Keeping up appearances: gen rent splurges on status symbols for shrinking homes


As a nation we are waiting longer to buy property, and more of us are unable to get on the housing ladder as home ownership has slumped to just 63% of the population, down from 73% a decade ago. Millennials are the most impacted, with 40% renting into their thirties, amid predictions that 1 in 3 may not end up buying a house at all.

As a consequence, eBay UK has identified a generation of renters who are “spending in the present” – splashing the cash on high-end homeware and home comforts rather than saving for long-term goals.

eBay data revealed today shows that these purchases not only add a level of luxury to rental homes, but also act as status symbols among the millennial set in lieu of owning a house. Shrinking spaces both in rental homes and new-build houses have also seen the nation downsizing their furniture, and even their pets.

Rob Hattrell, UK vice president of eBay, said: “When it comes to shopping trends, if it’s happening in Britain, we’ll see it happening on eBay. We’re seeking smaller, more distinctive and unusual homewares that we can readily pack up and take with us when we decide to move on.  We’re increasingly finding inspiration for our homes on the go, or from browsing Instagram or Pinterest – with a high percentage of sales on mobile. Our data marks a sea change in the way British customers are shopping for their homes today.”

eBay is releasing the data as part of its 2018 annual UK Retail Report, which provides a snapshot on the way the UK shops and sells. It coincides with the marketplace’s 23rd birthday.

Putting down roots

Inherently Instagrammable and known for boosting mental health, plants are proving popular among Millennials who wish to “put down roots” in their rental homes – as well as the broader British population.

eBay data released today shows huge increases in searches for indoor plants, suggesting that across the nation, we’re looking to bring our gardens inside. The online marketplace saw a 69% year-on-year increase in searches for plant stands, which allow for beautiful presentation of perfectly potted plants. It’s clear that our windowsills aren’t big enough to hold the spoils of our indoor gardening obsession – and we’re looking for new storage solutions for our greenery.

Further highlights include:

  • Terrariums – sealable glass containers in which tiny gardens can be grown – experienced a 229% increase in searches compared to the previous year, following a surge in lifestyle Instagram influencers posting inspirational pictures and spreading the trend.
  • With sales of house plants on the rise, it follows that more of us than ever will be on the lookout for quirky plant pots. Searches increased 57% compared to the previous year.
  • At the more extreme end, strapped-for-space Brits planted and grew vertical gardens in their homes using indoor wall planters. Searches saw a 49% year-on-year lift.
  • The humble Cacti bristled to the top of Brits’ hit list, adorning Millennial homes and desks alike, which drove a 90% year-on-year increase in searches this summer.

Splashing out on everything but the kitchen sink

Shoppers are increasingly investing in colourful, quality cookware and dining supplies which add personality and verve and which, unlike white goods, are readily transportable when tenancies end, including:

–          Copper pans, also boasting a distinct aesthetic made popular by Instagram interior stylists, saw a 1720% increase in searches – as several retailers (including Aldi) released their own ranges.

–          Classic Le Creuset kitchenware, available in a range of colours, has experienced a 79% boost in searches. Searches peaked at the beginning of the year as the brand announced the launch of its new purple “Provence” range – inspired by the French region’s lavender fields.

–          The colourful Joseph Joseph kitchenware range, which includes colanders and garlic crushers, saw a 61% increase in searches this year.

Solutions for shrinking homes

City dwellers in particular are growing accustomed to more compact living spaces, with the average lounge in new-build homes 32% smaller than equivalent homes built in the ‘70s. Brits have adapted by investing in products which enable them to make the most of these spaces:

  • We’re looking to maximise space in shrinking kitchens – a 32% uplift in searches year-on-year for stools suggest we’re opting for more compact seating.
  • A 52% increase year-on-year in searches for all-purpose storage solution, kitchen islands, reflect our needs to extend our cupboard space.
  • With fewer of us than ever owning garages to store our two-wheelers in, it’s no wonder folding bikes have seen a 188% uplift in year-on-year searches.
  • It’s not just our bikes we’re looking to fold up and put away in light of our smaller spaces – folding tables also saw a 41% uplift in searches.

But we’re still keen to create a sense of luxury. eBay data also shows that when it comes to the bedroom, we’re willing to splash out to ensure we get a good night’s sleep:

  • Copper pillows not only have antibacterial qualities, but also distribute heat evenly (removing the need to flip the pillow to access the cool side). Searches for this luxury bedroom item were up 3880% compared to the previous year.
  • Luxury memory foam mattresses were also in demand – Eve mattresses saw a 360% increase in year-on-year searches. 

Pint-sized pets

More than half of all households in the UK own at least one pet – and for Millennials pets hold a particular significance, with 44% viewing their furry friends as “starter children”. Yet eBay data suggests our smaller homes are seeing all us opting for smaller, or indoor pets:

  • Searches for hamster cages increased by 25% year-on-year at their peak in March, cementing the popularity of these diminutive creatures among the space-poor.
  • Similarly searches for bird cages increased by 28%, suggesting a rise in ownership of these eye-catching but compact pets.
  • However, the biggest increase in searches was for fish tanks – which increased by a third (34%) – as we opted for soothing but low-maintenance pets.
  • eBay data also suggested that ownership of indoor cats is on the rise. Cat trees, which allow felines to climb and exercise inside rose 52%, and cat harnesses, used to walk indoor cats, increased by 47% year on year.
  • For those with a little more room – we’re pampering our pooches. In early July, searches for dog cooling mats were up 1117% on the previous year.