There’s no point speculating on where our exit (or indeed non-exit) from the European Union is headed anymore.
We are in completely uncharted territory thanks to the interventions of speaker Bercow and the almost inevitable refusal of a majority of MPs to back the prime minister’s plans. But in a sense all this is a sideshow. Life will go on after 29 March either as we enter transition negotiations or as we take on the brave new world of WTO rules.
That said, there are some areas of the property market that aren’t driven by geopolitics as much as by technology. Savills recently suggested that the market’s gloomy view of retail property may have been overdone. It may well be right, but the reality is that shopping habits are changing inexorably.
Department stores are yesterday. Boutiques are the new sexy and as online shopping is easy, doesn’t involve paying outrageous parking charges or braving the cold and crowds, why not do it online and have it delivered to your door? Some trends are inexorable and the demise of high streets is one. That’s not to say they will just die. Making them places where people can meet, talk, work and enjoy real, rather than Whatsapp, contact with their fellow human beings makes sense, but will take time. And while the government talks about business rates burden, it does nothing about it. I’m a bear on retail.
Work is changing too. This is all about technology. These days the idea that the only way you can control your staff is to look at the back of their heads is rightly regarded as ludicrously primitive. While we hate permanent home working, we love flexible working – and so does our employer. Increasingly as growing businesses run out of space they aren’t looking to move to larger offices.
“While we hate permanent home working, we love flexible working – and so does our employer”
They are employing proptech consultants to advise on who in their workforce could and would happily work from home a couple of days a week. There are so many advantages to both sides. For starters, it lowers the cost of housing staff while allowing vital childcare flexibility. We are becoming a nation of independent contractors working project to project and happy to do so, armed only with a decent laptop and a brain.
Getting out of the flat and enjoying a coffee and some human company while earning looks increasingly attractive.WeWork may be oversold and the co-working market may be a little too crowded, but this is more than a trend. It is an inexorable change in the way we organise our lives. So I’m a hold on commercial offices.
We have been slower to recognise the significance of co-living but I predict 2019 is the year when we will start taking it much more seriously. What are the options for young millennials earning around £30k looking to move out of the parental home? Few will be lucky enough to buy their own place.
So it’s private renting, generally with people you probably don’t know and may or may not like, in a place maintained to a wide variety of standards.
Co-living done well offers all the advantages of renting plus the ability to choose from a much wider pool of potential friends, enjoy organised activities, work in an easy environment and grab a snack when you need it. Reza Merchant, who founded The Collective at London’s Old Oak, has been ploughing a lonely furrow for too many years as planners worry about whether it’s creating HMOs for the future.
But if done well, co-living is much more than that. It’s about time the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government recognised reality and established a use class for co-living that would encourage local authorities to see it as it should be: an important part of the housing mix.
So on co-living, I’m a strong buyer.
Steve Norris is chairman of Soho Estates and This Land