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How COVID is changing homebuyer needs - June 2020

By Rich Harvey, CEO & Founder, propertybuyer.com.au

Life is slowly starting to return to normal as more coronavirus restrictions are eased, so we can now possibly have a pint at the pub or a dine-in meal at a restaurant in small numbers.

But there’s no doubt that Australia is entering a ‘new normal’, with some recently acquired habits set to stick around for a while yet.

One of them is working from home.

Those workplaces that are allowing staff to return are doing so cautiously, with most opting to cap their in-office presence at about 50 per cent. But more than that, many businesses have seen that allowing their people to work from home is not only possible, but potentially more efficient and cost-effective.

A recent report from the Australia Institute's Center for Future Work believes working from home will become ‘the new normal’ for millions of us. In fact, it predicts that 30 per cent of the workforce could never return to a traditional office.

That trend will require a significant shift in the home that people require.


Things need to change

If those projections are correct and Aussies who are able to decide to continue working from home, even if only part of the time, then the homes we live in need to change.

The pandemic taught many of us some valuable lessons.

Those working from home soon discovered that their living spaces weren’t necessarily conducive to getting their jobs done. But they had to make it work – and urgently – and so they ironed out some of the kinks the best they could.

Not many of us have home offices ready to go, so kitchen tables were adapted and hastily assembled IKEA desks were bought.

Many of us figured out that home internet packages weren’t adequate. We discovered a lot about natural light and airflow, things we mightn’t have noticed while not home during the day.

For those of us with kids, we found out a lot about how to quickly find a space for little ones to play and make noise that had the least impact on our schedules and sanity.

While people made some temporary adjustments or sucked up the pain while they had to, these are lessons that will need to guide home design and renovation trends if the working from home philosophy is truly adopted by workplaces.


What makes a good home office?

Some properties already promote themselves as being working from home friendly thanks to the inclusion of a floorplan of a ‘study’.

But these ‘studies’ are usually leftover scraps of space that can’t serve any other purpose, and so a desk is built in and to make them instantly useful. As many of us found out over recent months, they’re not always conducive to a great day’s work.

A friend of mine who had a study nook learnt on day one of working from home that it didn’t have a power outlet. A long extension cord had to be run from the kitchen to the laptop. That’s not very efficient.

The distance from a study nook or working space to the wifi router is also an important consideration, it turns out. Another mate turned their spare bedroom into an office, but the internet signal was so weak that video conference wasn’t a possibility. Again, a long extension cable had to be run from the modem to the computer to make it work.

And in that second case, my friend realised that the spare room doesn’t get much sun during the day, making it a fairly dark and cold place to set up shop for eight hours. Try staying productive – and happy – in a dim room every single day!

Most Aussies don’t have spare bedrooms, especially those in the city who typically occupy apartments. And so, they camped out in the lounge room or kitchen.

Some figured out that their homes weren’t quite as flexible as they thought, and that’s really the key learning from this whole exercise.


What should change

If we truly want to embrace working from home, now that we know many of us can, then we have to design, renovate and develop more flexible spaces.

Living rooms should have enough space for a desk that has a power outlet, good natural light and enough room for an ergonomic chair. It shouldn’t feel like a giant desk has been dumped in a corner and is now encroaching on the room’s original purpose. It should feel seamless and suitable.

Our home connectivity needs to become a priority too. Even with the NBN, many people figured out that their cabling wasn’t up to scratch or their connection points were near the front door, far away from where they needed to be to provide a decent signal. If video conference is the new norm, we need to sort of those things. The days of an electrician just shoving a point wherever they can need to end.

If we’re spending more time at home, an even greater importance should be placed on outdoor spaces that we can escape to. A nice garden or courtyard, a balcony with good natural light and a bit of greenery, or even proximity to a local park, is crucial.

The spaces we occupy should also do as much as possible to limit noise pollution. Double glazing, less harsh surfaces, heavy duty window coverings, plants and fences, a smarter orientation of the building footprint – there’s a lot that developers through to decorators can do to reduce the volume of the outside world.

And while space will always come at a premium, we must find a way to avoid developing new homes that are cramped and see people take only a few steps to ‘commute’ from their small bedroom to their small living room.

All in all, we need to think about what would make a working from home scenario possible, pleasant, sustainable and efficient.

No more bolt a cheap table top in a nook and calling it a study. This shift will require considered thinking.

These are the very adaptions that will improve one properties appeal over another.

Sometimes a renovation just won’t cut it and you’ll need to consider buying an entirely different home that can accommodate a multitude of uses.  It’s certainly worth considering upgrading in this softer market while Covid uncertainty abounds.


But spotting options that fit the brief – or can be easily altered to do the job – takes an experienced eye.

When it comes to picking a ‘future proof’ property, engage a buyers’ agent to ensure your next home  is suitable for work, rest and play.


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