A crystal ball would be required to predict what life will be like after COVID-19, but when it comes to what home buyers want in a post-pandemic world, patterns are beginning to emerge.
New keyword search data from realestate.com.au shows a significant jump in nine work-from-home-related property features during the pandemic – illustrating that home buyers are preparing for a future involving more time in the nest.
Nationally, outdoor space was front of mind for house hunters between April and June this year, with the keyword search for ‘outdoor’ showing a 41% increase compared to pre-pandemic times (January-March 2020).
The large increase in searches for outdoor areas is likely due to people looking for more space after being cooped up during lockdown, said realestate.com.au chief economist, Nerida Conisbee.
“Outdoor space has historically been a priority for home buyers – whenever we look at the most-viewed listings, it’s always a house and it’s always on a decent block of land,” Ms Conisbee said. “So it’s always been a preference, but obviously it’s even more of a preference now because of COVID-19.
“Especially if you’ve got children and are living an urban lifestyle – if you can go to the park it’s not too bad, but if you’re stuck in an apartment it’s quite challenging, so I think that’s definitely been a driver of this.”
Of the nine work-from-home-related keyword searches, the desire to have a home gym and broadband connection ranked equal second between April and June (37% increase), closely followed by balconies (+36%) and studies (+31%), while gardens were in slightly less demand (+22%) but still experienced a bump in searches during the pandemic.
Interestingly, the keyword search data showed a decrease nationally in demand for studios (-22%) and granny flats (-2%), which Ms Conisbee attributes to a move away from short-term holiday rentals during the pandemic.
“Studios and granny flats may be in less demand because people tend to let them out as short-term holiday rentals for an extra income, but the coronavirus has put limitations on this,” she explained.
Courtyards also saw less demand with a drop of -3% across the country.
What home buyers want across the states and territories
Nature reigned supreme in Victoria and Western Australia with searches for outdoor space increasing by more than 50% in both states between April and June. Keeping fit was the priority in New South Wales, which saw a jump in searches for gyms, while staying connected was most important for home buyers in Queensland, where searches for broadband surged by 35%.
The Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania saw a significant spike in searches for studies post-COVID-19, with jumps of 124% and 74% respectively. This trend is likely linked to the prevalence of white-collar workers in both states, according to Ms Conisbee.
“Canberra is a very white-collar city, so potentially workers there might need studies more than other cities…white-collar workers tend to need an office whereas in Melbourne, for example, there are a lot of nurses and teachers and builders and people that just can’t realistically work from home,” she explained.
Will home buyer desires change for good post-COVID-19?
Buyer’s advocate, Daniel Trelease, of Trelease Associates, based in Sydney, said the keyword search data reflects what their clients are currently looking for in the New South Wales market, particularly within the apartment and townhouse segments.
Mr Trelease said many young or growing families with parents that are now forced to work from home are seeking a conducive and manageable work-life balance, which means a study, more space and outdoor escapes.
“Almost half of these [clients] are seeking a garden in their next property for children to safely play outdoors while parents work,” he said.
He added that a mix of singles, professionals and couples are wanting a balcony or more space to get together with friends and socialise comfortably and safely at home.
“We are also a generation focused on our wellbeing so it’s no surprise that access to a gym or dedicated workout space in these times is a must.”
But securing a home with ample space in inner Sydney is “out of the question” for many home buyers, Mr Trelease said.
“This trending predicament means (buyers are) starting to source outside the immediate inner Sydney dress circle, looking toward the inner west, upper north shore and all the way to the northern beaches for a bigger block of land, backyard or just general internal space,” he explained.
Buyers and vendors advocate, Frank Valentic, of Advantage Property Consulting, based in Melbourne, said his Victorian clients have for a long time had a preference for outdoor spaces and home offices, but now, particularly given the second round of lockdown across Melbourne, buyers will be thinking about these home features more than ever.
“Most families with the lockdown now are going to need 4-5 spaces for children’s study desks and for office setups,” he said. “And a trend we’ve seen recently is people looking for a large enough kids bedroom to fit a study desk in there.
“Because we don’t know how long this pandemic will go on for, there is also an emphasis on having two living areas, so that if families are at home during lockdowns, the kids have got their own living area and the parents have got their own living area so that there is a little bit of an escape and privacy.”
Mr Valentic said he believes COVID-19 will have a long-term impact on what buyers look for in a home and that the increase in searches for work-from-home-related features are not a knee jerk reaction.
“I think peoples routines and habits are definitely changing, some people do like the flexibility of being able to work one or two days a week from home,” he said.
“I think one of the positives of the pandemic is that we’ve seen how many people can actually work from home and that the traditional office in the city might actually be not really needed in the future.