Redrow leaves London as virus sends buyers in pursuit of country life

“Searches for homes with gardens had risen by 84 per cent for renters and 42 per cent for buyers in May compared with the same month last year. Almost a third of buyers said they wanted to live in a rural area.”

Trouble is that too often experience here is with people who buy houses in gardens, find them time consuming to look after then spot a development opportunity – character of area lost! – Owl

Louisa Clarence-Smith, Property Correspondent www.thetimes.co.uk 
One of Britain’s biggest housebuilders has announced plans to quit London because the coronavirus outbreak has led to buyers seeking larger homes and access to parks or the countryside.

Redrow, which built 6,443 homes last year, said that it would focus on the regions and its heritage product, traditional houses outside the capital.

John Tutte, executive chairman of Redrow, said: “This change in priorities as a result of people’s lockdown experience has certainly put more emphasis on our heritage product. It tends to be on average bigger than our competitors, with quite a lot of internal space and access to green space.”

The London market accounts for about 15 per cent of turnover. Redrow will complete the development of around six sites where it is already active. It has warned of impairment costs from its decision to scale back further investment. “Our ambition is to reduce our capital investment in London and divert it into achieving higher growth in the regions,” Mr Tutte said.

“It’s almost been death by a thousand cuts in London, which started with stamp duty going up and overseas investors withdrawing from the market.”

Margins have fallen in London as a result of pressure on prices with no reduction in costs and a two-tier planning system involving local authorities and the Greater London Authority that tended to slow things down a lot, he said.

Nearly a third of UK adults, 15.9 million people, have had mental or physical health problems due to the condition of, or lack of space in, their home during lockdown, according to YouGov.

Rightmove said searches for homes with gardens had risen by 84 per cent for renters and 42 per cent for buyers in May compared with the same month last year. Almost a third of buyers said they wanted to live in a rural area.

Anthony Codling, founder of Twindig, a property platform, said developing greenfield sites outside London was less risky in the current market.

“On a greenfield site you can split it into four or five phases. Whereas if you have planning to do a 20-storey apartment block, you can’t build half of it.”

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