Covid-19 has changed the world as we know it, and one of its particular consequences is that it has made it shrink. From commuting to the office, working out at the gym, to socialising with friends at the pub, our world has become smaller. Home is where everything happens now.
As a result, we ran a UK-wide survey to explore how the ‘new normal’ has affected people’s perception of their homes. From house satisfaction and moving out plans to safety attitudes, We’ve discovered the UK’s needs and future plans have drastically changed, and it can all be traced back to our houses and how we feel about them.
It’s hard to believe we’ve been living with the pandemic for a year now. We’ve become Zoom experts, Deliveroo regulars and even PE teachers! But these restrictions have made our needs change, making us realise that our homes were never built for this new reality.
We asked people whether their views of their homes had changed due to the ‘stay at home’ restrictions. Over half (53%) answered they now felt unsatisfied with their properties, with 13% even saying that they had realised they didn’t like their house anymore. Having “everyone trapped in the same house”, as one of our respondents put it, is making existing house issues more prominent but also creating new ones. Noisy neighbours, for example, have become a big factor of discomfort and open plan houses, which might have been attractive in the past, were now listed as a problem by several respondents due to feeling “samesy” and lack of private space. But the strongest remark on our survey was related to space: “There’s nothing I like of this house, it’s too small and we need to move ASAP”.
On the other hand, it was interesting to see that 9% of people felt happier now with their homes than before lockdown. For some, this was due to a sense of gratitude towards their homes and being aware of the potential issues they had avoided: “I love every aspect of my house and I’m glad my children have separate rooms” pointed out a participant.
There’s been a clear difference on how the pandemic has affected house satisfaction across urban and rural areas. Before the pandemic, many city dwellers would choose their homes based on location and convenience. With so many places to see and career opportunities to pursue, people were more open to compromise on house size. Now, being pushed to spend most of the time at home, the lack of space and nature around them is making them less satisfied than their rural neighbours.
Our survey uncovered that 54% of people living in large cities do not feel satisfied with their homes compared to 41% living in rural areas. But the biggest differences can be found in the extremes. Urbanites are two times more likely to “not like their house anymore” due to the pandemic; while the fresh air, the sun and the space make countrymen twice more likely to “like their house now more than before”.
All respondents were asked what specific details were the largest causes of dissatisfaction. Overall, 17% pointed out the issue of ‘space’. The following word cloud summarises the responses.
Adding to the concept of space, people are craving to enjoy the outdoors, and therefore, one of the most popular reasons for unhappiness was not having a garden, but even having one didn’t guarantee a good lockdown period.“Our garden is small, not private and doesn’t get much sunshine” mentioned one of our respondents.
On the other hand, being obliged to live inside, and in many cases having to share our private spaces with family members, has put special pressure on toilets and kitchens. The kitchen was the main source of dissatisfaction, mentioned by 12% of our participants. One of the main reasons for this is that, with lockdown, they are being used for so much more than cooking. One of our respondents explained “we use the kitchen table for homeschooling, but there needs to be more room so it’s not as stressful“. With the whole household stuck inside, the demand for the toilet has increased, and 9% of our participants were feeling it: “Having only one toilet for a family of six has been the worst part of lockdown!”.
We also asked what house features people were most grateful for and, although the biggest finding was that 30% of answers pointed at having a garden, the fact that 2.5% mentioned their family (even though it doesn’t really qualify as house feature) made us happy. This is how being with our loved ones has brightened our days in a simple way:
With half of the population feeling dissatisfied with their homes, people have started to look for solutions. So it is no surprise that almost a third of our respondents (32%) confessed they had considered moving out due to the pandemic. Maybe hoping to leave their pre-Covid houses for spacious, restriction-ready properties.
With space (or rather the lack of it) being one of the biggest problems in the new reality, it is only natural that we are in the presence of a country-wide migration from the city to rural areas, where the value for money for every square meter is much higher. Our survey revealed that, from those who had considered moving, 35% wanted to live in a smaller area.
To be fair, living in the countryside right now does sound quite idyllic. We were really jealous when our village respondents told us that, during the restrictions, they had been most grateful for their “large garden and beautiful views from every window” or “having 12 barns and 20 acres of pasture” to explore.
Hybrid working may be another contributing factor to this migration. According to the BBC, UK employers expect the proportion of regular home workers to double after restrictions are lifted. Our data also supports that the anticipated flexibility is making people reconsider their commutes, facilitating living in more rural areas. 41% of our respondents were willing to add 30 minutes onto their commute if they could split working from home and form the office, while 15% would even be happy to add between 1-2 hours.
We then asked our participants what were the most desirable features they were looking for in their next house. Once again, space was the most popular answer. More than half of the people agreed both, internal and external space were the most important factors.
However, there was a specific house feature that got the spotlight: the garden. Nearly one third of people mentioned it as the home part they’ve been most grateful for during the pandemic. So there is no wonder why the demand for spacious and well-kept gardens has rocketed. Estate agents agree that it has become a “deal-breaker” and prices for houses with a garden have hit a 4 year high.
Another big consequence of the pandemic restrictions is the desire to be around the people we love. 37% of respondents considered being closer to their family and friends as a key aspect of their future house. This was the most important factor after those directly related to having more space. Seeing our loved ones can be especially important for those that have been pushed by the pandemic to feel “lonely and bored, living alone” as one of our respondents.
Interestingly, having a home office ranked higher than having leisure focussed space such as a home gym or game room. However, it does seem that not having a designated working area is a common cause of frustration. “I can not use my dining room to eat as my partner works there and is on calls 24/7” explained a participant. Although issues may arise even if you live alone “My dining room has an ample enough study desk, but without any natural light I’ve had to move to the less comfortable living room“.
While 32% of the people had considered moving due to the pandemic, only one third of them had the intention to follow through. But why?
An important factor contributing to this could be the inherent hassle that comes from selling a house. This sentiment was echoed by our respondents, who felt that buying a home is the second most stressful life event, only surpassed by having a baby. But amongst the difficulties around selling, buying and moving, the impact of Covid-19 has also made things seemingly harder.
Respondents were asked to rank the most important factors of selling a home, in light of the pandemic. While price still feels the most important, a guaranteed sale came second, more important than fees or friendly estate agents. The growing importance of a secure sale, with no breakdowns, could be the reason why Fast Property Buyers have risen in popularity to become the third most preferred option for selling a house in 2021. Their service reduces uncertainty while being proceedable buyers means no risky viewings are required. A very attractive selling option for these unprecedented times.
A year ago no one would have considered safety as an important variable when selling a house. But the world has changed and safety has become the third most important element to consider when selling a house. Overall, 42% of people surveyed didn’t think selling a house during the pandemic is safe. Some respondents showed real appreciation for the little details keeping them safe: “I am happy with my double doors, they keep me protected from Covid-19”. There was also a clear relation between age and feeling unsafe. Nearly half (48%) of over 45s said they wouldn’t feel safe selling a house now, while only 39% of the younger, low-risk generations felt this way.
The UK’s population is not one to sit idle. Once the option of moving out was discarded, they took a look at their homes and decided to invest in their indoor happiness. According to the Bank of England, household savings have risen substantially since the beginning of the pandemic. With no pubs, commutes or events to spend money on, it has been easier to direct our financial muscle towards our homes.
59% of those surveyed had spent more money in their house since the beginning of the pandemic. And the higher the income, the more likely to have increased spend on their homes. This was particularly noticeable from respondents with salaries over £70k, with more than 80% confessing they had hopped onto this trend.
An interesting finding of the survey was that money doesn’t necessarily buy happiness. While people with salaries over £70k were able to spend more on their home during restrictions, higher-income households were more likely to feel dissatisfied with their homes. While 48% of those earning under £45k felt this way, 54% of people with incomes higher than £45k felt unhappy about their properties. “The lack of space for homeschooling and work has been the biggest issue, new carpets would be nice too” said a participant.
With so much time in our hands, we started looking at new and better ways of entertaining ourselves. As reported by the BBC, the people in the UK are spending 31% more time watching TV than in 2019. So it makes sense that, when asked what had been the most satisfying covid-purchase, electronics were the most popular answer with 9% of respondents pointing at their new Flat TVs, phones and gaming consoles.
With entertainment sorted, people turned to upgrade their gardens. From adding new plants to installing a shed, there’s been a real focus on turning this part of the house into a haven of beauty and peace. Furthermore, with gardens becoming ‘deal breakers’ for many homeowners, improving your garden helps to improve your present and future.
However, not everyone is lucky enough to have a garden to enjoy. And even if you do, you will still spend most of your time indoors. This explains why redecorating and improving bedrooms and living areas were the third most popular purchase. For many, redecorating was an escape from the monotony and boredom of lockdown, as put by one of our respondents “feeling like you are always in the same room“.
The pandemic restrictions over the past year have made everyone reimagine what home means and what it needs to provide.
With half of respondents unhappy with their homes, it could lead to a redesign of what the modern home will look like and cater for. Particularly, with the desire for more space, we may see fewer people living in cities, while smaller towns become a more popular choice.
When this change will happen is not certain. While incentives such as the Stamp Duty Holiday have been created, many are not comfortable selling during the Covid-19 period. A downside to this is that it may result in people stuck in a home that doesn’t make them happy.
This could lead to a more innovative housing market, with less intrusive ways to buy, such as virtual viewings, that can make the process of selling a house faster and safer.