Why 'homework' has become a more attractive proposition

Transport chaos, technology and longer working hours have helped create a new breed of people who work from home. Properties are now being built to cater for this demand.
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Transport chaos and long hours behind a desk have given a huge boost to the idea of working from home. The kitchen table is no longer good enough though for most businesses and developers have been quick to spot the potential.

Transport chaos and long hours behind a desk have given a huge boost to the idea of working from home. The kitchen table is no longer good enough though for most businesses and developers have been quick to spot the potential.

About a third of residential planning consents in inner London are for live-work units. Where residential prices are high and the opportunities for further building or conversions dwindling, they satisfy the objectives of local authorities who want to enable more people to work closer to home while retaining the residential and commercial mix of an area.

DTZ Residential, a leading estate agent in this sector, forecasts the number of live-work spaces in new homes or conversions in central London will rise from five to at least 15 per cent over the next five years. The highest number are being built in areas near the City such as Hackney and Clerkenwell, but even in leafy Wimbledon one in 20 new homes has a dual purpose whereas two years ago there were virtually none. "The key elements behind their growth are e-commerce, the numbers of people working from home in the service and consultancy sectors, shifts in planning policy and the erosion of boundaries between work and private time," says Peter Braithwaite, managing director of DTZ Residential.

There is a slight discount to be found in such properties since a commercial formula is applied to the work area. In some places this can be about 15 per cent, although in others the difference is negligible and likely to disappear altogether in the near future. But what it does offer budding entrepreneurs is the chance to run a business with the reassuring knowledge that should it fail they are left with an asset and not with the burden of a Iong lease.

Andrew Palmer of the new homes department of DTZ Residential, says the most attractive quality of mixed use properties is their flexibility. "The space can be used exactly as it is wanted. It is also possible to legally lease part of the property to the owner's company and the work element covers any problems with the comings and goings associated with a small business."

More than 70 per cent are sold as shells, and in central London the average size is around 1,000sq ft, according to DTZ. Increasingly developers are creating bespoke live-work units with the use of computer-aided design techniques which makes it possible for the units to be ordered through the internet.

DTZ sold one of the first live-work schemes in London, launched 18 months ago in Shoreditch, alongside the Grand Union Canal. The 79 apartments in the Millennium Lofts Building priced at £160,000 now sell for around £220,000.

In Brixton, south London, three new freehold houses in the popular Trinity Gardens are for mixed use. The ground floor has higher ceilings than is usual and the layout lends itself to two sharers as the two bedrooms are large with high ceilings. The kitchen/dining room is also big enough to be the main reception room if the top floor is needed for extra bedrooms. The houses are on the market for around £495,000 with Knight Frank and Galloways.

In Birmingham, David Fenton of Knight Frank says that some of the city's first live-work homes are about to come on to the market. He believes that there will be a strong demand for them, but also they are a welcome variation on the high-price residential properties. "If we keep pushing those the market will fall flat on its face," he comments. The demand for an extra and, where possible, separate area for working at home, is high on the shopping list of many buyers.

Tony Jamieson of Clarke Gammon, estate agents in Guildford, says many couples need two studies and buyers will often pay a premium for a bonus room, whether in the attic, an extension or an annexe to the house. He warns that if a small business takes off it might be necessary to apply for a change of use. "Planning officers are much more prepared than they used to be to a mix of office and residential."

Developers have largely thrown off the straitjacket of conventional family house layouts and are being far more ingenious in the use they make of roof, garage and even basement areas. In Salisbury, Gleeson Homes (01722 336978) is offering buyers of townhouses in their Charter Court development the chance to lease a custom-designed studio for £15,000. The townhouses start at £209,950. At Beaulieu Park, Chelmsford, Essex, Copthorn Homes (01245 399954) has not only used loft space but has also built over the garages an extra room with high-vaulted ceiling and full-height glazing. Prices start at £369,995.