‘I have to move my bike to get to the fridge’ – the British boom in micro-flats | The housing market

For Rioch Fitzpatrick, a 39-year-old dubbing mixer for television, the home is a small studio apartment smaller than a standard Premier Inn hotel room. At just 19 square meters (204 sq ft), his “micro-apartment” from north London has a shower and toilet separated from the main room by a partition without even a separate sink.

“It’s probably a little weird that people come in and see your bed in the kitchen, but I just got used to it,” he says. “My neighbors live in an apartment similar to mine – a couple with a two-year-old child. It must be really hard.”

Fitzpatrick moved into the studio on the ground floor of an old townhouse converted into 10 apartments in May 2018 because he was tired of living in a condominium and liked the area.

The apartment was renovated, but there are annoying things – I have to move around on my bike to get to the fridge, “he says.

“I have to sleep with earplugs because the kettle is just above my bed, and the fridge also makes noise all night. And my wash is my kitchen sink – that’s where I wash up and shave and brush my teeth. ”

The rent is relatively affordable at £ 900 a month, including gas and electricity, while the price of a standard single bed in the affluent north London area of ​​Crouch End would cost £ 1,200 plus. He is always looking for a bigger place and would also like to be on the housing ladder, but has been put off by high property prices.

Fitzpatrick’s micro apartment is one of 10 apartments carved out of an old terraced house. Photo: Christian Sinibaldi / The Guardian
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Fitzpatrick is not alone. As many as one in 15 apartments in London fell below the national minimum standard of 37 sqm for a one-bedroom home between 2011 and 2021, according to analysis of measurement data for energy performance certificates conducted for the Guardian by Dr. Jon Reades, Associate Professor of Spatial Computer Science at University College London and Philip Hubbard, Professor of Urban Studies at Kings’ College London. The median size of UK properties under 37 sqm fell to 29 sqm this year and last, down from 30 sqm in 2019.

The government has recommended a minimum space standard of 37 sqm since 2015, although it is not mandatory – the local authorities have the discretion to use it or not.

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Micro-housing has been on the rise since 2013, when rule changes designed to beat the national housing shortage allowed developers to convert office blocks into apartments without a building permit. They were also allowed to circumvent the minimum requirements for space until a rule change in April this year allowed councils to apply the standards. Families have talked about the struggle to live in small apartments, for example in Templefields House in Harlow, where some are only 18 sqm.

The average size of newly built apartments in the UK – already the lowest in Europe – is declining: an analysis of 10,000 real estate listings conducted by LABC Warranty, one of the UK’s three main providers of new construction guarantees, showed that the average new construction. homes had dropped to just 67 sqm in 2018, down from 83 sqm in the 1970s. This trend is even more pronounced in London, where land prices are much higher.

Small studio apartment
Barratt’s Eastman Village on the site of the former Kodak factory in Harrow. Photo: Linda Nylind / The Guardian

Barratt has recently become the first major homebuilder to launch pocket-sized apartments in Harrow, north-west London, branded SMRT homes. It sells 123 apartments off-plan at the former Kodak factory in Eastman Village, mostly one-bed apartments with larger two-bed ones also available.

Designed with fitted wardrobes and wardrobes, slimmer kitchen worktops and pull-out shelves, the 1-bed apartments measure around 37 sqm, the minimum standard. Joseph Antoniazzi, senior sales manager at Barratt London, says they are targeting the “Instagram generation” – young people commuting to London.

If they ease, Barratt plans to roll them out across the UK. A buyer who benefits from the government’s help-to-buy program, which runs until March 2023, would have to earn around £ 40,000 a year to buy a one-bed apartment.

They would fit a single person or maybe a couple “if you really like the person,” says Neal Hudson, a housing analyst. “There will be demand for this, and it must be attractive to first-time buyers. There are many people who would rather have a micro-apartment than live in a shared house. ”

The apartments start at £ 285,000, significantly cheaper than the average price of £ 321,988 for homes sold in Harrow over the past 12 months, measured by Rightmove, and the average house price of £ 510,515 in Greater London, according to Halifax.

But compared to Barratt’s standard 1-bed apartments of 50 sqm, they cost around £ 1,000 more per night. square meters.

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Reades’ and Hubbard’s analysis showed that micro-apartments cost up to 30% more per square meter. square meters than average-sized properties in London. This is due in part to the cost of installing electricity and plumbing; Every home needs a kitchen and a bathroom. On top of these high prices, they point out that residents often struggle with poor ventilation, noise, lack of light and privacy.

Hudson believes that micro-houses should be for rent rather than for sale, as “they are largely designed for a short period of a person’s life”. He’s worried that “people will end up stuck in this”, possibly even with a family. It would be better, he says, to “buy a home that you can live in for a long period of time so you can ride out of every boom and bust”.

In light of the chronic housing shortage and sky-high property prices, some developers have specialized in building smaller homes. Pocket Living was set up in 2005 to build 37-38 m2 apartments and sells them at a 20% discount to the average local market price to help young, middle-class Londoners buy their first home.

Bolu Sofoluwe, 25, who bought a one-bed Pocket Living apartment in Barking, east London, for £ 198,400 in January and works for a bank in Canary Wharf, is happy with his property. “I forget it’s less than average,” she says. “That’s more than enough for me.”

Bolu Sofoluwe hos Pocket Living in Barking.
Bolu Sofoluwe hos Pocket Living in Barking. Photo: FTI Consulting

Research from the Intergenerational Foundation showed that the number of micro-homes built in the UK has almost quintupled in just five years, from 2,139 in 2013 to 9,605 in 2018. They are not only a London phenomenon but are also spread across the north-west of England, the south-east, and Yorkshire and the Humber.

Despite the boom in small homes, housing construction is still well below the government’s target of 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s. The number of new construction fell to 148,000 last year from 178,000 in 2019, according to government figures. In the first six months of this year, construction began on 88,710 new homes.

With the pandemic taking its toll on retailers and more people working from home, Hubbard predicts more conversions of office blocks and retail plans for micro-homes. Every year, between 1,000 and 2,000 new micro-apartments come on the market in London, 3% of all new homes.

“Many of them will be no less than 37 sqm, they will follow the national standard, but they will be barely above it. It may be fine as a student or as a cushion, but not for someone who wants to live in it in a years and make it their home. ”

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