Flat out.



Have apartments fallen from fashion?

A couple of reports in recent weeks have shown figures suggesting first time buyers are favouring houses over apartments, leading to a fall in the price of flats. So is that bad news for owners of apartments? We’re not so sure.

What is certain is that the age of first time buyers is increasing, which is purely down to affordability issues and the lending policy of banks. Ever since the financial crisis lenders have made it harder to borrow money: even with headline-grabbing 95 and 100% mortgages available, the fact is that banks are not so footloose and fancy free as their adverts might suggest. And if anyone should have their lives made more difficult by irresponsible lending of the past, then surely it is today’s first time buyer.

All that aside, while people might be holding off their property purchase till later in life, their lives nonetheless keep moving forward. Things like coupling up, gathering clutter, having children, owning a dog or even simply getting older, all change the demands on a living space.

Historically, first time buyers wouldn’t be factoring in the patter of tiny feet to their first step on the property ladder. They’d happily buy a studio or 1 bedroom flat as their first home, then upgrade to two bedrooms later on when coupling up or seeking more space. Often it wouldn’t be until someone’s third purchase where children would enter the picture.

Today that story is different. Often couples live separately – with one or both living with their parents or in a house share – in order to save enough for a deposit. So by the time the money is in place, people are already thinking about children, which in turn means thinking about houses instead of apartments.

But this only deals with ordinary flats: those charmless, boxy and poky creations that, alas, the UK is famous for. It also only deals with conventional lifestyles, which of course are in the majority.

However, if we think about loft-dwelling metropolitans, free-thinking individuals and creative types, they are completely outside the conventional paradigm. 2.2 children, a Volvo estate and a through lounge/diner simply aren’t in the picture. They want wide open spaces, an aesthetic somewhere on the industrial-minimalist scale, views over an urban landscape and a manageable level of outdoor space – not a lawnmower in sight.

Perhaps this is where we can draw the difference between flats and apartments. Strictly speaking the same thing, but the difference in vocabulary reflects a huge difference in lifestyle.

I caught a few minutes of a music festival on BBC something a few months ago and there was a group, whose name I have forgotten, who had a song with the opening line: “I want to live in a Bovis home.” I thought that was the perfect metaphor for a life that we simply don’t encounter: absolutely nobody has ever called Unique Property Company during its entire lifespan and uttered those words.

So yes, the market for a buying a British box may very well be fading, and quite right too. If it does, the nation’s existing stock will likely make a gradual move into buy-to-let territory as landlords eye up the attractive yields from lower purchase prices. And it may well force property developers to up their game in attracting buyers back – more than simply laying a wood floor, fitting a stainless steel oven then calling it a loft.

The UK simply doesn’t have the space to construct only houses. They take up to much room and they cost too much to build, so we need the double efficiency of living on top of each other. So maybe the real message is to stop building boring flats, and start making amazing apartments.

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