In this guest piece, Andrea Fawell, sales & marketing director of award-winning property developers Kebbell, tackles many of the important factors that may affect house buyers and housebuilders in 2021.
This ranges from Brexit and land buying to house prices, the increase in working from a home, a skills shortage, the end of the stamp duty holiday and changes to Help to Buy.
We await the impact Brexit will have on the economy and what market confidence will look like in the recession. There has been a slowdown in the production from factories on the continent because of Covid-19, but we don’t yet know what delays, if any, there will be at the ports.
Kebbell has factored in more time to build programs in order to manage expectations and demand. Post-Brexit, people will still want to move home, so we remain positive. It is very time-consuming trying to get a door out of Spain at the moment, though!
Show home visits
Like us, most developers may permanently choose to offer site visits by appointment going forwards because it has worked so well. It has made the working day much more productive for our on-site sales teams because they can give prospective buyers their interrupted attention for their whole visit.
We are finding people who are making appointments have already done a lot of research online and a drive-by or two, so when they arrive at our show home they are already well-informed about the area and have narrowed down their search.
Our developments remain Covid-secure so all visitors can be reassured we’re safe places to be. I think it is amazing how quickly the majority of the British public accepted sanitising, social distancing and mask precautions and it is now part of the national psyche.
Lockdown quickly escalated the importance of online material from video tours to social media, and increased photography so that potential buyers can see properties in far more detail before actually visiting. This is key to our online presence and we keep our potential buyers informed with frequent updates online.
Working from home
We anticipate employers this year allowing their staff to work from home where possible, with flexi-time built in because we have proven it works. A hybrid model of employees working from home and spending some time in the office or going for meetings may become the norm but it’s another watch, wait and see.
Certainly, we don’t need to travel so much as video calling and video tours are now the norm. Even our interior designers are now presenting online.
This means that all of us are far more effective in our time and we have a better work/life balance. All the more reason that we need good broadband and good dedicated space to work. We’re definitely designing our new homes with this in mind.
We are in recession but because of the stamp duty holiday and Help to Buy, Kebbell are busier than ever and finished the year on target. Post-March 2021, things could feel very different for the housing market and the impact of the recession may have been delayed to the second half of next year.
Huge numbers of people are losing their jobs and it is likely to be the bottom end of the property market which is most badly affected. So far our purchasers have all worked in fields that haven’t been severely hit.
We also have to consider that we are all going to have to start paying back the financial support the country has been receiving through tax rises and this may have a detrimental impact on people’s ability to borrow.
End of stamp duty holiday and changes to Help to Buy
We are facing a mad dash from January until the end of March as buyers continue to push for completion before the stamp duty holiday ends and the changes to the Help to Buy scheme come into effect.
The property market has had to transform in the pandemic, like so many other industries. The stamp duty holiday is helping immensely, and who knows, it may be extended further still.
The land market remains fiercely competitive because of the lack of appropriate sites, so often developers are chasing the same pieces of land. We are very dynamic in our decision-making so can often jump in if other developers have pulled out for any reason.
We also have a long-term view to land buying so we are also very happy to consider complex sites and then enhance the value by working to achieve satisfactory planning permission. This takes time and vision.
Sub-contractors are finding it difficult to recruit and retain skilled tradespeople. Next year we are aware that our sub-contractors may struggle with staffing levels because of a chronic skills shortage.
For several years at Cornelian Fields we provided land for the Scarborough Skills Village which tries to address the skills shortage in the area through accredited courses and training for the construction trade.
Over the last few years there has been a definite growth of interest in a developer’s green credentials. The climate change agenda has since been elevated. We have employed a research assistant to help us assess where we can make significant changes for how we work as a business and how our houses are built with green credentials in mind.
Many purchasers are asking about such things as car charging points, ground source heat pumps and battery capability for solar panels. We are continually working on how we can incorporate more of this technology. By 2025, gas boilers will no longer be allowed in new build houses and very few of our buyers are now keen on log-burning fires which were very fashionable only a few years ago.
Motivating and upskilling the workforce
I have been really enjoying some leadership development work and I am bursting with new ideas with particular focus on the differences between leadership and management.
At Kebbell, we understand that compliance isn’t the same as commitment and that engagement and motivation are the key to this. We ask employees their opinion and what they think the solution is to any given issue. We want to give them space to flourish and this has never been more important.
They may come up with better answers because they are on the frontline and see it differently. Let’s acknowledge the huge amount of talent and experience within our team and tap into it to get the best out of our organisation.
Unless the recession is very long and hard-hitting, I think prices in many areas will hold because of the huge demand and lack of supply. The huge positive is that interest rates are likely to remain at an all-time low, making mortgages more affordable.
There will be regional differences and cities may see large changes, as people are moving out to benefit from open space and gardens and because working from home will still be popular.
What are Kebbell’s big plans for 2021?
Right from the outset of 2021, we will be launching some special new homes at Osborne House, a gated development of six spacious three-bedroom apartments (some with garages), within easy reach of Sunningdale’s village centre. The rooms are big and the specification very luxurious, with huge amounts of storage and direct access to a beautiful, quiet, landscaped garden.
We have another busy and exciting year coming up. Our new sites span Petersfield in Hampshire, Chiswick, Iver and Gerrards Cross in Bucks and phase four of Cornelian Fields in Scarborough. We also have existing developments that were launched in 2020 across Hampshire, Berkshire and Yorkshire.
We have put plans and processes in place to ensure our building programmes are realistic and well thought through. We try to be considered, realistic and mindful so we can deliver what we promise – homes for how you live.
*Andrea Fawell is sales & marketing director at Kebbell, a property developer specialising in new homes which was first established in 1953.