Families go to the countryside as first-time buyers return to cities

Homebuyer demand is on the move! Families escape to the coast and country but first-time buyers are returning to cities

  • Families are seeking more space at home and outdoors amid the pandemic
  • Two and three-bedroom family homes are in high demand, says Zoopla 
  • First-time buyers return to cities as lockdown eases, says Rightmove

Families are escaping to the country and coast, while first-time buyers are returning to cities, according to new data on what buyers want as the property market booms.

It is the latest evidence of shifts in the buyer behaviour amid the coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns, with families chasing suburban, seaside and village life and first-time buyers trying to take advantage of weaker city centre housing markets.

While families tend to be seeking more space at home and outdoors, first-time buyers are looking to set up home in urban areas, a pair of studies from property portals Zoopla and Rightmove show.

This three-bedroom house in Scarborough is for sale for £380,000 via estate agents Reeds Rains

First-time buyers are being bolstered by the launch of the Government-backed 5 per cent deposit mortgage guarantee scheme, while more families are heading out house hunting as coronavirus restrictions ease, the reports said.

Zoopla said there has been a 25 per cent increase in buyer demand in the past two months, after schools reopened.

It defined buyer demand as people who are actively viewing and engaged in finding out more about a property, such as through calls and emails to agents.

The property website said the rise was amplified by the announcement that the stamp duty holiday would be extended, along with the rapid vaccine rollout.

It said that two and three-bedroom homes – which are perfect for families – remain in strong demand across Britain, with the seaside resort of Scarborough seeing a 142 per cent increase in demand for such homes, the biggest of any area.

For four and five-bedroom properties, commuter favourite Cambridge tops the list with a huge increase in demand of 182 per cent. 

While property prices for two and three-bedroom properties in Scarborough are above the regional average, home hunters do get more bang for their buck with the Zoopla data showing that houses in this area are typically more spacious than those in other parts of Yorkshire.

There is no such luck in Cambridge, where the average home costs £685,000, but with its easy access to London and wide range of Ofsted-rated Outstanding schools, Zoopla said it is easy to see why the demand for family homes has been boosted by the return to school. 

At the same time, separate research from Rightmove suggested that city-centre living is staging a comeback, with buyer demand for flats increasing by 39 per cent since January.

York, Norwich, Sheffield, Birmingham, Glasgow, Cardiff and Manchester are among the cities that have experienced buyer demand in their centres increasing since the start of 2021, it said.

It added that while larger family homes have tended to be the strongest performers in the housing market over the past year, the focus is now shifting to flats.

This two-bedroom house in Weymouth is for sale for £237,000 via estate agents Austin Estate

Zoopla said that overall demand is highest in areas with house prices that are below the regional average.

Picturesque Weymouth and Portland, located at the southern tip of the Jurassic Coast, has seen demand for two and three-bedroom homes soar by 115 per cent since the reopening of schools.

Average prices in this area for this property type stand at £235,000, 15 per cent below the regional average in the South West.  

It is a similar case in Forest Heath, Suffolk where demand has increased by 111 per cent, and Falkirk in Scotland at 108 per cent, the latter of which is consistently one of the fastest moving property markets in Great Britain.

All these areas offer great value for money, with prices well below the regional average.

This five-bedroom house in Cambridge is for sale for £675,000 via estate agents Sharman Quinney

Most locations that have seen the largest increase in demand for four and five-bedroom homes are located in rural or coastal areas.

Scenic areas in the South East – including Hastings at 92 per cent, Horsham at 79 per cent and Surrey Heath at 79 per cent – feature strongly.

In the South West, Stroud and Teignbridge feature in the top 10, with an increase in demand of 80 per cent and 76 per cent respectively.

Stroud is located near The Cotswolds and has good quality schools and green spaces. Meanwhile,

Teignbridge encompasses a wide range of pretty towns and villages, part of the Dartmoor National Park and coastline.

Other rural areas that feature in the list include Wyre Forest and Stratford on Avon in the West Midlands, well known for being the birthplace of Shakespeare.

Both areas have seen an increase in demand for four and five-bedroom homes at 81 per cent and 73 per cent respectively. 

This four-bedroom property in Twickenham is for sale for £1,100,000 via estate agents Snellers

Zoopla suggested that there has also been an increase in demand for family homes in London.

Demand has increased most for two and three-bedroom houses in Harrow, which is up 94 per cent, Bexley at 82 per cent and Merton at 63 per cent.

These boroughs have become particularly popular among families seeking houses in the capital at more affordable prices, Zoopla said.

The largest growth in demand for four and five bedroom homes is in leafy Sutton at 57 per cent and Richmond upon Thames at 50 per cent, followed by Kensington and Chelsea at 50 per cent.

Gráinne Gilmore, of Zoopla, said: ‘The reopening of schools in early March was a key moment for the residential property market, alongside the extension of the stamp duty holiday, with buyer demand rising by some 25 per cent in March and April compared to the first two months of the year.

‘The data signals that in more affordable areas buyer interest is rising for two and three-bedroom houses. On the other hand, buyer demand is rising at the highest rates for four and five-bedroom houses in the areas where these homes are typically larger than the average signalling that a need for additional space is a factor driving interest in this segment of the market.’

Rightmove also measured buyer demand by the number of people contacting estate agents to request more details about a property for sale on its website.

The easing of coronavirus restrictions and the recent introduction of the Government-backed 5 per cent deposit mortgage guarantee scheme are said to be helping to boost demand.

A Rightmove survey of more than 1,000 first-time buyers found that nearly one in five – at 17 per cent per cent – are planning to use the mortgage guarantee scheme or are already using it.

The study also indicated that while the desire to move to a quieter location has been driving parts of the housing market during the past year, this is not as appealing to first-time buyers.

While more than a quarter – at 28 per cent – of existing homeowners planning to move in the next 12 months cited a move to the countryside or coast as their motivation, only 10 per cent of first-time buyers were considering doing this.

Rightmove’s housing expert Tim Bannister said: ‘These are early signs but they certainly point to some good news for city centres across Britain, with a number of agents now telling me they’ve seen a marked uptick in demand from first-time buyers, and they’re managing to sell city-centre flats more quickly than in earlier months of the year.

‘People starting to venture in to their local high streets and once again experiencing the buzz of their city centres, along with greater mortgage availability for first-time buyers, means city centres are staging a much-needed comeback in the market.

‘Right now some buyers are able to grab a relative city bargain compared to the heady price growth outside cities, but these early signs of demand could be the start of city prices rising again.’

Andy McHugo, of James Laurence estate agents in Birmingham, said: ‘Not only are inquiry levels fantastic, committed residential buyers are now returning.

‘The dynamic may have changed slightly, so apartments with balconies or terraces are proving popular, as are those with room for a home office, a second and third bedroom for example.’

He said large company relocations to Birmingham and entrepreneurial start-ups help make the city ‘an exciting place in which to invest, and indeed live’.

Steve Pymm, of Pymm & Co in Norwich, said: ‘The market has been crying out for 95 per cent mortgages for years, so since the release of these lower deposit-based products the first-time buyer is back and they’re snapping up apartments and starter homes.’

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