That is something residential developers could capitalise on, if they were to take a more proactive stance in generating the metropolitan lifestyle, says agent King Sturge, which has carried out a major survey into occupants of new urban developments. "Housebuilders are not selling the experience. They need to create a locational experience," says Angus McIntosh, partner and head of research at King Sturge.
What generates the buzz more than anything else for everyone living in the city, irrespective of age group, is shops and restaurants. Many housebuilders already set aside ground floor space within residential schemes for restaurant or retail uses, but they need to do more and make sure that the restaurant is up and running as early as possible, argues McIntosh. "Restaurants and shops are far more important for buyers than clubs and cinemas. They can be a big hook for buyers. So if a potential buyer goes to an apartment block and sees an unoccupied restaurant on the ground floor it will deter sales. Developers should think about letting a restaurant operator have the space rent-free for the first five years to get the buzz going. Or they should think about promoting a restaurant, even if it is not within their apartment block. They need to get the buzz going first, then they will get the added value later."
King Sturge's recommendations are based on a survey of 400 buyers and renters of new urban apartment schemes in Birmingham, Newcastle, Manchester, Bristol, London, Southampton and Leeds. Of that survey sample, only a quarter were found to be over the age of 40, suggesting that empty nesters may not be as large a target market for urban apartments as some developers believe. Younger people were more likely to be renting their homes than buying, perhaps not surprisingly given the high prices of city centre homes. "That has developer implications because when developers are building apartments for investors to rent to first time buyers, the homes need to be blander," says Avril Butt, partner with King Sturge.
Within the survey results, there were clear differences in what younger and older buyers wanted from city living. Schemes targeted at empty nesters should focus on locations close to theatres, and where there is plenty of daytime activity. Younger people understandably were more likely to want pubs and clubs nearby, and also wanted to live with their own age group.
79% of people were satisfied with city planners and architects
The evolution of urban residential markets is evident in the different priorities of people in different cities. Manchester was one of the first cities to follow London in the city living trend and homes were initially bought by younger people, but that has now changed. "First time buyers are no longer able to afford to live in the city centre and are living in areas like Ancoats and Hulme," says John Callander, partner with King Sturge. For today's more well-heeled Manchester resident, cinemas and theatres are therefore fairly important amenities.
Cities like Newcastle have a much smaller market, and there developers have to make sure that schemes meet buyer expectations. "It does not take long for word to spread in a small market and while people are swift to praise, sales can be blighted by negative comments and PR," says Ed Seymour, senior associate with King Sturge's Newcastle office.