Moving From the City ?

House prices are soaring in some regional areas as COVID-19 accelerates the shift from big cities. Improved working from home capabilities and lower base prices have driven the exodus from Brisbane to less densely populated areas within commuting distance.

Prices in Byron Bay jumped by more than 39 per cent, while Queensland’s Sunshine Coast is up more than 14 per cent over the same period. The most popular destinations include the Gold Coast, Newcastle and Sunshine Coast,  Geelong, Cairns, Toowoomba, Ballarat, Bendigo and Lake Macquarie. (Analysis by Digital Finance Analytics.)

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Improved working from home capabilities and lower base prices have also driven the exodus from Sydney and Brisbane to less densely populated areas within commuting distance of the capitals.

Tim Lawless, head of research for CoreLogic, which monitors property markets, said the move from big cities is also reflected in shrinking discounts, shorter time on the market and reduced properties for sale in popular regional centres.

Liz Ritchie, chief executive of Regional Australia Institute (RAI), a think-tank targeting regional issues, said significant growth in regions during the past decade has been boosted by the pandemic.

Between 2011 and 2016 – the most recent comparison available – more than 1.2 million people either moved to regional Australia or moved around regional Australia from one location to another.

Property sales and vacancy rates show Australians are two times more mobile than people in most European nations.

The three most popular destinations include the Gold Coast, Newcastle and Sunshine Coast, according to the RAI analysis. Geelong, Cairns, Toowoomba, Ballarat, Bendigo and Lake Macquarie are also popular.

“Almost overnight, COVID-19 has triggered flexible and remote working,” Ms Ritchie said.

Regional areas in NSW and Queensland also outperformed. According to the Real Estate Institute of NSW, property values rose 7 per cent across regional NSW in 2020, around double the gains recorded in Sydney.

Less time on market

The average time to sell a property across most regions in Australia during the past year has reduced from 40 to 36 days, which is three days longer than in capital cities, according to CoreLogic’.

“Longer selling times across regional Australia might come as a surprise since regional prices are rising at a faster rate,” Mr Lawless said. “But the longer selling time may partly reflect the sale of properties that have languished on the market prior to conditions improving halfway through last year.”

Asking rents for outer city properties are stable or rising in NSW regions, including the Blue Mountains and Central Coast, and in Queensland’s Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast.

According to Roy Morgan research, about two-thirds of working Australians, around 10.5 million people, have changed their work location because of the pandemic, with a large proportion being forced to work from home.

Flexible employers

Major employers want office-based work for collaboration, learning and customer interaction but are prepared to consider allowing people to work from home, or an office near their home, for a couple of days a week.

This story originally appeared in the Australian Financial Review. DUNCAN HUGHES, AFR

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