The must-haves for modern buyers used to be trendy home cinemas and gadget-laden kitchens. But, since coronavirus struck, just one thing tops the list — a garden.
An overwhelming 81 per cent of estate agents questioned by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors say homes with gardens or balconies will be in greater demand over the next two years, along with houses near green spaces.
Meanwhile, searches for homes on sale with private open space on property listing site Rightmove increased 42 per cent in May alone, as the housing market returned to business.
Much of that may be window shopping, but it highlights the desire for Britain to extend its horizons after months largely confined to home.
In bloom: There’s been a rise in buyers looking to leave cities and find homes with large gardens
And even private tenants, usually wanting apartments in city centres, are changing fast, with searches for flats with gardens soaring 84 per cent last month compared to 2019.
‘Having a garden is often a rarity for renters. So it may be that, during lockdown, people are rethinking their needs and location and are searching for some outdoor space and tranquillity,’ says Rightmove’s Miles Shipside.
The rise of the greenshifter
While many of us may hanker after a bigger garden, for serious devotees there’s a far more fundamental appeal to a large plot of land, and that is for growing their own food.
‘The lockdown has unleashed a wave of passion across the country for all things gardening and particularly for growing fruit and vegetables,’ says Chris Harrop, who chaired the judging panel at the Royal Horticultural Society.
A third of a million people visited the RHS Grow Your Own website in May — up 316 per cent a year ago, while visits to pages giving tips on growing vegetables in containers soared 219 per cent.
And the favourite vegetable? In terms of RHS website visits so far this summer, it’s been potatoes, followed by tomatoes and strawberries.
However, for those who are even more ambitious, the ultimate house move in the post-coronavirus era is likely to be a greenshifter — that’s estate agent jargon for those who move from being a city slicker to owning a smallholding, consisting of several acres suitable for vegetables and some livestock, too, such as rare breed pigs, chickens and goats.
The high-fliers’s property status symbol has switched in recent years from being a swish townhouse in London to a smallholding in the countryside
This switch from the fast lane to living the good life and trying to be self-sufficient has become something of a fashion statement in the past two decades, as hedge fund managers become hedge trimmers in the countryside.
But the change might be more deep-rooted. High-end estate agency Savills surveyed nearly 700 buyers and sellers in April and found 40 per cent were more enthusiastic than before about living in the country or in a village.
So fire up the lawnmower and dig out the pitchfork — the age of the garden has arrived.
One in eight households in Britain has no access to a private or even a shared garden, according to The Office for National Statistics. This proportion rises to more than one in five in London, the worst-off part of the country for access to green space.
Little wonder, then, that buyers are now hankering more than ever for lawns, vegetable plots and flower beds.
Estate agents say the most popular demand is for a modest private garden needing relatively low maintenance — an area where a family can picnic or play, including flower beds.
A well-maintained example could now add as much as five per cent to the price of a typical home costing £200,000 to £400,000 depending on location, experts say.
That’s good news for sellers who have open space with their house or apartment.
While agents’ tips for preparing a home for sale used to focus on decluttering and finishing untidy DIY jobs that had been on the to-do list, the biggest factor they emphasise today is to spruce up the front and rear garden.
‘Trim borders, clear pathways and cut back any overgrown trees or bushes. The garden should feel like an extra space for entertaining or relaxing, rather than an expanse of grass,’ says Mark Hayward, of the National Association of Estate Agents Propertymark.
‘An area of decking gives buyers a sense of having a bigger usable living space, giving owners more space to relax and entertain in sunnier weather,’ he adds.
Meanwhile, at the high end of the market, the demand is for much larger areas of outdoor space than before the virus crisis.
‘We’ve had a huge amount of enquiries for pretty properties with gardens and outside space as a direct reaction to Covid-19.
Buyers have been asking for at least an acre, but not necessarily with the understanding of what’s involved in managing that much land,’ says Josephine Ashby of John Bray & Partners, an estate agency which sells homes in fashionable north Cornwall, especially Rock.
Buyers are a mix of those looking to relocate to Cornwall (those looking for more than one acre) and second-home owners who are opting for a manageable and lower maintenance garden, she adds.
Even just one acre is a hefty commitment — it’s about two- thirds the size of a professional football pitch and far larger than most need for growing plants or even lounging in the sun.