Home remedy By Peter Brown, Director and Head of Residential at Stephen George + Partners
‘There’s no place like home’ is a phrase we’re all very familiar with, none more so than over the last two years. A recent study of 2,000 adults found that before the impact of Covid19, just nine hours was spent at home on an average UK day. But lockdown measures introduced in the wake of the pandemic saw this figure dramatically increase by an extra eight hours a day, with many spending almost two thirds of their day in the home environment.
Whilst it’s difficult to gauge the long-term cultural and societal shifts brought about by the pandemic, there can be no doubt that the work-from-home directive has made a lot of occupiers look differently at their properties, necessitating a sea change in thinking for those of us charged with the design and delivery of new homes.
A home is no longer just a piece of real estate; it’s where people now live, work and play and occupiers are becoming more cognisant of the need to maintain their wellbeing in a space where they now spend more of their time. They’re either spending a lot of money on home improvements or looking to move somewhere that better meets their needs, in both practical and self-fulfilment terms. Some developers have already started responding to this demand and are looking to achieve greater values by marketing three- and four-bed homes with a bed/study and a garden.
Indeed the garden – or access to green space – has fast become one the key factors in both purchaser and renter decision making. Images of packed parks and beaches, coupled with people walking, jogging and cycling the streets during the first UK lockdown, highlighted just how much people value access to green or outdoor space and the health and wellbeing benefits it can bring. A recent study by the AA found that having garden space on a property can lift its value by 5 per cent or more and certainly the signal we’re getting from the developers and agents we work with is that the supply of three- and four-bed houses with gardens is not meeting the demand.
For smaller properties, this might also require a significant shift in thinking and changes to the Nationally Described Space Standard (NDSS) if the industry is to keep pace with consumer demand. We could even see a gap growing between occupier demand for greenspace and local authorities’ residential supply needs and housing mix. Will that demand eventually inform and shift planning policy to cater for more greenspace and gardens?
Regardless, there is now an identifiable value to health and wellbeing interventions starting to emerge in the UK housing market. A 2016 survey of 3000 UK homeowners commissioned by materials manufacturer Saint Gobain found that 90 per cent of those surveyed would like a home that does not compromise their health and wellbeing and that almost 30 per cent would be willing to pay more for such a home. Post pandemic, we are hearing that, where developers have engaged with quality-of-life indicators and promoted wellness, greenspace and connectivity in their developments, they have found that the schemes ticking all those boxes are invariably the schemes that sell-out first.
Whilst health and wellbeing can be influenced by a wide range of factors, many of which are beyond the realm of built environment professionals, the fact we now spend a huge part of our lives at home suggests it’s still a good starting place to consider wellness interventions. There is an increasing body of evidence that the design and quality of a home, along with the environment and amenities that surround it, can improve the physical and mental wellbeing of occupiers and enhance the desirability and value of property. Interestingly, many of the same solutions that benefit wellbeing also positively benefit the environment.
However, we do need to acknowledge that we are still on the start of this journey. Whilst there are various academic studies that can point to simple design interventions being beneficial to health and wellbeing, such as access to natural light or good sound insulation, there’s still much we don’t know. More needs to be done by the industry, homebuilders and designers alike, in terms of Post Occupancy Evaluation, engaging with our customers not just after the snagging has been completed, but five years later on.
We need a greater debate about wellness in the residential sector and, critically, what does wellbeing actually mean to homeowners? Because without the answers to that question, we can’t design it, developers can’t build it and planners can’t set it out in policy.