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Trends for post-Covid living seem at odds

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The desire for a home away from the city is balanced for many by the desire to move to live-work-play urban hubs

Two major trends predicted to follow the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown speak to people’s varying experiences as they look set to transform future living spaces.

Although they seem contradictory trends, decentralisation and micro-living are both expected to boom in the post-Covid world. Some will no longer want to live in urban centres while others will seek compact living in urban hubs. Despite their differences, pull factors for each movement are equally solid. 

Decentralisation was an increasing trend even before the pandemic and now highdensity cities with mass public transport connections do not seem to be the ideal way of maintaining social distance in the event of future outbreaks. However, Dominic Collett, an urban development engineer at Royal HaskoningDHV, says the population of a high-rise building is easier to contain and control in the event of a disease outbreak than the population of a sprawling suburb with multiple entry and exit points.

Still, business and real estate experts believe the recent decentralisation trend could be permanent. They report that the migration movement in South Africa is mirroring countries like the UK and Australia with the number of buyers interested in smaller regional towns and rural properties sharply increasing in recent months.

Joff van Reenen, lead auctioneer and director of High Street Auctions, believes the societal and business changes brought about by the pandemic will be far-reaching and permanent. “This isn’t a transient change. We’ve become accustomed to working, living and socialising differently. It’s standard now to have a Zoom meeting even if your client is just down the road. Nobody feels slighted because it’s the norm and it’s going to stay that way.

“If the conveniences that urbanites prize, like galleries, theatres and bars, become places that are dangerous because they’re crowded, it’s not unreasonable for people to start questioning the appeal of density living and the higher costs associated with prime areas in major cities.”

Even pre-Covid a growing number of people were moving away from metros due to affordability, traffic congestion, crime and quality of life, says Yael Geffen, chief executive of Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty. She expects this to accelerate in the wake of the pandemic.

“People’s desire for more space is understandable, considering the practical implications of lockdown and self-isolation which can be extremely confining in a dense urban environment where homes tend to be smaller and public areas and amenities more crowded.” On the other hand, micro-living is also said to be a new major trend in the post-Covid world.

Collett says South Africans are realising that sprawling homes on large plots away from urban centres can be isolating – and a lot of work when one is trying to balance working from home and doing all the household tasks. Collett questions whether it is time to take inspiration from cities like New York and London, where small spaces in central locations are sought after and offer residents easy access to multiple food and grocery options within walking distance of their homes.

These spaces are also often close to spacious parks which provide outdoor respite from smaller homes. Gareth Bailey, Pam Golding Properties area principal for Durban Coastal, says the fundamental idea of micro-living is trading the luxury of space, usually found in the suburbs, for significantly smaller space in the trendy heart of the metro.

“By buying a smaller space, the ticket price is more affordable and, if the development is designed properly, this doesn’t come at a lifestyle cost as its facilities match, and often exceed, those found in a lavish suburban home – albeit these are shared between the resident community.”

By being in the heart of the action, he says, micro-dwellers in these sectional title units enjoy walking access to the metro’s toprated attractions, entertainment options and amenities. The central location usually also provides walking access to the workplace and key transport hubs.


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