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Head for the hills

Big city high-flyers will turn their back on traditional city living to escape COVID-19, says Alistair Brown, CEO, Alistair Brown International Real Estate.

Alistair Brown

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The effects of COVID-19 will be felt for years to come. The life we had become accustomed to will no longer exist.

Link to Alistair Brown's Comment

Alistair Brown

Is it all doom and gloom? Societal behaviour and patterns will change as a result of the disruption and danger. After all, this is simply a natural human response and one that has been recorded in history.

Once a society feels a threat, it adapts. In school we read about how historic pandemics shaped behaviours, requirements and desires of the communities it affected. In more recent times, we have experienced similar shifts with global events such as 9/11 and the 2008 recession.

COVID-19 is no different

People will learn and adapt. Perhaps the biggest change is increased migration from large cities and city centres to more rural, less densely populated areas. Experts warn that large cities, including New York, Toronto and London, will see demand for new property as residents embark on a search for a home that ticks all the boxes on their new, reflective checklist of lifestyle priorities.

Escaping confinement

Having been confined to home people will feel claustrophobic, especially in highly populated areas.

Space is scarce in popular, desirable cities to live and work in. While this was previously a sacrifice people were willing to make, having now felt this level of confinement, this will change.

On new home checklists will begin to include multiple spacious rooms, gardens and fewer neighbours.

People will no longer be willing to compromise.

Work from home

Another big lesson is the ability to work from home. Having been forced to work remotely, with little warning, many will have recognised the benefits of multiple rooms or more space where an at-home office can be set up. Should remote working become the new norm, this desire will only get stronger.

A small apartment in a densely populated city will not suffice; people will have a greater urge to move.

With less need to travel to a city office, employees can enjoy the freedom from commutes when searching for a new home, enabling them to move further away.

Health is wealth

Having lived in a highly populated city, they would have experienced a greater risk of being exposed to the virus. After feeling this level of threat, people will be more inclined to move further away to reduce this danger again.

People are also at risk on public transport. When you live in a city centre, it is often not feasible to get around in a personal car so public transport is the only option; an issue not faced in more rural, less populated areas.

Space is very scarce in desirable cities. This was a sacrifice people were willing to make… having now felt a high level of confinement, this will change.

This trend has also been seen in the office lettings industry. Richard Smith, Founder & CEO at Office Freedom, leading agents in serviced office space says, “We are aware that moving staff away from densely populated city centre locations is certainly under consideration and some companies have been discussing splitting teams into smaller groups and relocating to regional hubs.

“When lockdown is finally over, we will enter a new world, a new normal, which will be a major reset and reboot for everyone.

“As a result of the life changing circumstances we are all experiencing, in my opinion, one thing is for sure, business will never be the same again, especially with regard to property and business priorities, such as reducing costs and preserving capital.

“In terms of office space, for me, flexible workspace and agile working is the way to go. Decrease your overheads and increase your flexibility so that you are best prepared for the future, no matter what transpires.”

Value for money

The financial impacts of COVID-19 and the drastic measures that have been put into place to control it are already being felt. With concerns about financial hardship on the minds of many, sensible financial decisions, particularly regarding rent and mortgages need to be made.

The high rent prices associated with properties in large cities around the world will no longer cut it. Instead, individuals will seek greater value for money with larger, more spacious properties that have better amenities in fringe areas or more rural locations.

The post COVID-19 paradigm shift will no doubt be an interesting one. We are already seeing changes in behaviour across industries through people’s searches and enquiries but whether these come to fruition or are just a flight response to the current threat, is yet to be revealed.

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