Despite an uncertain economic backdrop the UK property market showed a remarkable level of resilience in 2020.
The switch to home working, the experience of lockdown and the stamp duty holiday encouraged many people – whether buying or renting – to reassess their work/life balance and go in search of somewhere with more space both inside and out.
Alexa Peters, who leads the new homes division at Savills Reading, said the Thames Valley was no exception, with record levels of traffic to the Savills UK website. “Against all expectations 2020 was an exceptionally busy year,” she said. “The pandemic encouraged people to think more about where they live and the attributes they most value in a home and there was clear demand from buyers which is still very much in evidence as we head into the new year.
“Lifestyle relocation remains a big theme and people continue to reassess their work-life balance. Now more than ever buyers want somewhere with greater space, a large garden and easy access to the countryside.
“The Thames Valley of course has this in abundance and property represents very good value for money when compared to London. As a result we have seen strong activity across the board, with demand especially high in well-connected towns and their surrounding villages.”
One exciting new scheme is the former Horlicks Factory site in Slough, which developer Berkeley is transforming into a collection of up to 1,300 high-quality apartments and houses along with new open spaces, gardens and residents’ facilities.
“The first 79 apartments at Horlicks Quarter are set to be released for sale in spring this year,” Peters continued. “They occupy a prime position and are ideal for first time buyers or young professionals – with London Paddington less than 20 minutes away by train. The opening of Crossrail and the Elizabeth line meanwhile will see connectivity to the capital improve even further.”
Gordon Hood, head of lettings at Savills Reading, said high demand has also been reflected in the local rental market, with a growing number of people wanting to ‘try before they buy’.
“We’ve seen strong demand for one and two-bedroom town centre apartments along with a growing trend of people wanting to rent before committing to a purchase – particularly among those who have decided to make the move from London,” he said.
“The first week of this year for example has seen three times as many applicants registering than in 2020, which shows just how popular Reading and the wider surrounding area continues to be.
“However, tenant demand is only part of the story. The strong appetite for properties means that stock levels have fallen. As a result, while tenants are still mindful of value for money, the lack of available homes has resulted in multiple bids for some properties.”
Savills expects the current lockdown will continue to make people more aware of the limitations of their existing home and increase their commitment to moving, likely leading to pent up demand as seen after the first lockdown early in 2020. At the same time, however, the pool of those able to act on their wish to move will shrink.
Head of residential research Lucian Cook said: “The desire to beat the stamp duty deadline will help sustain activity in the first quarter of 2021, but it’s probably going to be harder to meet the March 31 deadline. The end of the stamp duty holiday will coincide with rising unemployment as the furlough scheme ends, and this further extension may mean a deeper lull in activity mid-year but a stronger bounceback as the vaccine rollout progresses.”