Are micro flats the next big thing?

Are micro flats the next big thing?

They say that less is more. Whether it’s hard drives, speakers, or mobile phones, modern tech has created ever-smaller gadgets and fitted more and more onto tiny microchips. But surely size matters when it comes to property? Well, apparently not. 

As many as one in fifteen new flats in London are below the recommended 37 square metres these days. Meanwhile, the average size of UK properties below this threshold has dropped to a minuscule 29 square metres. That’s the smallest it’s ever been.  

This relatively new phenomenon makes us wonder whether these so-called micro flats are the future? With space in city centres rarer than Health Fritillary butterflies, these small but perfectly formed homes look like they’re here to stay. So let’s put these micro flats under the microscope and weigh up their pros and cons.

What is a micro flat, exactly?

As the name suggests, a micro flat (or ‘microflat’), is a teensy-weensy studio apartment with just one room, which serves as both your bedroom and kitchen.  There’s usually just one sink – so you spit your toothpaste into the same place as you drain your vegetables – and your bathroom area, which merely contains a shower and toilet, is often separated from the main accommodation by a partition. 

Although this living ‘solution’ isn’t exactly spacious, micro flats actually contain everything that us modern homosapiens require. They’re also ingeniously designed with built-in cupboards and wardrobes, pullout shelves, and economical worktops where you can prepare food. 

The appeal of micro flats

Although the idea of sandwiching yourself into something not much bigger than a lunchbox doesn’t appeal to everyone, micro flats are actually quite practical for some buyers. For example, if you prefer to be outdoors, work onsite, rarely entertain, and just need somewhere to lay your head at night, then a micro flat should tick all your boxes. It’s also a viable alternative to house sharing.

Micro flats are therefore marketed at single professionals who just want to live close to the office. If you like to burn the candle at both ends, don’t have time to clean a bigger space, and aren’t planning on having children anytime soon, then you’re very much a micro flat developer’s target market. 

However, there’s one more reason micro flats are popular with a certain demographic: money. Smaller properties come with a smaller price tag. Whereas one-bedroom flats in London suburbs like Harrow can cost around £320,000, your average micro flat in the same area will set you back just £285,000. Suddenly, it’s a little bit easier to get on the housing ladder.

Renting micro flats is cheaper, too. You’re looking at £900 per month in an area like Crouch End rather than £1,200 plus. Living in a micro flat is also the only way that most people can afford to live in zone one.

The downside

Whilst micro flats have their advantages, they’ll always have their limits. Sleeping in the same room as your washing machine is, well, a bit weird. And being woken up every morning by the sound of your boiler coming on is far from ideal. Considering the above, could you live in a micro flat? 

Consequently, whilst pee-wee properties might suit some, micro flats aren’t really a long-term housing solution. And it’s not just the chronic lack of space. They often struggle with ventilation and lack of light, too. What’s more, they’re not exactly family-friendly. 

Micro flats also give you less bang for your buck. Although they’re cheaper to buy on the whole, they usually work out as more expensive per square metre. This is because it’s expensive to install electricity, plumbing, kitchen appliances and bathroom sanitary ware. There’s a lot packed into a micro housing package. 

Finally, one wonders whether living in properties less than 37 square metres is good for your mental health. But don’t bother asking ‘are micro flats legal?’ Although the government recommends a minimum size of 37 square metres, it’s up to local authorities whether to enforce the rule.

What do micro flats tell us about the housing sector?

Whether micro flats are your idea of heaven or a prison cell, there’s no doubt that they’re on the rise. The number of micro flats in the UK has increased almost fivefold in recent years. And they’re not just a London phenomenon; you’ll now find itsy-bitsy abodes across the South-East and even the North-West.

What does this tell us? For starters, it suggests that many people are still finding it hard to get on the property ladder; therefore they’re forced to buy the cheapest option available. It also tells us that Boris’s bunch see micro flats as a good way to ameliorate the current housing shortage – although there’s still a long way to go, especially as the government’s pledge to build 300,000 new homes per year seems to be floundering.

Finally, the increasing number of micro flats confirms that developers love selling as many units as possible in one block. They’re also very adept at convincing politicians that micro flats are a great way to provide new homes in city centres. London Mayor Sadiq Khan, for example, recently pledged £25 million to help Pocket Living build a thousand affordable micro flats by the end of this year.

Thinking outside the box

So does size matter? Not, it seems, to us Brits. Although the UK already has the smallest houses in Europe, there’s no shortage of buyers queuing up to cram into the new breed of micro flats. The average new build home is now just 67 square metres and falling. And the trend is even more pronounced in the capital.

Consequently, it seems that micro really is going macro. Dinky abodes aren’t everyone’s cuppa, of course, but when the demand and political will are there, and the economics all make sense, it’s hard to see what can stop the burgeoning micro movement.  

Is this a good thing? It depends on one’s perspective. But can increased choice ever really be bad? Micro flats can be a good option for single people at a certain stage of life. They won’t be a forever home, and there’s a risk that modest earners might get trapped on this first rung of the property ladder, but most homeowners will simply move on when they’ve quite literally outgrown their pint-sized pad. 

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