Will city buyers regret moving to the regions post-pandemic?
Financial analyst Michael Olic is on his way. After bringing up his family in Sydney’s southern suburb of Sylvania Waters, he and his fashion designer wife Ingrid have decided to take the plunge and move to the country.
“We want the space and quietness and lifestyle,” said Mr Olic. “We want fresh air and farmers’ markets, good quality food and the friendliness of locals. We want to see old-style heritage places in the country, and we want less of a rat race.”
The couple is now hunting for a lifestyle block somewhere around the southern highlands, with their children Sofia, five, and two-year-old Bianca.
They’ve recently been spending more weekends in the area after friends moved there and discovered how much they liked it.
“Our kids have been really enjoying the countryside and it’s good to have room for them to run around,” he said.
“The whole COVID thing might have been a catalyst to make the move now rather than later. We’d like to be out of the city if there are more lockdowns. We’re now looking for land and we’d love to start building towards the end of this year, to be realistic.”
They are not alone. The latest ABS statistics, which so far only track movements in 2020, found that 233,100 people left the cities to live in regional areas in Australia that year.
At the same time, the most recent Real Home Shift Survey, conducted by Real Insurance, surveyed more than 5000 people and discovered nearly one in 10 people had already moved in the past one to two years, with another 34.4 per cent thinking about doing so in the near future.
In addition, 27.7 per cent of Australians have bought, or are considering buying, investment properties in an out-of-city area amid plans to spend more time there.
For the developers who’ve been building new homes in the most popular country and coastal areas, it has prompted a buying bonanza. In Moss Vale, 85 of 143 land lots totalling more than $40 million in sales at the Ashbourne master-planned community by developer Aoyuan International were snapped up on the day they hit the market.
Before the November launch, they had 3000 inquiries, and people queued in the rain for appointments. On the morning of the release, 35 properties were bought in the first 30 minutes alone.
“It was so successful, we ended up escalating the prices on launch day quite a bit, but people were still happy to buy,” said Aoyuan International’s corporate affairs and client relations manager Jacqlyn Paneras. Stage one of the 1200-home project is scheduled to be completed next year.
Similarly, on the coast north of Sydney, there’s also a huge demand for new homes. In Gosford, the first release of 136 apartments in the Central Coast Quarter complex by St Hilliers also sold strongly. One penthouse was bought for $3.2 million, setting an apartment record for the area.
“It’s been no surprise the amount of interest we’ve received in a very short period of time,” said St Hilliers development manager Justyn Ng. “I would guess 50 per cent of our buyers are from Sydney.”
It’s the same story south of Sydney. A couple of hundred metres from City Beach and the entertainment precinct at Wollongong, a new 38-apartment boutique project Northsea has also sold well.
Anecdotally, there have been stories about people fleeing the city and settling elsewhere only to realise they’ve acted in haste.
“The difficulty then is that some find they can’t afford to buy again in the city,” said relocations expert Jill Weeks, the author of How to Retire in Australia.
“We’re seeing some people come back, undoubtedly, but we’re also seeing this ‘half-back’ trend, where people move back as near to the city as they can afford. It’s for this reason, we always advise people to rent and try first, before they buy.”
Domain chief of research and economics Nicola Powell agreed. “When you make such a significant commitment, you need to make sure you’re going to be able to adjust to the change in the pace of life. It’s a big move and it could be very expensive if you make a mistake.”
House prices in regional areas have soared as a result of the shift, with Kiama Council area recording rises of 40.9 per cent over the past year to a new median of $1.36 million, according to Domain figures.
Rents have also spiked, with the north coast town of Crescent Head, between Port Macquarie and South West Rocks, seeing the country’s biggest rent rise over the last year of 54.5 per cent, not far ahead of Broulee on the south coast which jumped 50 per cent.
But for those who’ve already moved, it’s hard to find anyone who regrets it. Julia Salnicki, for instance, left Sydney’s inner west for Lake Macquarie and never looked back.
“In Sydney, it sometimes felt that no one had time for anything and you’d spend so much of your life sitting in traffic,” said Ms Salnicki, a retail worker.
“I had a very good friend living here and came to visit her a couple of times and thought how wonderful it was – and housing is so much cheaper and you can get free parking everywhere.
“So I moved here and I enjoy the lake, the space, having fewer people around and the fact that the people who are here have time to talk to you. It’s everything I hoped it might be, and more.
“And for a city fix, I’m only 20 minutes away from Newcastle or two hours on the train from Sydney. I just love everything about it.”
Sharon Clarke, a university lecturer, sold up in the Sutherland Shire’s Bonnet Bay and, with her husband Peter, moved to Narooma on the Far South Coast.
There are things she misses about Sydney, including her family and old friends, high-end or specialist medical services, live theatre and the ease of getting people to come to your home to do electrical repairs.
But generally, she said her new life in what’s been called the third most temperate town in the world – when it’s 35 degrees in Sydney, it’s generally around 25 degrees in Narooma – has far more advantages than drawbacks.
“If ever I have a regret, I just have to look out of my window to see the ocean and the waves on the shore and the seals swimming past,” says Sharon, 71, a university lecturer. “And people in small towns are generally lovely and never too busy to take the time to say hello.
“People are also far less aggressive on the roads and it was months of living here before I heard the sound of a horn. I thought, ‘Wow! What was that?’
“Also, while I might miss live theatre, we do have a cinema across the road that does streaming of London theatre productions and it’s so close, we can come home in the interval for a cup of tea.”