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Commercial Advice Our thoughts // Residential Advice

Sustainability in Architecture

With the ever-impending climate crisis upon us and changes in living and working practices in a post covid world, the need for sustainable architecture which provides a tangible connection to the natural world has never been in sharper focus. Occupiers, customers and employees are taking greater care when deciding where they work, shop and eat out.  

Biophilic design is focused on connecting humans and the built environment to the natural world through the use of nature in architectural design, be that through new constructions or the redesign of existing buildings.  

For most of us, our natural habit is largely within the modern built environment, through where we both live and work. With more homes being built and the population of cities ever growing, this isn’t changing any time soon. The use of biophilic design seeks to enhance the spaces we spend our time in by incorporating the natural environment and the positive benefits an easy connection to nature brings us, be that through improved air quality or boosted mental health.  

If you’re a city dweller, you’ll likely have noticed one of the most popular concepts of Biophilic Design: green roofs. In 2018, it was found that 32% of all horizontal spaces are unused rooftops, and with benefits for both people and the environment, such as supporting biodiversity and wildlife, improving thermal performance of buildings, and allowing people to take a physical and mental break from the stress of work by connecting them to nature, green roof’s are becoming increasingly popular atop city centre office buildings, apartment blocks and retail spaces for this reason.  

From Stockport to San Francisco, biophilic design is being used to transform corporate spaces and add greenery to industrial areas. As part of a multi-million-pound regeneration scheme, a two-acre park atop Stockport interchange has been given the green light in an attempt to offset carbon emissions and give further green space for locals to enjoy. On the other side of the pond, ATXK have been inviting nature inside their offices to help employees feel a sense of freedom in a positive, healthy workspace. 

Biophilic design incorporates three key principles; Nature in the space, referring to the direct presence of nature, Nature of the space, focusing on taking inspiration from the spatial configurations in nature, and Natural Analogues, which uses indirect methods to reflect nature. The use of these principles drives towards a fundamental goal of Biophilic Design: to create a good habitat for people inhabiting modern structures, landscapes and communities.  

If you own or manage property and are keen to incorporate nature, but a green roof is a stretch too far, incorporating biophilic design through the use of living walls is an option for both interior and exterior areas. Both contributing to improved air quality and acoustics, along with better productivity and creativity, living walls have been noted to significantly increase workplace satisfaction. In our home town, Sheffield Hallam University have made use of this, redeveloping the atrium at their city campus to make use of biophilic design features such as living walls, whilst over in New York, Luxottica have been making use of living walls in their main office breakout space to encourage a relaxed and social space for employees. 

Even small changes to an office or retail fit out specification, such as the use of natural materials and colour pallets in favour of previously desirable and low-cost composite plastics and metals, can help evoke a connection to nature within the great steel and concrete boxes we call our urban built environment. As businesses begin to encourage employees back to the office, biophilic design is certainly something for property and business owners to explore.  

Looking to the future, we cannot deny the need for more sustainable choices in the way we live and work. Biophilic design presents opportunities for both residential and commercial property to improve the environment for those living and working in these spaces by incorporating nature and greenery simply and effectively into everyday life. With questions still arising over how to adapt cities post-Covid, we’re expecting to see the use of biophilic design increase in the years ahead. 

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Our thoughts //

Response to Spring budget

There’s definitely some positive news for the property industry in today’s budget, but we believe more could be done to help people get their foot on the property ladder.

The stamp duty holiday on properties up to £500,000 will be extended until the end of June and a holiday on properties up to £250,000 will continue until the end of September, before the usual holiday on properties up to £125,000 resumes in October. If you’re currently in the house buying or selling process, this will hopefully relieve the bottleneck currently experienced as solicitors and agents rushed to get sales done before the end of March. It will also continue to stimulate the housing market, that has been lucky enough to continue operating throughout restrictions.

First time buyers will be helped on the ladder by a new mortgage guarantee enabling them to access 95% mortgages. This is very welcomed, however, demand for homes in the UK continues to outstrip supply and we believe this to be a key issue impacting prices of property, with record prices being seen across the country.

Government should take greater steps to ensure everyone can afford a home, such as:

  • Incentivise SME developers to convert existing stock, such as retail, into affordable residential homes
  • Invest in skills and training to meet current labour shortages in the construction industry
  • Ensure additional funding and resources is made available to Local Authority planning departments so applications can be dealt with quickly and new affordable homes can be built
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Our thoughts //

What will happen to stamp duty?

As the Government’s Budget on the 3rd March nears, it’s looking unlikely the stamp duty holiday will be extended for a significant period of time, but after a year of uncertainty for the UK, it’s difficult to predict what will happen in the next few months. Government had said they would not be extending the holiday, but are now considering an extension of 3 months until June, to allow those currently purchasing to complete on their sale. However, if they change their mind it wouldn’t be the first U-turn we’ve seen in recent months…

The implications of not extending the stamp duty holiday are concerning for a lot of people, not least those currently caught in the bottleneck of house sales who would be unlikely to complete before the end of March deadline, with an estimated 70,000 sales agreed in 2020 not expected to make it through before this date. If the holiday did end and these purchases hadn’t gone through in time, there may well be some sales falling through. It also seems a number of people are holding out on sales and purchases through the uncertainty, waiting to see what happens, and they will likely have an impact on the housing market later this year as they decide whether or not to move forward with their purchases.

House prices look to be starting to fall in some areas and, if predictions come true, when stamp duty ends they’ll likely fall more rapidly. This reduction in price is to be expected as the market stabilises following several months of artificial stimulus from the stamp duty holiday causing record highs in property prices across the country. We’ve said previously, however, that the boom in 2020 looks to have been heavily driven by second and multiple home owners and the higher end of the market, where property continues to be seen as a good long-term investment project and whose jobs are less likely to have been hit by lockdown restrictions and redundancies. 

The accessibility of mortgage products has caused some issues for buyers in the past year but, whilst lenders are likely to remain cautious, we would anticipate some loosening of lending criteria as the implications of furlough ending and the vaccine roll out become more apparent and some certainty returns to the housing market with the risk to lenders becoming increasingly more stable and transparent.

The potential of negative interest rates in the coming months may also stimulate the housing market, with traditional savings accounts of little value, banks are encouraging lending through mortgage products, and those with surplus capital seeing property as a solid investment.

Demand continues to outstrip supply due to a long term skills and material shortage in the construction industry, compounded further by Brexit and fluctuations in demand created by changing living patterns during the pandemic, so whilst we face more uncertainty ahead, investors, buyers and those working in the property industry can take some comfort in the historic performance of the housing market and there are indeed scenarios to feel cautiously optimistic about.

Stamp duty explained

Stamp duty rates with the holiday until 31st March 2021

Add 3% if this is not your sole property.

Up to £500,0000%
The next £425,000 (the portion from £500,001 to £925,000)5%
The next £575,000 (the portion from £925,001 to £1.5 million)10%
The remaining amount (the portion above £1.5 million)12%

Stamp duty rates from 1st April (potentially 1st July) 2021

Add 3% if this is not your sole property

If you’re a first time buyer, you pay no stamp duty up to £300,000.

Up to £125,0000%
The next £125,000 (the portion from £125,001 to £250,000)2%
The next £675,000 (the portion from £250,001 to £925,000)5%
The next £575,000 (the portion from £925,001 to £1.5 million)10%
The remaining amount (the portion above £1.5 million)12%

So, for example…

If you buy a house for £625,000 in March 2021 you will pay £6,250 in stamp duty, calculated as follows:

0% on the first £500,000 = £0

5% on the remaining £125,000 = £6,250

If you buy a house for £625,000 in April (potentially July) 2021 you will pay £21,250 in stamp duty, calculated as follows:

0% on the first £125,000 = £0

2% on the next £125,000 = £2,500

5% on the remaining £375,000 = £18,750

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Our thoughts //

Predictions for 2021

What will happen to property in 2021 //

You’ve likely heard it a lot recently but the world of property is changing significantly at the moment. This is the case for both the residential and commercial markets so we’re going to highlight a few changes, and throw our hat into the ring when it comes to opinions.

What will happen to the UK housing market //

House prices ended 2020 at a record high, but this is predicted to slow with prices expected to drop when the stamp duty holiday ends at the end of March.

The residential market is still busy as buyers continue to look for new homes, however, Zoopla is predicting that half of January’s sales won’t complete in time for stamp duty relief, and some commentators have raised concerns that this could result in buyers pulling out of sales as the tax returning adds 2-15% on to the property price*.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) found most members expect weaker sales in the year ahead, with some citing rising unemployment and the looming return of higher stamp duty and land tax levels across the UK. However, Zoopla also suggested a shortage of stock after 2020’s sales boom could limit price declines, saying:

“the scale of any downside for prices and turnover in 2021 is lower than in previous downturns”

The boom in 2020 looks to have been heavily driven by second and multiple home owners and the higher end of the market, where property remains seen as a good long-term investment project and whose jobs have been less hit by lockdown restrictions and redundancies. This suggests that the market may not have as a heavy a fall as some predict, although will still likely be impacted by the return of stamp duty.

Another area that may help the housing market to continue on a positive trajectory is changes in working habits causing an increased demand, something Zoopla believes still “has further to run” as changes to working patterns continue through 2021 and beyond. There has been a big increase in searches for property with greater access to outdoor space as people move away from city centre working, with many people requiring greater flexibility with the space they have as they continue with home based working. The impact of the pandemic on working practices is very likely to be felt for years to come, and thus we will continue to require more from our homes as they increasingly become a hybrid of work and leisure time.

When we talk of the future, it would be difficult to shy away from the climate emergency and the environmental choices we need to make. We have written more extensively on environmental building practices here, but this is likely to be an area to watch as we look to reduce our impact on the environment through more energy efficient homes and construction.

*This is dependent on value of property and whether it is one residential property or a second, or multiple, home.

What will happen to UK commercial property //

The future of commercial property is incredibly interesting, to us at least. There is undoubtedly going to be change in the way businesses operate moving forward as they look to adapt post pandemic, although some of this change was arguably already in the making and just exacerbated by the pandemic.

Retail, for example, has been heavily impacted for years by the growth of online sales, but with us all forced to stay home multiple times over the past year, the world of online shopping became even more lucrative. What will happen to these buildings? Where anchor tenants like Topshop and Debenhams once stood, who will take over? We think it’s important here to consider what is lacking in a certain town or city and how these spaces can be repurposed. Sheffield, for example, has long had a lack of both housing and Grade A office space, whilst other areas may well see growth of bars and restaurants as people long to get back to socialising.

Offices will of course change, we’re all working from home where we can and for many people this has been beneficial in giving them more time as they avoid a potentially lengthy commute. Moving forward, there will very likely still be a use for offices as we look at a more hybrid working pattern with a mix of home and office use. Although demand for office space may drop, prior to the recession demand outweighed supply so this could bring about a more level field. Changes in working patterns are also forcing current owners, landlords and businesses to look at the quality of the office they’re providing. Several buildings in Manchester, for example, are being retrofitted with showers, bike storage and recreational areas, offers now seen as essential by many employees. Offices in towns and cities will likely be in demand again as we leave the pandemic behind, even though home working will continue to be popular, a flexible solution of home and office working will likely be the new normal.

We also think they’ll be a greater move towards experiences, with businesses offering consumers more than just one activity such as shopping. Manchester’s Arndale Centre, for example, had already started to repurpose units, creating a prosecco bar to drink while you shop, whilst Junkyard Golf in Manchester saw huge success with an activity and a night out rolled into one. Some spaces, particularly shopping centres, will likely be entering an extensive period of redevelopment as they look to bring consumers back into their units, finding news way to entice them.

So what will be the focus of property post-coronavirus //

We believe the future of property lies in residential, offices and experience driven services, so we’ll see town centres with greater hospitality, more city centre living and thus urban green spaces, and offices that offer something new to their staff. There’ll be a lot of repurposing of existing spaces, and we think quite a few commercial to residential developments as centres change and become more attractive places to live again.

When looking at what has happened after other recessions, it’s difficult to compare. The 2008 crash was a different experience to nwo because it was created from banks having no money, and the exacerbation of the housing crisis caused everything to stop. This situation is different. The recession we do see may well be reflected in isolated industries as opposed to the whole economy going down. Banks do have money and there will likely be a short sharp recession and a huge bounce back. Demand for businesses that closed, such as pubs, restaurants and hairdressers, will return because the loss of demand was due to the manufactured situation of lockdown, and the consumer demand is actually still there.

The pandemic will be a catalyst for change for how businesses do things, with many likely coming back with a different model. There are also opportunities for other sectors to grow. The property industry for example, will be implementing change, doing due diligence, advising on changes of use, and creating and building new spaces.

Change is scary for some, but as the vast industrial heartlands of the north have been forced to find rejuvenation and a new purpose, so will many of our current retail spaces. Change isn’t always a bad thing. If it weren’t for deindustrialisation, I’d probably be covered head to toe in soot down a mine or at the Furniss, instead of writing this blog comfortably at home in my shirt with a coffee. ‘Proper work’ my old Grandad would say, maybe he was right, a real tragedy I’ll never know, I’m sure. In short, looking to the future there is definitely a period of change, but repurposing what is there and creating new things can be a positive as we move forward and say goodbye to covid.

This information and data in this article was correct at the time of publishing. However, it may now be out of date or superseded. Fourth Wall make no representation or warranty of any kind regarding the content of this article and accept no responsibility or liability for any decisions made by the reader based on the information/ data shown here.