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Titled Future Focus: Homeownership report, the research found that since the lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus, 30 per cent of Australians now see their homes as a “lifestyle hub”.

Despite the easing of restrictions in public spaces, 39 per cent plan to continue exercising more frequently at home, while 30 per cent want to dine more frequently at home. A further 30 per cent said they would socialise more at home, while a quarter said they would work at home more often.

Millennials looking to purchase property are prioritising fast internet (40 per cent), while 37 per cent are prioritising an outdoor space like a balcony, garden or patio, and 27 per cent want a space to exercise.

A key design issue out of the pandemic, Dr D’Arcy said, is how homes can perform multiple functions.

“It’s the families where perhaps mum and dad are in one room and two kids share the other room and there’s just the combined living/kitchen in an apartment that really feel the stress that ‘we’re going to go crazy if we’re locked down again’.”

Will COVID lead to lasting design changes?

Architects, developers and academics are pondering what impact the pandemic will have on the long-term design of houses and apartments.

“The lasting changes on home design – if they are lasting – are basically going to be that the house is a place that you might not leave quite as much,” Dr D’Arcy said.

“People will be wanting the designs to match their lifestyle.”

“At this point in time we’ve done a little bit of a 180-degree turn away from this high-density living.

“What is happening within your boundary – whether it be party walls in a townhouse or an apartment building or whether it be the boundary of your block – I think is far more important now than what it was before.”

Dr D’Arcy said the new paradigm of working and how people work will have longer-term impacts on house design, but noted that such changes often took a long time and successful COVID vaccines could mean life – and homes – returned to normal.

“There might be more immediate, simple changes that people can do in the upgrades of bathrooms and kitchens and other types of spaces, more so than a future COVID-safe house,” he said.

Dr D’Arcy said people may think about putting sensor taps or toilet switches in shared bathrooms in large households. He also had another suggestion in the wake of toilet paper panic buying.

“Australians always used to laugh at the whole notion of a bidet when they went to Europe and the same thing with the automated toilets in Japan.

“But suddenly people think ‘oh, actually I don’t have to worry about toilet paper if I upgrade my toilet to a smart toilet.”

Interesting times, and future buying patterns will be interesting to review in 2021 and beyond based on the year that was in 2020!

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The information provided in this article is general in nature and does not constitute personal financial advice. The information has been prepared without taking into account your personal objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on any information you should consider the appropriateness of the information with regard to your objectives, financial situation and needs.

Andrew Mirams

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