What many have found is that living and working under one roof has more benefits than simply avoiding London’s congested transport network. Home working offers huge savings in time and money as well as the prospect of not having to face the punishing rail-fare hikes due in January, 2013.
Back in the Eighties, self-employed creatives, such as architects and designers, were among the first to spot the lifestyle benefits of live-work and the savings in rent to be made over paying for separate office accommodation, and, of course, commuting costs. Often it was an ad hoc, one-off arrangement — perhaps building an extension to the main home or converting a garden shed.
Then came the dotcom boom of the late Nineties, which triggered a spate of formal live-work developments, particularly in the arts and crafts strongholds of Shoreditch, Clerkenwell, Deptford and Bermondsey.
The market lost its fizz during the Noughties due to a planning clampdown, but live-work is flourishing again, partly driven by tougher economic times that have seen home-based employment saving companies money while still being able to keep employees and freelancers in work.
“Home-based self-employment is the fastest-growing part of the UK workforce,” says Tim Dwelly, director of the Workhubs Network.
“During 2011 the number of people running a business from home increased by 80,000 to 2.43 million, or one in 12 of those in work. After the North East, London is the region showing the biggest increase — up 16 per cent to 364,376 homeworkers. And, according to the Government’s Labour Force Survey, the total number of all homeworkers (including employees working from home) jumped 24 per cent and now accounts for about 15 per cent — or approximately four million — of the workforce.”
Two thirds of homeworkers are men, which explodes the myth that homeworking is a “pin-money” phenomenon centred around women.
While enterprising types are defying the downturn by starting their own home-based businesses, other people are re-evaluating their lives and career options and deciding that homeworking is a flexible, healthy and cost-effective way forward.
Developers are responding to demand by bringing forward bespoke new-build schemes that had been put on ice because of the credit crunch. Architects are coming up with fresh design solutions such as dedicated work zones and self-contained garden offices, rather than token “study” areas, served by fast broadband technology. Space-saving innovations include foldaway furniture and storage systems as well as sliding walls.
Also, policymakers are promoting live-work homes as a community-based “green” answer to global warming concerns. The theory is that live-work clusters can help reverse neighbourhood decline and reduce reliance on polluting transport.
Certainly there are cost advantages for self-employed live-workers but the rules for home-based businesses are sometimes confusing. Basically, live-work homes split into two categories. First, there are apartments and houses that councils designate as live-work accommodation — a planning rule stipulates there has to be some sort of commercial activity (aimed at boosting employment in the area). Many of these homes are factory and warehouse lofts. Second, there are conventional new-build homes with no special planning status but which have design features and room layouts that lend themselves to home working.
Dwelly predicts live-work communities will become much more part of the urban fabric and a feature of rural towns and villages. “Broadband makes it much easier to run a business from home. High property prices, commuter stress, work-life balance and, above all, global warming are pressing issues that live-work can address.
“There are huge green benefits, too. Live-work means one, not two, buildings are constructed in the first place — a huge carbon reduction. On top of this are vastly reduced CO2 emissions because commuting is avoided.”
An obstacle to growth is outdated planning laws, which are based on separate zoning for employment and residential land — a hangover from the industrial revolution when work was noisy, smelly and dangerous.
New live-work spaces have been launched at Deptford, which has a long-standing community of artists and is now attracting white-collar business consultants and media-industry freelances. Called 124 Deptford High Street, it is one of several new arty developments in the heart of the area. Larger-than-average apartments (up to 1,178 sq ft) have wide, full-height windows and roof terraces. Prices from £220,000. Call 0845 643 1500 or visit newlondon.co.uk.
Paynes Wharf and Borthwick Wharf occupy a commanding position on a bend of the Thames at Greenwich. Launching this autumn is a scheme with 247 homes, including live-work apartments within listed Paynes Wharf, which will be an exhibition, commercial and retail space, too. Prices from £500,000. Call 020 7993 7395.
Architect Dr Frances Holliss, who heads up the Workhome research project at London Metropolitan University, advocates more flexibility in the design of homes — architecture that allows the layout of a property to be adapted during its lifetime. Her team has produced a pattern book of designs to help, taking the best examples from the past such as the wonderful artists’ houses in Talgarth Road, Hammersmith, as well as the best contemporary spaces, and devising transformable pieces of space-efficient furniture.
Developers are responding to demand for more flexible interiors, creating dedicated work zones. Terrace Yard in Richmond is a scheme of three modern-design townhouses incorporating proper workspaces plus three river-view terraces and gated parking for two vehicles. Prices from £2.95 million. Call Hamptons International on 020 8940 2772.
Victorian and Georgian buildings with original shopfronts or workshops — converted pubs, too — can make fabulous live-work homes. One on Roman Way, Barnsbury, is for sale at £875,000, through Fyfe McDade on 020 7354 4044. Another period property in King’s Cross Road previously used as a foundry and a chandler’s costs £1.45 million. Call Stirling Ackroyd on 020 7256 3244.
“Authentic factory lofts are the most sought-after live-work homes,” says Carl Schmid of Fyfe Mcdade. Prices in the Shoreditch/Hackney area typically range from about £450,000 to £850,000, though exceptional lofts sell for more than £1 million.
Live-work is thriving in the suburbs and provinces too — often driven by emigrés from London in search of a better lifestyle.
Tax breaks: get into the right zone
Official live-work homes are zoned by planners who will stipulate how much of the space should be reserved strictly for work — say, 30 per cent. Owners then pay business rates and council tax on a proportionate basis — and may be liable for capital gains tax on the commercial element of the property.
Mortgage lenders can be wary of live-work homes and limit loans to a lower percentage of the property’s value — partly because such homes are often in commercial areas.
Because of these restrictions, live-work properties tend to cost about 15 per cent less than equivalent-size wholly residential apartments, though some estate agents believe live-work homes may eventually come to attract a premium because of the flexibility they offer.
If you merely work from home, a proportion (usually 10 per cent) of household running costs is tax deductible. Check your insurance policy as some providers restrict cover, particularly if clients or customers visit the property.