could be the next big trend in our towns and cities. If you’re unfamiliar with
the term, it means workers from different companies sharing office space and
generating cost savings on equipment, utilities, and receptionist services.
We’re so confident in a shift to this new way of working that Ringley is launching its own cloud-based operational management platform for commercial and residential buildings. The platform, named Busy Living, is aimed at the growth of mixed-use space, allowing buildings to function 24/7 without needing increased staff. It features cashless payments, facial recognition, and MoD biometric security.
We are testing the software on one of our own buildings, Camden Gateway, which comprises 10,00 sq. ft. of co-working space. Our new platform can also be white-labelled, which means building operators can brand it themselves and offer a customer-facing app alongside the digital back-end.
Bowring, group managing director of Ringley, explains: “Our new platform aims
to improve transparency, reduce cost, drive revenue and above all de-risk
next-generation of buildings will merge multiple uses under one roof and what
we are looking to do through our latest tech offering is to help better
commercialise ‘live-work-play’ developments.
has been a shift towards operationalised real estate and the boundaries between
different asset classes are blurring. Both residential and commercial property
look to the hospitality and leisure industries for inspiration and learning,
which is why our new tech is adaptable and sector-agnostic.”
Busy Living has been featured in Property Week. Click here to read the article in full. h
Repurposing property could be a major post-pandemic trend. Since lockdown restrictions were lifted on estate and lettings agents in May, we are already seeing a growing trend for both renters and buyers to show more interest in out-of-town homes with gardens. And, with more of us likey to be working remotely for some time, properties with space for home-working are likely to become more desirable.
Offices too could be transformed as commercial tenants re-think their space requirements and rely more on technology than on face-to-face interactions, both with colleagues and clients. Research from vertical transportation consultancy, reported by the Institute of Residential Property Management (IRPM) reveals that lasting change could be on the cards for the office sector in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Mark Fairweather, managing director of D2E, thinks we could see a paradigm shift in the workplace, working practices, and commuting habits, with almost half (44%) of workers polled by the company in a recent survey saying they will be asking their employers if they can work for at least some days of the week from home.
The post-pandemic period may also signal the end of trying to cram more people into less space. D2E expects the typical space allocation of 8 sq m per person to go up to something like 12 sq m per person on main floors, as more social distancing is needed at work. Lobby and reception areas are likely to expand too, and there could be a greater focus on stairwells and walking where possible, to help workers avoid crowded lifts and escalators. With fewer people keen to use public transport, there may be more need for bike storage and shower facilities, and D2E also predicts changed canteen layouts for social distancing and increased natural ventilation, as well as a swing towards touchless technology in lifts and lobbies.
With all minds focused on the pandemic, it’s easy to forget that we are still facing a housing crisis. Property specialist Colliers International points to the possibility of repurposing hotels for residential use, creating much- needed homes as well as opening up redevelopment opportunities for the hard-hit hospitality sector.
In the beleaguered hospitality sector, rather than take the financial hit of waiting for a return to pre-pandemic operating conditions, looking at redevelopment options may be a more realistic route for some hotel owners. Colliers suggests this would require a relaxation of planning restrictions but it could provide a solution for local authorities, who could then deliver accommodation in Class C categories such as affordable housing, houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) and care homes.
At Ringley, we have been calling for some time for new and better use to be made of retail developments in our hard-hit high streets. We believe institutionally-led, integrated build-to-rent and co-working space is the answer. Not only should the demise of large swathes of traditional retail drive the institutions to get creative and repurpose their space but, as we are all facing a similar collapse in the value of our pensions, all those who pay into one should demand it!
We are leading the way by launching a white label flexible office management platform called Busy Living at our new co-working space in Camden and will be blogging about this in more detail soon.
We believe that, once the pandemic passes, we may find ourselves facing a once-in-a-generation opportunity to genuinely rethink the way we use property to bring genuine benefits for us all. What do you think?
Dangerous cladding got one step closer to being dealt with yesterday, as the Government announced a new building safety fund worth £1bn. The fund will meet the cost of removing unsafe non-ACM cladding on high rise residential blocks over 18m high that don’t comply with building regulations. So some positive news at last for beleaguered leaseholders trapped in homes they can’t sell.
The new fund, which was included in the Budget in March, is aimed mainly at leaseholders in the private sector who are facing huge bills to replace dangerous cladding on their buildings. Many are also paying extortionate costs for waking watches while they wait for remediation of their blocks. The fund will also help people living in social housing, where the cost of replacing cladding systems would otherwise have to be paid by residents.
The fund will meet the cost of replacing non-ACM cladding
systems where building owners are unable to do so and the Government hopes it will
address some of the barriers to remediation being carried out quickly.
Registration for the fund opens in June and building owners can sign up until 31 July. Full guidance and an application process for buildings that meet the technical criteria will be available by the end of July 2020.
Mary-Anne Bowring, group managing director at Ringley, welcomes the news but doesn’t believe the fund will be enough to solve the full range of cladding problems that so many people living in residential blocks are facing. “The government needs to support the removal of non-ACM cladding from buildings that are under 18 metres as well, as there is currently no support in place for those living in these types of buildings across the UK,” she says.
“Recent tests have suggested that some other cladding
types may not have been as safe as previously thought, and if proven to be
dangerous, the government should step in and help fund the removal of these
“Separately, with the government looking to kickstart the housing market post-lockdown, one area of focus should be helping leaseholders and flat owners unable to sell, as they cannot secure an EWS1 form proving their building is safe.”
This means boosting testing capacity – and that again may
require additional government funding.
Housing market activity is definitely on the up – and London-based buyers could drive activity outside the capital. This is the view from estate agent Hamptons, as it publishes new housing market research. Last week we blogged about a possible ‘lockdown lift-off’ as agencies opened their doors again. Now Hamptons’ figures appear to be pointing in the same direction. “After seven frozen weeks, the housing market seems to be moving up a gear” they say.
The number of potential buyers registering with the agency has more than doubled, with new instructions and the number of offers trebling. This is a positive sign but the market has far from fully recovered and it will take some time before the impact of lockdown on pricing becomes clear.
Early signs are that London-based buyers are going to play a big role in housing markets outside the capital this year. Nearly one in five (19%) applicants who registered in a Southern Hamptons branch in April were from London, up from 12% in April 2019 and 13% in April 2016 when London outmigration last peaked. House prices in the country have lagged behind those in cities over the last decade, which means country homes now look relatively good value. So as we and other industry commentators have been predicting in the last few weeks, it looks as if there could be an increase in people hoping to move away from urban areas in search of more space and a home with a garden.
“Over the last decade house prices in prime areas of London have risen 79%, almost double the 42% recorded in prime country locations. This means that the average seller leaving London can gain an additional 953 sq ft by selling up and moving to the country, often the biggest pull for those making the move out of the capital,” says Aneisha Beveridge, Head of Research at Hamptons International.
Despite young people being most like to have lost work or seen their income drop because of the coronavirus pandemic (source: The Resolution Foundation) Hamptons data shows that first-time buyers are leading the increase in demand. In April, first-time buyers made up 44% of those searching for a property to buy, up from 24% in the same month last year. For those first-time buyers who haven’t lost their jobs or taken an income cut, that’s put them in a good position to save.
So if the government decides to add some stimulus to the housing market by offering a stamp duty holiday like it did in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, some first-time buyers may even find they are in a better position to get on the housing ladder than they were two months ago.
Hamptons also keeps track of trends in the rental market. Its monthly lettings index shows that restrictions on movement throughout April meant that most tenants decided to stay put. That meant those homes that were available to rent last month took longer to let than usual due to the fall in demand. It took 29 days on average to let a home in Great Britain last month, the longest time recorded in April since Hamptons’ records began in 2013.
It’s also becoming clear that the income squeeze is impacting rents. Hamptons says rental growth continued to slow last month, with average rents in Great Britain falling for the second month in a row. Rents on renewed tenancies fell -0.5% year-on-year in April, yet London and the South East were the only regions to record falls.
But activity has rebounded quickly. Hamptons registered 13.4% more applicants so far this month compared with the same period last year. That means just under six applicants looking per rental property, up from just over four a year ago.
Can we expect a ‘lockdown lift-off’ in the housing market? HMRC released figures yesterday for property transactions in April. As expected, sales for the month were a staggering 53.4% down on the same month last year and 46.1% lower than in March. However, as we blogged earlier in the week, there is an expectation out there that the market will quickly recover to pre-pandemic levels.
Agent Knight Frank says the number of enquiries they received last week was the highest it has been in a year and 8% above the previous peak in early February. The agency is even predicting a possible ‘lockdown lift-off’ to follow the ‘Boris Bounce’ felt in the market earlier this year!
Upward movement in the housing market drives demand and that, in turn, means more houses must be built. So how are housebuilders coping with their new normal? The government has issued guidelines for construction sites, aiming to keep Britain building. Last week more flexible working hours were announced for construction sites to ensure safe working and social distancing. In residential areas, where appropriate, sites can stay open until 9pm every day except Sunday; in non-residential areas they can stay open for longer. This makes it easier to stagger working hours, taking the pressure off public transport.
Housebuilders are relieved to get back to work, although some companies have already been forced to lay off staff during the lockdown. But there are good news stories out there. The one we really like is that developer Taylor Wimpey is offering a discount of 5% on new homes to NHS staff and care workers in recognition of the massive contribution that front line staff continue to make during the health crisis.
There may also be good news for anyone trying to negotiate the planning system. Departments are now being encouraged to make more use of digital technology to help them operate remotely and efficiently during the pandemic.
So the silver lining in the Covid cloud may be that this crisis provides the impetus that was needed to improve the whole process. With the planning inspectorate now undertaking its first-ever virtual hearings, once services resume fully, planning departments may be made permanently more accessible and user-friendly. And that can only be a good thing.
The housing market recovery could already be underway. That may be optimistic but it certainly looks set for a rapid post-pandemic revival. Early indicators are better than expected, with Rightmove reporting online property searches surging back to normal levels immediately after the government reopened the housing market last week. The property website told Landlord Today that within 24 hours of restrictions being lifted in England, almost 5.2 million visits were recorded. That’s up 4% on the same day last year and is the busiest day for enquiries since last September.
With effect from last Wednesday:
estate agents’ offices are open
viewings – whether virtual or in-person – are permitted
show homes are open
and removal companies and the other essential parts of the sales and letting process are re-started with immediate effect.
All good news. But it’s far from business as usual for agents and customers. With new government guidelines in place, potential buyers and sellers, as well as property agents, are having to rapidly adapt to a new normal.
Here’s what the government says. “In the first instance viewings should happen virtually. When viewings do happen in person, we’ve set out a clear plan to ensure the safety of those already in the property itself, those considering moving in and the estate agents and lettings agents”.
The new guidelines are that:
Visits should be by appointment only. Open house viewings cannot take place and speculative viewings where buyers or tenants are not serious yet, are highly discouraged.
All parties must follow strict social distancing guidelines.
All internal doors should be opened where possible.
The current occupier should vacate the property for the duration of the visit, going out for their daily exercise, going out to the shops or standing in the garden, if possible.
Everyone involved in the process is advised to wash their hands on entering the property. And, once the viewing has taken place, all surfaces in the property including the door handles, should be thoroughly cleaned.
Miles Shipside from Rightmove thinks the guidelines are stringent but correct. The recovery of transaction volumes will rely on the fact that prospective buyers and existing and future sellers feel safe enough to get the market moving again, he says. We agree. Our Manchester-based lettings business Life by Ringley has adapted quickly to virtual viewings and they are now on offer to all our clients. We don’t see this changing and in fact, it may simply become the way we do business. It’s quick and easy and helps customers make a quick decision about whether or not they are interested in a particular property. Estate agents are rolling this out to their customers too and in a few years’ time, we will probably all wonder why we didn’t do it sooner!
It remains to be seen whether the surge in online interest from potential buyers will translate into a housing market recovery. If so, will we see new trends emerging towards out-of-town homes versus urban locations, as people fear that living cheek-by-jowl with others may increase their chances of catching a virus that shows no signs of simply going away? The next few months will be interesting, as well as challenging, for the housing market.
On 5 May Mary-Anne Bowring, Ringley Group MD hosted a UKAA Webinar that looked at the thorny issue of cladding tests. In particular, she focused on EWS1 form compliance and life beyond the Hackitt Review. EWS stands for ‘external wall system’ and looks at the level of safety displayed by external walls on residential buildings.
Mortgage valuers are now being asked to declare if there is any cladding is present on a building and lenders will refuse to lend on the building until they are fully aware of what cladding has been used and that the certificate awarded is in accordance with their lending policy.
Valuers are now effectively risk-rating residential blocks. This is causing serious issues for flat owners whose homes are valued at zero making them unsellable while further cladding tests are carried out. Mary-Anne highlighted that the journey from applying for an EWS1 form to receiving it could take around two months.
The challenge is that over time, introducing new materials such as cladding may change the fire performance of the building, if the layers of protection offered by each material are not assessed both independently and in conjunction with each other. It is quite possible that either materials that are now known to be too dangerous to use are present, or that a sub-contractor has substituted the material specified in the design for what they believe is a suitable alternative – thereby unknowingly compromising the safety of the building.
“Lenders used to just be conscious about ACM cladding, but they are now looking at all types of cladding that are used on the building,” Mary-Anne explains. “Now this includes HPL cladding – and the entire wall system which means insulation, fixings, fire stopping around windows, glue, fixings and much more.”
The guidance makes it clear that existing residential buildings that have external walls containing combustible materials may not meet an appropriate standard of safety. They could pose a significant risk to the health and safety of residents, other building users, people in the proximity of the building or firefighters; the fire brigade is now taking an active interest in what materials are being put onto these buildings.
However, as Mary-Anne explains: “We’ve got to make sure we are not being fooled by sampling and testing only materials from lower levels. There is the possibility that these materials can change when you move higher up the building. Even before this guidance was issued, the Building Regulations have always applied more stringent requirements for stories over 18 metres”.
The government has set aside a £600m fund to help building owners replace ACM cladding, plus an extra £1bn for non-ACM cladding on high rise residential buildings that are 18 metres or over. But there is no government funding for anyone who owns a multi-storey building that is lower than this. Owners and residents in low-rise buildings have been left behind in potentially dangerous blocks and with no government help yet announced.
One thing is certain – the cladding scandal is far from over. Many people around the country will be effectively trapped in their own homes long after lockdown if nothing is done to help them.
If you are interested in attending any future webinars hosted by Ringley, please get in touch with Anthony.firstname.lastname@example.org to register your interest.
Does your home pass the lockdown test? Not something many of us had considered before 23 March this year – unless you happen to be one of those survivalists with a bunker full of canned food and bottled water! During the last seven weeks, access to food hasn’t been an issue for most of us. Even vulnerable households have been well served by supermarkets delivering to their door. But what has become painfully obvious is that many people are living in very confined spaces with little access to fresh air – let alone outdoor space. With more pandemics predicted, in future homes with gardens and reliable broadband are likely to be in demand.
An article in Inside Housing this week raises some important points about the way many of us live, particularly in urban areas. With thousands of households across the country living in flats, both in the private and social sector, and Parker Morris space standards a thing of the past, much of our housing stock is small. Many households have little or no space for home working – which is now the new normal for many of us – and even less for indoor exercise. Not all flats have a balcony or shared private outdoor space, and not all of us have access to a fast, reliable broadband connection.
As Alison Inman, former president of the Chartered Institute of Housing writes in her article: “When people are asked to list the things that have helped them cope with the lockdown, among the most mentioned are gardens, access to outside space, and keeping in touch with family and friends over the internet”.
It’s likely that this won’t be the last pandemic many of us experience in our lifetimes. So Alison makes a good point when she says whether or not the homes we rent and sell would pass a ‘lockdown test’, should be part of the way we think about and design our properties.
In London, more than half of all homes are flats. How do we give tenants and buyers access to fresh air and outdoor space, indoor space that’s big enough for our children to play and exercise without going stir-crazy and enough room for a desk; all supported by wi-fi that’s good enough to support home working, while making developments stack-up financially? It’s a big ask.
Our view at Ringley is that, as the High Street continues to collapse and we prove that working differently is an option, our call to re-purpose the ground floor of buildings for co-working, community and amenity space is as important as ever. Maybe even more so now that lockdown has helped many of us realise there is a different way to run our businesses.
Grown-up workspaces can be physically but not visually separated from play dens for children and hangout zones for teens, as society learns to come together in new ways. These spaces should not be subject to tax in the same way as income-generating spaces and subject to business rates, but made part of a new national wellbeing strategy.
Have your moving house plans been brought to a halt by the lockdown? If so, you can now re-start the process. Yesterday, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick announced that, from today, anyone in England can move home if they follow the new Government guidance.
Since lockdown restrictions were implemented in March, more than 450,000 people have been unable to progress their plans to move house. The government hopes to re-start the market and get buyers, sellers and renters moving again.
Clearly, this announcement doesn’t mean a return to normality – far from it. The process of finding and moving into a new home will be different and that now includes doing more of the process online. Initial viewings will be virtual and vendors will be asked to keep away while potential buyers are shown around. Properties must also be thoroughly cleaned before someone else moves in. So good news for commercial cleaning companies used by landlords and block managers.
After seven weeks in lockdown, the announcement is welcome news for the property industry as well as for buyers, sellers and renters. Ringley Group MD Maryanne Bowring said today: “There’s no reason buyers or renters shouldn’t be able to move home if they are able to do so safely in accordance with social distancing guidelines”. However, she is quick to point to the fact that this doesn’t mean the housing market has returned to its pre-coronavirus state.
Lockdown is set to continue in some form for an unknown amount of time and the resulting economic disruption is likely to weigh down on activity in the for-sale market. A stamp duty holiday, as proposed by RICS and others (see our 29 April blog for more details) could see a stampede in transactions while an extended Help to Buy will support some sales and in turn housebuilding.
Maryanne thinks the Government now has an opportunity to think long term and introduce policies to reflect Britain’s changing housing needs. “Private renters are a fast-growing part of the housing market and need catering to,” she says, “yet politicians seem intent in squeezing buy to let landlords out of the rental market and the build to rent sector – a positive emergence – simply isn’t big enough yet to absorb all rental demand.
“If the government cuts stamp duty surcharge for landlords it could help stimulate the market by encouraging BTL investors to snap up homes to then rent out. Many landlords also help support housebuilding through off-plan sales,” she adds
The housing market as a whole will also have to get ready for a digital-first approach to transactions as more tasks and jobs are done remotely.
Lockdown is bringing property problems to the fore. With more of us spending all our time at home, all those little gripes that could have been easily ignored in normal circumstances are now becoming painfully obvious!
Maintenance issues, a lack of storage space and too much noise are top of the list of homeowners’ and renters’ complaints, according to new research from the Homeowners Alliance published this week.
The HOA survey shows that when we’re looking for a new property to rent or buy, we tend to focus on the important physical characteristics of the property (beyond location and number of rooms). Top of the list are sufficiently sized rooms (66%), a private balcony or garden (57%) and good natural light (46%). However, more than half of renters and more than 40% of homeowners wish they’d paid more attention to other aspects of the home they picked to rent or buy.
The HOA reveals that:
25% regret not paying attention to a lack of storage space;
21% wish they’d looked more closely at maintenance and repairs, including the condition of the roof, electrics, boiler, plumbing, heating, damp and insulation; and
21% say they are now more conscious of noise from neighbours or traffic.N
So once the lockdown is lifted, how might the Covid-19 outbreak change our homebuying and renting habits?
First, there is likely to be renewed interest in homes to rent or buy outside busy urban centres and properties with gardens will be at a premium. Buyers and renters are likely to want to avoid crowded cities and town centres and live in a home with private outside space.
Also, larger homes with flexible space and properties with home offices and a good wi-fi connection will be top of many wish-lists as more of us continue to work from home. This will have an impact on commuting too, so properties further afield may attract higher prices than they have in the past.
These potential changes in our housing needs and buying habits could also drive architects and developers to re-think the way they design our homes – and landlords who would normally focus their portfolios on towns and cities may reconsider their investment choices too.
In a very short space of time, the global pandemic has made us all reassess the way we live our lives – and the need for social distancing may not change anytime soon. Chances are that the ‘new normal’ will filter through to our housing preferences too.