Property professionals are warning that major changes in the housing market in Scotland are afoot as the Covid-19 pandemic significantly alters the way people think about their working environment and the nature of the work-life balance.
The nine-to-five office routine, with a couple of hours of unproductive commute on top each day, is becoming increasingly unattractive and office workers are asking themselves if they actually really need to return to their desks.
It is a question which is being posed too, by some of the most astute names in global business, such as Schroders, JP Morgan and Google, who are all allowing employees to work from home for the foreseeable future.
If businesses such as these are suggesting that the mass movement of people to fixed locations to do their work is no longer necessary, the argument gains strength that it is likely to change the WFH game for everybody.
In Scotland, the opportunity to re-think lifestyle choices has been catalysed by an extraordinary alignment of supply and demand, which has been the traditional, tried-and-tested market driver.
While there has been pent-up demand in cities such as Edinburgh for a number of years now, there has suddenly – since lockdown ended on June 29 – been an unprecedented increase in supply.
This has confounded experts who consistently have emphasised negative aspects and predicted a market crash, ignoring the present, confident market sentiment.
The market “has gone from zero to full ahead in the blink of an eye”, according to Andrew Milne, residential partner in the Edinburgh office of DM Hall, one of Scotland’s largest firms of Chartered Surveyors.
He said: “The flood of supply stems from a number of factors: people who were ready to move in March but were prevented; people who have reflected on their lifestyles and have been emboldened by lockdown and WFH; and those who want more space than is available in cities.
“One of the idiosyncrasies of this market is the disproportionate number of households without children who are keen to move. Parents, of course, are more constrained by schooling considerations. And, unfortunately, lockdown-related relationship breakdowns mean more demand for housing.
“It is clear that having been confined to city flats for several months has loosened people’s ties to their geographical location and, especially if they have been encouraged to work from home, they are seeking a more fulfilling home environment.”
Mr Milne said that there was an abundance of attractive properties in outlying locations such as East and West Lothian and Fife which, while not cheap, have significant benefits if the commute is reduced to one or two days a week.
He said there was also a noticeable uptake of high-end properties in the capital fuelled by returning global Scots unsettled by the pandemic and seeking a sense of home. They have also been swayed, he said, by the technology and comms revolution which means that they can operate effectively from anywhere.
“A lot of activity,” said Mr Milne, “is being driven by people who now do not wish to wait until they are close to retirement to achieve a better work-life balance, when WFH means that they are halfway there now.”
Alasdair Seaton, partner in DM Hall’s Dunfermline office, said: “The activity in the market at the moment is certainly not normal. We are seeing moves which are clearly driven by lockdown-related considerations.
“These include people needing bigger homes if they are going to be working there indefinitely; people who have missed their relatives and grandchildren and who want to be nearer to them; and a substantial movement of people from Edinburgh who want more space, a rural environment or just a bigger property for their money.
“The vast majority of sales are going to a closing date and achieving prices well in excess of their Home Report values. Many are selling without inspection, and very quickly. Again, many of the transactions involve households without children.”
Jennifer Campbell, Head of Rural Agency at Baird Lumsden, agreed that a move to the country was under way, with people looking to establish “the good life” in good time.
She said: “Plot sales have been very popular as many people are finally undertaking their dream of building their own home. Purchasers are generally seeking rural locations on the outskirts of villages offering peace and privacy and a garden office, or the capacity to put one in. Properties with land have always remained in high demand.
“Our lettings department has also been extremely busy and we have a number of registered applicants from the rest of the UK and overseas wishing to return to Scotland to rent a prime rural property to provide a suitable environment for home working.
“Purchasers are generally impatient. They want into their dream home now, trepidatious and fearful of another lockdown. The uncertainty has pushed buyers and sellers to be a bit braver and get on with it. It’s a great time to sell.”