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How the pandemic changed the preferences of apartment buyers

Modern apartment house with balconies

Flats of the future

In the context of the coronavirus pandemic, the preferences of apartment buyers have changed. During the period of self-isolation, apartments with balconies and loggias became more in demand. A definite trend in the choice of housing has become apartments with a larger area or adaptive layouts, which make it possible to equip an office or create separate zones for working at a distance. Buyers began to appreciate more the developed infrastructure near the house, landscaped courtyards, and public spaces, as well as the presence of a public garden or park within walking distance from housing.

Many of these trends were important before, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they have become more relevant for buyers of apartments in new buildings. We talk about how demand is changing in the primary housing market of world capitals, whether these trends will be long-term and how developers and architects are responding to challenges.

Poll: what experts think about the impact of the pandemic

At the end of May, the Real Estate Professionals Association conducted a survey among real estate market players about changes in demand due to the pandemic. More than half of the survey participants (65%) noted a change in buyers’ preferences: most often, buyers want to see a balcony and a separate room or area in their future apartment that can be used as an office. According to the survey participants, the demand for more spacious living rooms and kitchens is growing, while the area of ​​bedrooms is decreasing: for buyers, it becomes more important to functional zoning of housing while maintaining its total area. In connection with the pandemic, one of the main trends has become the walking accessibility of parks and squares, as well as landscaped courtyards, says Maxim Egorov, Deputy Minister of Construction and Housing and Utilities of Russia.

Breath of fresh air

Balconies and loggias, which were often used as storage rooms, have regained their original function as outdoor space. Today, for example, in the primary market in London, balconies are not in every project. For example, in new comfort class buildings, they are present in 57% of projects. They have always been in high demand among conservative buyers, and in a pandemic, they have become more in demand.

In Berlin, traditionally, many more residential complexes are designed with balconies or loggias. The absence of a balcony is rather an exception. As a result, most of the transactions, both before and now, are carried out with apartments that have a balcony.

In conditions of self-isolation, many appreciated the opportunity to equip an additional workplace in the summer room and go out into the fresh air while staying in their apartment. About 60% of buyers are conservative, and the presence of such premises is a big plus for them. The demand for balconies and loggias has increased especially during the pandemic. Especially appreciated are projects with an exploited roof, where residents can walk, relax or play sports.

Yulia Tryaskina, managing partner of the Moscow architectural bureau UNK Project, believes that developers and architects should respond to this request, but projects underway are unlikely to be refurbished. However, when buying new apartments, people will undoubtedly consider the presence of even a small balcony, allowing them to go “outside” for a breath of fresh air, as an advantage, the architect believes.

Emphasis on public spaces

Public spaces, equipped courtyards with playgrounds and sports grounds have long become a trend and an obligatory characteristic of a comfortable urban environment in high-quality residential projects in Moscow. Restrictions on movement, the transition to remote work forced us to more carefully select projects in terms of infrastructure and the availability of comfortable spaces with various functions near the house. According to developers, they have always been a criterion that makes a project more attractive. Here we are talking about embankments, squares, fountains, parks, unusual playgrounds or sports grounds.

At the same time, many ready-made public spaces, laid by architects at the design stage, were unused. Libraries, children’s, play areas were idle, and most likely this trend will not change, says Tryaskina. According to her, there is a demand for the re-equipment of such premises in residential complexes for mini-offices or small business spaces.

The developers responded to the buyers’ request with new projects using the lifeworking format in the Level Prichalny residential complex. Earlier, a similar project was announced by the developer A101, which will create a network of Easy Busy coworking spaces on the ground floors of its residential complexes. “Of course, they will differ significantly from traditional coworking spaces, at least in terms of footage. But these will be independent work zones, which are easier to control and where it will be easier to comply with the norms and requirements of epidemiological safety, ”Tryaskina said.

Against the backdrop of the pandemic, there is already a trend for residential complexes to become universal spaces with hybrid functionality, allowing them to modify the environment in accordance with new needs. The impetus for development is received by public spaces that allow combining several elements of social infrastructure at once, for example, a coworking space, an educational center, a yoga studio, a gym, and a beauty salon. In our new residential projects, we lay out areas for this functionality, ”Shcherbin notes.

Where to work from home

While buyers in the mass segment of housing (economy and comfort class) do not look at buying an apartment with a separate office, but a certain trend when choosing an apartment during a pandemic has become the possibility of zoning it. The cost of housing in such world capitals as Berlin, London, Moscow is high, and an additional room for an office, even up to 10 m², is already an additional expense. Such requests are appearing in more expensive housing segments.

According to internal research by MIELE GROUP, at present, the greatest demand is for apartments with European planning, where the kitchen is combined with the living room. This solution allows dividing the home into the maximum number of functional areas. In the current economic situation, people are not ready to pay for extra and non-functional meters in an apartment and began to value more the adaptability of living quarters and the ease of their transformation for different tasks of family members, says Khrapov.

“For humans, the pandemic has become a turning point from a psychological point of view. They ended up locked in studios or small apartments, which did not allow changing the layout and organizing their own space for each family member. If before the pandemic, no one attached importance to this, since family members spent a significant part of their time outside the home, then going to a remote location showed that this is a serious problem. Therefore, the demand for flexibility in planning solutions is growing today. For example, if the room is a case with one window, then nothing can be done about it. If the room is a square with three or four windows, then there is already an opportunity to create a functional space, ”explains the architect Tryaskina.

Self-isolation revealed many of the shortcomings of outdated apartment layouts and traditional approaches to organizing public spaces in residential complexes. And now, according to MIELE GROUP, in the primary housing market, a request is being formed for apartment layouts with the possibility of flexible zoning of space, so that in the premises it would be possible to allocate zones with special functionality (sports, children, workers), as well as its quick transformation if necessary.

All these changes in people’s lives will force them to take a more conscious approach to the choice of housing: with a smaller area, they will look for more functional premises, more attention will be paid to the layouts of small apartments. The number of windows in an apartment, the depth and width of the space will become much more important than the footage, since such apartments allow a conscious approach to planning and create separate functional zones.

Demand shifting to cheaper zones

The pandemic, teleworking and restrictive measures related to the spread of coronavirus infection have affected the way of life. According to the managing partner of the architectural studio Dvekati, city dwellers, who were involuntarily prisoners of their square meters, felt them more strongly. “Many people tried to live outside the city for the first time, and many liked it. In conditions of remote work, people are considering moving to the private sector, and sometimes they think about changing the climate zone towards a warmer zone. Townhouses with the possibility of accessing their own, albeit a small plot, are again relevant. Dvekati experts are confident that the trend for suburban real estate, formed by COVID-19, will continue for more than one year.

Experts from the Spanish division of Engel & Völkers note that demand is shifting beyond the line of large cities. This is primarily due to the fact that people want to buy more meters with the same budget and lower income. According to Martina Mendes, most new developments outside Madrid are now on par with the sleeping areas located within the old city boundaries, and many surpass them in comfort and standard of living. Many areas around Madrid are now actively developing, while remaining environmentally friendly, which makes them attractive to customers.

At the same time, experts from MIELE GROUP believe that this is more a matter of a citywide decentralization policy, not related to the COVID-19 pandemic. “If a person can work remotely and have a well-developed infrastructure in his area, he has no reason to go to the city. However, this localization of life is not suitable for everyone. Most likely, equipment of public spaces of residential buildings and complexes for office space and micro-workings will be in much greater demand ”.

How developers respond to changes in demand

Developers and architects are already planning new projects taking into account the changed preferences. Designers of interiors, furniture and household appliances will not stand aside: interiors as a whole are evolving towards mobility, versatility, minimalism and functionalism. Under the influence of global trends, the very life of residents of large cities began to change.

If earlier developers strove for localization and centralization, creating mini-infrastructure within walking distance, now the opposite process is observed – the process of fragmentation. The development company BONAVA reports that after the pandemic, there is a need to improve the public spaces of residential complexes, and it is now working to make them as safe and contactless as possible. This also applies to dividing the streams of tenants, using elevators, which will reduce the number of contacts between tenants, designing separate exits to the courtyard, creating special boxes for couriers, where they can leave parcels without having to contact residents or staff. The pandemic even affected the layout of mailboxes, or rather, their division into sections. In short, everything is being done to prevent crowding in public areas, ”says the partner BONAVA.

“In response to the emerging requirements for the possibility of organizing more functional areas within the framework of the new product concept, we are ready to offer new layouts and at the same time we are constantly working on the development of the infrastructure of the districts so that they have all types of remote services, public spaces for remote work and all the necessary commercial infrastructure, ”said chief expert Khrapov from Samolet.

Long-term trends

When planning facilities, design bureaus rely on global trends, project economics and client requests, but take into account only long-term global trends, says Khrapov. In his opinion, there is still no reason to believe that the requirements for housing will change so much that developers will have to come up with a radically different product: city blocks with ready-made infrastructure for all major family life scenarios.

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