64% working from home

Amidst talk of a ‘return to normality’, a survey for Jackson-Stops suggests that hybrid working has created an engine of long-term change in the country house market. Good news from our offices across the country: a less frenetic market is encouraging those whose move will involve a chain, to make their move. Seeing that they will no longer immediately be out-paced by competitors with cash, buyers who must also sell (i.e. most of them) are entering the fray once more. Coupled with better interest rate expectations, this is improving supply and generating a feeling of relative normality. Even so, the impact of the pandemic is far from over and, as explained further below, looks far-reaching.

Aftershocks (supply chains and builders)
Far more buyers than usual are avoiding houses that need a lot of work. Their assumption is that supply issues have made materials excessively expensive and that getting a builder, at any price, will just take too long. With one or two caveats*, these valid concerns should ease. National sales volumes were some 20% above average across 2021 and the first half of last year, creating a bulge in demand for renovation work. But volumes dipped so much in the second half of 2022 that final figures might show the year to have ended as much as 20% down. Volumes are recovering but in the meantime the dip, just like the bulge, will feed through.

Above right: Cheshire £3,500,000 guide (Alderley Edge)

Below: Devon, excess £3,500,000 (Exeter)

Energy, interest rates and prices: all about money
Energy and finance costs are the two big, non-Covid related factors being felt most keenly. Tim Firth at our Weybridge office says he is seeing more downsizing now, than in 20 years. The prompt is energy cost. Especially amongst the elderly with modest incomes, being asset-rich is of little help with the cost of heating lots of unused rooms. Even those who can afford that expense, increasingly see it as unacceptably wasteful. Supply is thus improving, particularly for those seller-buyers who need somewhere bigger. Buyers across the board are more price sensitive because of higher mortgage rates, but the general feeling of relief on this front is palpable. Realities and expectations are now much more within manageable norms, than towards the end of last year. There is a measured confidence abroad which feels more balanced. We are thus experiencing no great drama in relation to prices or underlying values and do not anticipate any.

Family reactions: let's make up for lost time
Another point made by Tim Firth and echoed by colleagues from Truro to York looks, if not permanent, longer-term at least. It is the desire of families living far apart, to be living closer together and make up for time lost during lockdowns. This includes grandparents moving from rural areas, to commuter areas such as Weybridge and Alderley Edge. In more distant commuting zones such as much of Kent and Suffolk, it includes instances of two generations moving somewhere new. Often, they are choosing locations made practical by the advent of widespread hybrid working. Indeed, it is striking that the pandemic appears to have tightened geographical ties to family, whilst loosening those to the workplace.

The one poll JS Housebuyer Survey: hybrid is the new normal
A survey carried out for this firm in February 2023 by One Poll, asked 500 prospective homeowners a variety of questions, including how often they commuted to their place of work. Of those in work, whilst just 5% work fully remotely, 64% work at least one day a week from home. Taking the sample as a whole, over half – 52% – of their paid working days, are worked at home.

Right: Surrey £3,500,000 guide (Oxted)

These findings chime with those of the ONS (44% working from home) and the US-based WFH Institute (which also identifies that, amongst English speaking nations, the UK has the highest proportion of job postings offering hybrid work).

Even should the total of all working days fall substantially (30% is more typical in the US), this still amounts to an astonishing degree of change: the total beforehand is thought to have been less than 5%. Why has this only happened now, given that the technology was there for years? Presumably because, suddenly and simultaneously, everyone who could work remotely, did so.

The effects of this collective shift are only beginning. Those who share parenting can, between them, always do the morning school run and attend 9am meetings. With less commuting, more time can be given to local events and to family life (including those newly local grandparents). Living a little further from the station becomes more practical, as does using local cafés, bars and cinemas.

Above: Cambridgeshire £1,350,000 guide (Newmarket)

Are we seeing this happening now? The start of it, certainly. For example, Stuart Routledge at our Oxted office says that, in contrast with pre- 2020, their weekday viewings now exceed those at the weekend. In Sevenoaks, Gaynor Cooper stresses that most buyers still want the advantages of commuter town life. The big difference now, is that they will be able to enjoy them all the more. Hybrid working, she concludes, just takes a bit of the pressure off. For such commuter towns and the more rural communities around them, the shift towards hybrid working, still in its early stages, looks to be permanent and positive.