With the climate crisis rarely out of the news and the cost of living crisis on everybody’s minds, there has never been a greater need for housebuilders in the UK to rise to the challenge of creating homes that are not only beautiful and liveable, but sustainable and affordable, too.
And these are among the key criteria that will be considered by the judges of the annual Evening Standard New Homes Awards as they start sifting through the scores of entries for this year’s prestigious event.
The winners will be announced at a ceremony in September.
One thing is certain; 2022 has been a fascinating year for the housing industry as the world readjusts to life beyond the darkest days of the pandemic.
Whilst Covid-19 is thankfully being held at bay – for now at least – some of the motifs which have emerged over the past two years are still very much with us.
Buyers want high-quality open space. That could mean a stylish roof terrace where they can mingle with neighbours — such as the space atop Pocket Living’s Varcoe Road development in Southwark, which won our award for best first-time buyer home last year — or a peaceful, landscaped garden to relax in and maybe even grow their own food. Meanwhile, playgrounds are big news for those with children and of course, spacious and well-designed private balconies are prized by all buyers.
With working from home and hybrid working patterns apparently here to stay, we also need our homes to perform harder than ever before for us, with room to do our jobs as well as socialise and relax.
The pandemic saw an exodus out of city centres and towards the suburbs and beyond, as buyers freed from the office embraced the chance to change their lives.
But while demand for great-quality family homes is still very much with us, there are signs that interest in inner-city apartment living is also in resurgence. In May, Rightmove reported searches for flats overtook searches for terrace houses for the first time this year.
Shape of things to come
The Government’s popular Help to Buy scheme has helped more than 350,000 households to buy a first home or move up the ladder – but it’s coming to an end early next year.
A key question that builders and lenders will have to consider going forward is how to help lower-paid buyers, plus those without access to the Bank of Mum and Dad, achieve the dream of owning a home.
Lenders are already starting to act.
At the start of this month Halifax announced it will introduce 95 per cent mortgages for new-build houses up to the value of £570,000. Others, pundits suggest, will inevitably follow, resulting in a level lending playing field between new and resale homes for the first time.
But while high LTV (loan-to-value) products will help some buyers, they won’t be of practical assistance to those on low and medium incomes who may not be able to raise a loan large enough to buy a property.
For them, the spotlight will be on quality shared ownership schemes such as Clarion Housing’s Ascot House in Staines-upon-Thames which won the Evening Standard New Homes Award last year for best affordable housing development, as well as the evolving sector in privately funded equity loan schemes which have been emerging since Help to Buy’s demise was confirmed.
The other key financial challenge facing the housing sector is, of course, the cost of living crisis. Rising prices are inevitably affecting the cost of building; inflation of around 23 per cent has been typical for construction products and materials so far this year, according to the Construction Leadership Council.
Builders are having to work out how to ameliorate these costs, just as buyers grappling with rising fuel and food prices – plus steadily increasing mortgage rates – will consider value for money like never before.
What buyers want
One given that never seems to change is the British desire to own a place of your own. There is currently no sign of Generation Z beginning to embrace the European concept of renting for life. Despite rising household bills, April’s Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors UK Residential Market Survey pointed to a “modestly positive” trend in new buyer demand, combined with an ongoing lack of stock for sale.
The 2022 New Home Buyers Survey, meanwhile, found a record 67 per cent of buyers would prefer to own a new-build property.
Part of the reason for this is the sheer convenience of a new home. This is particularly relevant to novice buyers and downsizers who don’t have the skill or the will to take on a property that needs work. Many are drawn to the blank page provided by a new home and find inspiration in increasingly impressive show homes dressed by well-known interior designers.
Low running costs are another often-cited reason to buy new homes, and the Government has enthusiastically embraced the eco-home concept with a series of new rules and standards.
Since last month, builders have had to ramp-up the energy efficiency of their developments, thanks to a new raft of building regulations ranging from providing infrastructure for electric vehicles to improving ventilation systems that prevent buildings from overheating as the planet warms up.
And buyers seem likely to approve. According to a recent Zoopla study, energy efficiency is a key priority among seven in 10 buyers who want simultaneously to save money and the planet.
The changing landscape
Just in time for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, London’s newest train line was launched. The Elizabeth line has created new commuter hotspots, from Reading and Acton to the west of London to Abbey Wood and Brentwood to the east.
Many – although by no means all – of these neighbourhoods have seen huge investment in new homes in anticipation of the faster journey times to central London and the City, notably around Abbey Wood where Peabody’s waterfront Southmere development at Thamesmead scooped the best regeneration project category in our awards last year.
As buyers get to know other under-the-radar addresses such as Seven Kings and West Drayton, there will doubtless be some council planning departments kept very busy with applications for more.
As one new train line arrives, so another hoves into view.
High Speed 2 services between London and Birmingham are slated to begin between 2029 and 2033, which will make the Midlands an ever more attractive region for commuters and builders.
Another big change is in requirements for on-site facilities. When prime central London was last in full flight, extras like swimming pools and subterranean spas were de rigueur. Today the emphasis is on more practical matters. Shared workspaces are a fantastic extra for young buyers who need to work from home, and an on-site gym will help cut down on monthly costs.
Meanwhile developers at the helm of some of London’s biggest new sites – notably the £7million Brent Cross Town in north London, which saw the launch of its first homes in early summer, and in Canada Water, east London, where 53 industrial acres are being transformed into a brand-new neighbourhood – are embracing a much wider concept of “on-site”.
They are seeking to create 15-minute cities, where residents have everything they could possibly need, from shops to sports facilities, cafés to culture, within a short walk of their front doors.
If the success of the redevelopment of King’s Cross, or of Great Kneighton in Cambridge – the 2,550-home development which won the top Grand Prix award at last year’s Evening Standard New Homes Awards – are anything to go by, then we predict buyers will fall for these modern, ultra-convenient new neighbourhoods.
The 2022 Evening Standard New Homes Awards will be picking the very best of these massive urban regeneration schemes, alongside 15 other categories ranging from best historic conversions to best London homes, and best luxury homes.
Not only are our awards a chance for Britain’s top developers to show off what they can do, but they will also provide a great insight into the latest trends, for buyers who are looking for their perfect first home, family home or home for their retirement.