Home is where the heart is?

With Valentine’s Day just behind us, and the recently published government White Paper determined to ‘fix our broken housing market’, it seemed timely to investigate how many lonely hearts there are in this country living by themselves and consider what this means for the house-building industry.

We discovered several things.

Over the last 20 years, the number of people living alone in the UK has increased by 16% and is now estimated at 7.7 million. This is 12% of the total population of this country and poses more serious consequences: many studies suggest that people who live alone can easily become isolated and lonely, and one report finds a link to unhealthy diets.

Given solo-living seems to be on the rise, should house builders primarily focus on increasing one-bed supply for first-time buyers?

picture2The answer is no.

According to Halifax, the average age of a first-time buyer in the UK is 30 years old (rising to 32 in London) and since 1996, the number of people aged between 25-44 who live alone has actually decreased by 12%. Since the ratio of median house prices to median earnings stands at 7.6x, the ability for first-time buyers to purchase a house alone is incredibly difficult. Moreover, cohabiting couples without dependent children has been one of the fastest growing family types over the last 20 years.

Predictably, it is the elderly who are more likely to live alone, but, perhaps surprisingly, a large proportion of males aged between 45-64 also live alone, which partly reflects the high divorce rates in this country.

That isn’t to say there isn’t demand for one-beds amongst the young. There are still 1.4 million 25-44 year olds in this country, who – either by choice or circumstance – live alone and probably returned to an empty home on Valentine’s Day.