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Offices, outdoor space and energy efficiency top of post-pandemic improvements

The pandemic and the climate crisis have changed the types of improvements we make to our homes. Here’s what’s in and what’s out right now, according to homeowners across the UK.

Words by: Ellie Isaac

Senior Editor

Improve or move? It’s an age-old dilemma for homeowners, and even more so since the pandemic.

Covid-19 sparked a total reevaluation of the space we live in, driving huge numbers of people to either move house or make improvements.

That desire to move has been clear in the high sales numbers and jump in house prices in the last two years.

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But our data shows only 4% to 6% of owner-occupiers move house each year. That’s a lot of people staying put, who are likely to be finding ways to improve their current home for new ways of living and working.

So how have home improvements changed since the pandemic? And who’s improving rather than moving these days?

Let’s take a look, with the help of Barbour ABI’s latest home improvement report.

Rising demand for home offices, energy efficiency and outdoor space

2021 saw extraordinary growth in home improvement applications, with more than a quarter than the number made pre-pandemic in 2019.

Most types of home improvements saw a rise in applications as people grew increasingly aware of their home’s space and potential.

With more of us working from home, Barbour ABI says applications for home offices rose a huge 250% between 2019 and 2021.

While the full impact of working from home is yet to be seen in research, it has had a noticeable impact on the home improvement landscape.

Greater environmental awareness is driving change in homes too, with applications rising by half for insulation projects and two thirds for solar panel projects over the two years.

And it’ll come as no surprise to hear about the increase in value of outside space. 

Applications for garden buildings rose by 45% from 2019 to 2020, and it’s a similar story in cities where applications for roof terraces rose by 50%.

Loft conversions and extensions have long been a popular home improvement in the UK, but applications for these improvements increased by a further 30% from 2019 to 2021.

The most popular home improvements

Rural and suburban homeowners are doing the most work to their homes

In the past 10 years, there have been shifts in the locations where people make the most home improvements.

From 2012, there was an upswing in urban improvements, which accounted for 59% in 2012 and shot to 73% in 2015.

This was particularly true of London, where the impact of the global financial crisis was shrugged off more quickly.

However, by 2015, momentum was turning back towards rural areas, and lockdowns sparked a burst of activity among rural and suburban homeowners.

This trend has intensified since the pandemic. While London and the South East remain the largest regions by some distance, the North West, Yorkshire, the Humber, and the North East saw large increases in applications.

The starkest declines in home improvements right now are in urban areas, such as those classified as cosmopolitan, multicultural or metropolitan, says Barbour ABI.

Older and wealthier households are more likely to improve their home

The big spenders in home improvements tend to be those in the age band between 50 and 64, many of whom have built up significant housing equity.

They might already live in their larger ‘forever’ homes and they tend to have smaller mortgages, which gives them both the inclination to stay put and the cash to make improvements.

At the same time, it’s wealthier households in the top 20% of income accounting for about half of the total spend. Almost 80% of the spend comes from the top half by income. 

For lower earners or younger households, who may live in smaller properties, flats or urban areas, the cost of home improvements and the limits of smaller homes or urban locations, may mean moving up the ladder is a more feasible option.

We try to make sure that the information here is accurate at the time of publishing. But the property market moves fast and some information may now be out of date. Zoopla Property Group accepts no responsibility or liability for any decisions you make based on the information provided.