The lockdown legacy

Housebuilders, specifiers and developers are confronting new consumer demands for flexibility in post-pandemic Britain, says Louise Walters, commercial director for Designer Contracts.

With the housebuilding and renovating market still booming across Britain, specifiers and developers could be forgiven for being too busy with supply and demand issues to note a subtle shift in consumer expectations.

While the much-reported boom in demand – helped along by the Stamp Duty holiday and a pivot in consumer spending from holidays to homes – has seen the sector enjoy almost unprecedented levels of business, the pandemic has also given many consumers pause for thought regarding their working practices and attitudes towards wider environmental concerns. And, this will undoubtedly impact the sector in terms of their demands and expectations.

The new working from home culture, for example, will ensure that greater flexibility of space is a likely element as buyers demand areas of the home that can be used as dedicated work and study spaces.

Where home offices and studies were once seen as a luxury, they may now be integrated into most homes as an essential consideration. Covid has shown us that it is possible to work effectively from home, and, post-pandemic, employers are likely to be much more open to the idea of people working for part of the week from home and part of it from the office.

Adaptable, zoned living and spaces which can be converted into areas for work will be a growing consideration, and most housebuilders are already incorporating open plan, flexible floor plans into their builds. Different types of floorcoverings can be used to indicate the use of an area or zone of the home – carpet is popular for bedrooms, tiles or LVT for kitchens and bathrooms, and wood or wood effect surfaces for dining or study areas. So, where you have an open plan, multi-use space such as a kitchen/dining area, different floor finishes in the kitchen and dining section help to clearly indicate the two separate zones in one space.

The way show homes themselves are delivered is also changing. Many housebuilders already offer a virtual tour experience, and manufacturers are increasingly being asked to work with developers to create virtual show homes. Builders find it a particularly useful tool for developments not large enough to warrant a show home – or for house buyers looking to relocate from some distance away and unable to visit the site. It is also a way of offering other potential buyers a flavour of what to expect in terms of space and the quality of fixtures and fittings.

Virtual tours really came into their own during the height of the pandemic, when restrictions often made it difficult to make site visits. Having established this as a further option available to house buyers, then going forward it is inevitable that a virtual tour walk-through will become a buyer expectation.

While this is an incredibly useful feature, nothing can compare to being able to view a property in person, given the level of investment it represents for most people, but it is arguable that – in the same way that Teams and Zoom meetings have prospered during the pandemic and will continue to have their place – virtual tours will become a valid further option in the future, saving valuable and sometimes unnecessary travelling time.

Another legacy of the pandemic is also likely to be greater awareness of environmental issues. People have had time to think during the various lockdowns, and to reassess their priorities. This, in turn, has accelerated the new mood of responsible consumerism and a greater level of eco-awareness.

So, it is beholden on us all to respond to this shift in attitudes in the products we both use and specify. Don’t assume, for instance, that price is always the uppermost consideration, when it is becoming clearer by the day that provenance is an increasing concern – and that people will increasingly ‘need to know’ about products and their pedigree.

There are, for example, innovative new flooring products with exemplar environmental credentials which sometimes meet resistance from specifiers who believe the end-cost-to-consumer remains the ultimate priority. That is no longer always the case, and builders and developers who acknowledge this shift in attitude will enhance their standing with house buyers, simply by making it an available option.

So, with increasing concerns about the environment, along with post pandemic priorities and the new mood for more thoughtful consumerism, Covid may have pressed the fast forward button and increased the pace and scale of change. Either way, it is in all our interests to move as rapidly as the virus, to effect that change.

Louise Walters is commercial director for Designer Contracts