Could coronavirus make suburbia cool again?

    3 June 2020

    We’ve learned a lot about ourselves as a nation over the past few weeks, not least that that there are a lot of people in remote parts of Britain who really do not like incomers. We’ve had barricades in the roads, rude slogans daubed imploring people to ‘go home’, and locals snooping on second home-owners.

    Never mind that many people in such areas owe their living to tourists, the sense of hostility has been palpable. The Visit Blackpool Twitter account was renamed “Don’t Visit Blackpool” for a bit – although tourist chiefs seem to have thought the better of it and it is now called Visit Blackpool Safely, while the website has the slogan “Blackpool Loves You” on its homepage.

    You can understand how the locals feel – watching day-trippers pour onto the beaches to take advantage of the sunniest spring on record while they are simultaneously being forbidden to open pubs, restaurants and hotels in order to profit from visitors. British seaside reports, many of which have yet to recover from the advent of package holidays 50 years ago, are going to take a hefty blow.

    As for rural areas whose simmering rage at outsiders and their second homes has been brought to the surface by coronavirus we will find out soon what effect the pandemic is going to have upon the market for second homes. It is hard to see that it will be positive – from sellers’ and estate agents’ point of view, that is.

    Lockdown might have increased the appetite for a country bolthole, but with all visits to a second property forbidden it has also caused more than a little frustration. It must be miserable enough to have been marooned in a pokey inner city flat for the past 10 weeks, but how much more agonising for people who have a rural cottage or beach house but who can’t get there. No doubt some have succeeded in sneaking beneath the radar, but as Dominic Cummings and Scotland’s former Chief Medical Officer Catherine Calderwood soon found out there are going to be people watching out for anyone who dares relocate to a second address. Calderwood resigned after being snapped visiting her holiday cottage in Fife two weekends running.

    Like it or not, a precedent has now been set for any future pandemic – and we can probably take it for granted there are going to be numerous scares in coming years. Come an epidemic and second homes are going to be put out of bounds. It is not entirely clear why access to second homes should have been banned – if you have two addresses, why can’t you be free to choose which one to use during lockdown? Now we are allowed to drive long distances again and the beaches are full of daytrippers it makes no sense to forbid people to use second homes – except, that is, as a means for government to pacify locals who have never taken kindly to second home-owners and whose businesses have been undermined by lockdown.

    At the other extreme, city centre apartments have somewhat lost their lustre over the past few weeks. It is alright gloating over your Philippe Stark fittings, but perhaps not so much fun when the main attraction of city centre living – bars, restaurants and theatres – are closed. Don’t be surprised if the property market’s big winners from coronavirus are family homes with good-sized gardens in either in the suburbs or in rural locations with excellent broadband and reasonably close to main towns and cities – a car journey and a folding-bike ride away from the office you won’t be visiting quite so much in future.

    If you have a fear of all this happening again, it makes sense to invest in a lockdown-proof property – possibly flogging the city centre flat and rural bolthole to invest in a single suburban home where you could happily hide away for a few weeks or months. Not for years has Tom and Barbara’s place in Surbiton seemed so attractive.