Covid-19 will change how people think about housing


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As restrictions in the UK tighten and the effects of the pandemic become more real, Yolande Barnes explores what it could mean for housing economics

At some time last year, it is thought that a bat passed on a mutated virus to a trafficked pangolin (a scaly ant-eater) in a wet market in Wuhan, China. Now, that same virus has spread to unknown thousands of people across the globe and there is only one topic at the top of the boardroom agenda: the covid-19 coronavirus outbreak.

As Berkeley Group’s statement cancelling a forthcoming £455m shareholder dividend shows, increasingly developers, lenders and investors are going to have to take decisions around the risks that the outbreak poses, and face up to some unpalatable options.

But long before the ill-fated pangolin’s revenge, the outlook for housing markets had already altered, largely unseen and unrecognised by many in the industry. The prospect for real estate values, including house prices, in coming decades was always going to be different in a world of low inflation and low, no longer falling, interest rates. High but stable prices and no-capital-value-growth-without-rental-growth are becoming the norm so some investors were waking up to the fact that all real estate has moved up the risk curve. Covid-19 will change the shape of that risk curve further.

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