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Episode 1: Town v Country, the debate continues…

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James Fisher – Property & News Editor, Country Life

Louis Harding – Head of London Residential Agency, Strutt & Parker

Kate Eales – Head of Regional Residential Agency, Strutt & Parker

Vanessa Hale – Head of Residential Research & Insights, Strutt & Parker

Town vs Country is certainly a hot topic in the press right now and a debate with many viewpoints. Since estate agent offices re-opened in England in mid-May, activity levels across the country have been extraordinarily high, driven by pent-up demand after the market was shut down for nearly three months. Weeks of lockdown caused many people to re-evaluate their living spaces and consider a lifestyle change.

Demand in regional villages, market towns and pretty parts of the countryside has been exceptional. Strutt & Parker’s Oxford office has seen a 100% increase in interested buyers in comparison to this time last year. Historically, many of these buyers would have been looking for homes in the city centre, but in 2020 people are looking for more space and larger gardens, so the villages surrounding Oxford have been seeing the most interest and houses have been going to competitive bids.

On the flipside, Strutt & Parker’s latest Housing Futures research, which surveyed 2,000 people all looking to move home within the next five years, revealed that 29% of respondents desired to live in a big city in their next property. Strutt & Parker’s prime central London offices have also been performing strongly over the summer with demand tracking at similar levels to 2019.

It remains to be seen whether the current behavioural shift amongst homebuyers is a knee-jerk reaction to COVID-19 or indicative of a long-term shift. Many businesses have not yet committed to whether they expect their employees to be back in the office three, four or five days a week in a post-COVID world, so it’s still difficult for many workers to make longer-term decisions beyond the next few months.

This has meant the countryside rental market has also seen a surge in activity in recent months, with many families looking to ‘try before they buy’ and rent a home in a rural location before they commit longer term. This has exacerbated a stock shortage and seen rental prices rise for family homes, especially in the south east.

Digital connectivity plays a vital role in whether working from home is viable. Back in 2016, Strutt & Parker identified a growing tribe of home movers called the ‘Rusticarians’, rural entrepreneurs who embrace technology and live in countryside locations in order to achieve a good work/life balance. It will be fascinating to see how this trend evolves over the coming months and years.

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