The love of nature grew during the Covid closures. But is this appreciation here to stay in today’s “new normal”? Specifically, does it determine what we are willing to pay for our homes?
Property expert Leaders Romans Group (LRG) has carried out substantial research to determine whether the value of homes near the woods has seen above-average increases over the past two years.
The research, which is not limited to house prices, shows a considerable increase in the appreciation of forests after Covid: visits to forests increased from 170 million in 2016-17 to 296 million in 2020-21, and the annual number of visits to forests managed by Forestry England increased by 74% between 2016 and 2021.
But was this a short-term response to the pandemic, as the “great outdoors” offered the only option for exercising under strict confinement measures, and later as a means of socialising? Or is the new love of nature something we are now willing to pay more for?
LRG research examines the impact on property values in all local authority areas in England and Wales. She concludes that homeowners are willing to pay a premium for a home near the woods and that this figure has increased over the past two years: homes within 50 meters of the woods attract a 6% price premium, an increase of 2.4% since the start of the pandemic.
Moreover, this premium was as high as 15% in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, County Durham and North East Lincolnshire.
LRG research supports the common belief that preference for green spaces has increased since the start of the pandemic. It’s complemented by other research, such as that from MFS that indicates that during lockdowns, gardens were considered even more important than indoor living space: in 2019, the square footage of a home was considered as the most important factor in buying a property; in 2022, this was replaced by the need for outdoor space (92%).
Tim Foreman, Managing Director Land & New Homes at LRG, said: “Our research confirms the common belief that the preference for green spaces and nature has increased since the onset of Covid. This information will be of immense value to planners, developers, sales and rental agents as they understand the complex impact of the pandemic and how it will shape our lives for years to come.
This clear preference for woodlands could also be seen as a call to action. A study by the New Economics Foundation found that access to nature has declined over the past century: the median size of green space closest to developments built after 2000 is 40% smaller than the equivalent space near developments built in the 1930s.
This is already changing, both in response to changing attitudes towards well-being and nature, but also as a result of recent environmental law, which requires a gain net biodiversity of at least 10% on new developments from autumn 2023.
Ananya Banerjee, head of design at planning consultancy Boyer (a subsidiary of LRG) commented: “Understanding the importance landowners place on forests is critical in planning new communities. Since the start of the pandemic, we have seen an unprecedented increase in counter-urbanization and an above-average increase in prices rural housing.
“As many city dwellers seek to take advantage of the freedom offered by remote working, we will see a reduction in demand for office space, which we hope will in turn provide the ground to develop options more affordable and quality housing.This will include access to green spaces and infrastructure to enable ‘active’ transport – in particular walking and cycling routes, as well as public access to green spaces and a substantial emphasis on the biodiversity.
“The ’15 minute neighborhood’, a model in which access to major recreational and leisure facilities are 15 minutes or less away, is an increasingly popular concept that is supported by, and supports, well-being, community cohesion and better access to nature. Close proximity to green spaces for leisure and recreation can ensure that any residential development – urban or rural – can benefit well-being.”