Trading up from a flat to a house

MAY 2021

In big cities, living in a flat has long been the norm, with upsizers looking for more space often trading a smaller flat for a larger one.

However, since the onset of the pandemic, the number of people selling a flat to buy a house has jumped. In 2019, two thirds (66%) of people who sold a flat in Great Britain went on to buy a house, a figure which has changed very little over the years. Yet over the last 12 months, 81% of flat sellers have swapped leasehold for freehold, which is an all-time high.

This means that across England and Wales 125,970 people traded up from a flat to a house last year, paying an extra £100,750 to do so. 2020 was also the first year when the gap between what they sold their flat for and what they bought their house for hit six figures. This swap also netted the buyer an average of 1.0 extra bedroom with one in five adding more than three.

Londoners selling flats have gone from being less likely than average to buy a house when trading up, to slightly more likely to since the onset of the pandemic.  While some are extending their mortgage to upsize nearby, others are moving to a cheaper part of the capital or leaving London altogether. Those trading up within the capital spent a record £256,000 bridging the gap between a flat and a house. While Londoners who left the capital were 50% more likely to have been living in a flat than a house. 

For many people, flats are the most affordable way onto the housing ladder, particularly in the more expensive town and city centre locations. And as buyers have bought later in life, the average age of a flat seller has increased over the last decade to stand at 42. In the short term at least, the pandemic has reversed this trend, with people keener to trade up sooner. But whatever the long-term impact of the pandemic, flats will remain a fundamental part of the housing market for millions.