29 February 2024

Buying a sustainable home needn’t mean sacrificing character.

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Any valuable asset is bought with both head and heart, a truth that most definitely applies to residential property.

Buyers start with a checklist of primarily rational criteria: location, headline price, space and configuration, the size and nature of the surrounding land, and so on. These considerations matter throughout the process, of course; but things change as the search progresses. Very often, clients see a house and simply fall head over heels in love. For some intangible reason, it just feels right – even if it doesn’t tick all the boxes in their initial brief.

Particularly over the last few years, we’ve seen another factor bubble to the surface. More and more buying decisions are being influenced by a property’s current or potential sustainability.

Emotion meets Logic.

Well aware that property accounts for one fifth of the UK’s annual carbon emissions , a growing percentage of our clients are keen to do their bit by buying an environmentally friendly home. Knowing they’re making a lasting contribution to the fight against climate change provides them with a powerful emotional reward (and perhaps some bragging rights too).

At the edges, we’re also seeing heightened interest in progressive developments like Nansledan and Poundbury. Managed by the Duchy of Cornwall, both schemes are dedicated to creating highly sustainable communities.

Clearly, buyers aren’t motivated by altruism alone. Hard-headed logic is also at play. By definition, sustainable properties are more energy efficient: a benefit few of us can ignore at the moment. They also minimise the need for expensive retrofits and the headache of dealing with planning regulations.

Sealing the deal for some is the long-term investment potential. Rightmove has calculated that the ‘green premium’ for homes with an EPC rating of C over those with a rating of F is already 15% . This gap seems certain to widen in the coming years – although how fast will largely depend on the legislative agenda.

Through a glass darkly.

It’s hard to say quite where the present government sits on environmental policy – especially as it relates to property. Prime Minister Sunak may be making “long-term decisions for a brighter future” …or he may simply be kicking cans down the road.

While plans have finally been formalised to ban gas boilers in newbuilds from next year (something that was originally slated for 2016, and then again for 2023, at least for the few hours that Boris’ climate pledge appeared on the Downing Street website), the government has rowed back on other commitments. Instead of barring them altogether, there is now merely a ‘target’ to reduce the installation of new gas boilers in existing homes by 80% over the next decade. In parallel, regulations to force landlords to upgrade the energy efficiency of their properties have been scrapped and replaced by a strategy of ‘continued encouragement’. None of this exactly rings of conviction.

Will the situation become clearer if Labour wins the next election? It seems unlikely, at least in the near term. The red party appears to have a genuine passion for all things green; but money is tight, the housing shortage is acute, and significant interventions can be politically as well as financially expensive. Based on the evidence to date, Starmer & Co may well decide a pragmatic, do-little stance is the safest option. There’ll certainly be some well-funded lobbies, including the big developers, encouraging them to think that way.

Planning 10 years out.

It’s easy to get sucked into predicting what legislation may or may not eventuate over the next few years. Easy, but wrong-headed. Rather, our strong advice to buyers is to look to the long-term.

If your heart is set on a classic Georgian rectory with an attractive parcel of land, go for it. Such properties will never fall out of fashion and it’s hard to think of a more future-proof asset.

But our view is that sustainable properties also represent an excellent bet. We see demand growing exponentially in the run-up to 2050, underpinned by the different carrots and sticks that future governments will inevitably introduce.

While the investment side of the story looks rock solid, no-one wants to live in an ugly house for the sake of future returns. The good news is you don’t have to. If you know where to look, there are plenty of sustainable homes that ooze amenity, character and charm. Here’s a case in point:

Meet the Bracegirdles.

John and Kelly Bracegirdle live in Guernsey. With their daughters at school in Wiltshire, they’d already bought a two-bedroom bolthole in Marlborough; but when the pandemic struck, and the Channel Islands introduced a fortnight’s quarantine for anyone travelling, they instructed us to find a larger property in the area.

Buying a home is a joint decision, and it’s not uncommon for couples to have different priorities. While Kelly loves “the quirks and idiosyncrasies of listed buildings”, John is wary of the challenges they bring, particularly in terms of altering the layout or making sustainable energy improvements. Our mission was to help square this circle.

A rigorous search led us to a property near Pewsey. Built from scratch in 2002 and extended by the previous owners to cover 9,000 square feet including outbuildings, the house blends seamlessly into the landscape of the North Wessex Downs. Set in four acres and constructed from reclaimed bricks, it features the clear hierarchy of ceiling heights that is so characteristic of Georgian design. At the same time, the property boasts top-of-the-range insulation, double glazing, solar panels, a ground source pump to heat the main house, plus an air source pump for the indoor swimming pool.

As John says: “It really is the best of both worlds. The architects were very clever in how they combined the old and the new. We weren’t thinking we’d buy something this large – but it became much less of an issue once we knew most of the energy required to run the house would be renewable. With what’s happened to prices over the last couple of years, that’s obviously turned out to be an enormous advantage.”

Satisfying both head and heart.

Clients have different motivations for buying a sustainable property. Having weighed up the current and future economics, some are attracted by the financial upsides. For others, emotion is the main driver.

But wherever they sit on this spectrum, sustainability is only ever one part of the equation. A family home must meet multiple needs, and no-one wants to give up on their ideal for the sake of the environment alone. Our role is to ensure no compromise is necessary. As the Bracegirdles discovered, it’s perfectly possible to find properties that are both sustainable and highly characterful.

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