Treasured friends found in lockdown
There is evidence of many positive house sharing experiences from lockdown. What did we learn that we will take forward now that we are free again?
The Covid lock-downs from March 2020 to April 2021 were difficult for everyone. Restricted physical movement, loss of social contact, the threat of serious illness and worry about loved ones, led many people to reconsider their way of life.
Besides the medical crisis an economic crisis has affected some sectors as many people were placed on furlough or asked to work short-term. Paying the rent became a concern for some tenants and landlords alike, so dialogue was needed.
We asked our community of mature private renters and live-in landlords how they had found lockdown. We were pleasantly surprised to find that despite some difficulties, many people had thrived and learned new benefits from sharing.
Now that lockdown is ending, hopefully never to return as vaccines are giving protection and a boost to confidence, which lessons learned will be taken forward?
The lockdown experience
Figure 1: House Sharing Experiences How Did You Prepare For Lockdown?
We asked how things were going during lockdown (April -July 2020 – Fig. 1)) and then what their preferences for sharing were (Jun-Aug 2020), now that they had to spend more time at home.
We specifically looked at their working from home (WFH) needs and preferences as well as how people planned to life a COVID-safe life.
The findings were quite positive, showing that, among our community – all over 40, with average age 52 – that landlords were more sympathetic and that tenants were more flexible and accommodating than expected.
How have things changed?
In answer to the question ‘How has house/flat sharing changed for you during the Coronavirus lockdown?’ there was a 50/50 split between those saying it was more difficult and those saying same or better.
On the positive side, people talked about having more peace and time – time to think, to be more considerate, to cook for each other, time to get to know each other better and of doing DIY tasks together.
On the downside, 27% of respondents said they had found the period ‘very difficult due to financial or social issues’ and a further 19% ‘a bit more difficult due to financial or social issues’. The majority however experienced no change (39%) and a good number were ‘positively surprised by how helpful my landlord / tenants have been’ (15%).
As a result, 22% said they would be ‘less likely to share in future’, but again there was a relatively positive overall result, with 61% saying it would not change the desire to house share and 17% saying they would be ‘more likely to share in future’.
More considerate housemates
One pattern we noticed among all respondents – positive and negative – was the need to have the right housemates. Among those seeing sharing as a disadvantage during lockdown, they emphasised many of the things our research has previously uncovered; the need to share with like-minded people – especially where cleanliness is concerned, to have their own bathroom where possible, and not to share with children! Many did however appreciate a pet in the home.
Among those seeing it as an advantage to share during lockdown, when isolation and loneliness were heightened, people said they ‘treasured their friends’ more than ever, never want to live alone again and know how important it is that they live with like-minded people who have ‘become like friends’.
Perhaps the most interesting thing to emerge was that people recognised they had become a more considerate and thoughtful housemate. This sentiment is illustrated by one lodger who said ‘My experience of renting a room during lockdown has been positive, considering the constraints on my freedom. I’ve had to make more effort to share things and engage socially.’ (65-74 year old female)
And from a live-in landlord with a lodger, ‘Done well, sharing your home can ensure you don’t feel isolated, but still have your space.’ (55-64 year old female)
Post-lockdown housemate preferences
In May 2020 we added some new questions to the Cohabitas registration form, asking housemates and landlords to indicate their Covid-safe and WFH preferences. We continued to ask about preferences for property-related amenities (Wifi, access to kitchen, storage etc) as well as the reason people were house sharing.
Some themes remained the same as in previous studies, namely that the main driver of house sharing remains financial need, rather than social need (93% mention financial need). However, 57% of people mention social reasons for sharing. One can imagine that both of these needs will be exacerbated by the Covid lockdown and economic knock-on effects.
Fig 2. What is you main reason for sharing a house or flat?
We were surprised to see that having a larger room and having ‘use of a garden or terrace’, was not more highly sought after considering that people had to spend so much time at home. However, we might interpret this as a sign of how strong financial concerns are, as rooms in shared houses and flats with these amenities cost more to rent and people are prepared to sacrifice these amenities, especially at the moment.
Covid and WFH preferences
On the key question of how respondents would like to share their living space safely during/post Covid, there was a clear difference between live-in landlords and tenants. Matching landlord and tenants according to their Covid preferences is clearly important – which is why we added it to housemate and property profile listing form – however, once again we might interpret this in terms of the economy.
More rooms to rent and properties to share have come onto the market since Covid as AirBnB and short-term lets in general have dried up. Landlords seeking income have turned to longer-term letting of their rooms and studios.
But as already mentioned, these averages will hide individual landlord and tenant preferences and matching them together is key. See over for details of Covid and WFH preferences.
Fig 3. House Sharing Experiences Covid Safe Preferences
Added requirements to work from home (WFH) have been created, especially around London, where many workers were furloughed from office-based jobs and discouraged from attending the office.
In this case WFH preferences seem much more aligned between Live-in landlords and their lodgers/tenants.
Fig 4. House Sharing Experiences WFH Preferences
The Covid lockdown has seen live-in landlords and their lodgers/tenants adjust to spending more time in more positive ways than might have been anticipated.
For many there has not been much change but for some the changes have been mixed; some negative some positive. For others the social advantages of sharing have been enhanced.
The main driver was already financial – private renters can share between 40% and 60% of the costs of renting and running a one-bedroom or studio flat depending on how many others they share with, so when a large proportion of the population is on furlough or short-time working, with less income to draw upon, then sharing becomes more interesting.
For home-owners too the Covid economic effects have created additional financial pressures and more people are bringing forward rooms to rent, experimenting for the first time in some cases, or in others moving from the short-term rental to longer-term rental market.
Given some of the commentary about infection spreading through multi-generational homes, we might think that like-minded and similarly-aged housemates sharing a home would offer added protection.
More than that, the impact on mental health and the wider experience of loneliness created by Covid lockdowns, has certainly made people appreciate having good housemates to share a meal and some gossip with.
Now that lockdown has ended and vaccines provide added protection we can expect a lot of adjustment to people’s living arrangements.
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