The COVID-induced work-from-home lifestyle has made sea and tree changes a reality for many Australians over the past 18 months, and some experts say it remains to be seen if city folk who headed for the hills would return to urban living.
Economist at realestate.com.au Anne Flaherty said there were still plenty of attractions in major cities that continued to draw buyers but the uncertainty over lockdowns and work-from-home arrangements meant many homeowners were in no hurry to up stumps back to CBDs.
“The reality is that there is a lot more amenity and a lot more going on in the cities, but last year with the lockdowns a lot of the benefits of being in a central location just weren’t there. A lot of retail was closed, the offices were closed,” Ms Flaherty said.
“At the same time, the benefits of living in a scenic lifestyle, being close to nature and having that better lifestyle became increasingly more attractive.”
Ms Flaherty said a turnaround in the popularity of regional living was unlikely to happen any time soon with the new coronavirus wave in Australia forcing major cities into lockdown, particularly Sydney.
“It remains to be seen if the novelty of living and working in the country does wear off over time,” she said.
“One thing we have seen is that Melbourne and Sydney have been more impacted by lockdowns than anywhere else in the country and office occupancy in both Melbourne and Sydney is still extremely low. Having said that, if we look at some of the other states, office occupancy is actually quite close to pre-COVID levels.
“Down the track when Melbourne and Sydney stop having these lockdowns, we would expect to see office occupancy increase. When that happens, there could be more pressure on workers to return to the office.”
City living not completely off the cards for tree changers
West Australian couple Denice and Peter Rice have opted for a change of pace in the Perth Hills, listing their beautiful heritage home in inner-city Highgate for sale with plans to move to a half acre block in Darlington, 35 minutes drive from Perth.
“We have loved living in the inner city for the past 12 years. For our family, it was the right location at the right time. We moved here when our children were teenagers, they are all adults now, two with children of their own,” Mrs Rice said.
Flawlessly renovated and extended, the stunning seven-bedroom, five-bathroom residence at 8 St Albans Avenue sits on the doorstep of the thriving Beaufort Street café, restaurant and retail strip just 2km from the city.
“A range of factors contributed to our decision to make the move: our current house is too big for two, we will be closer to grandchildren, I enjoy gardening and, having recently retired, I now have time for a bigger garden with what I hope will be a very productive veggie patch, and some chooks and a bee hive,” Mrs Rice said.
“Also, my husband no longer needs to work from his city office. He works for an international software company and has been working from home since the beginning of the COVID outbreak.
“His company has not yet reopened any of its offices in Australia and has told all employees currently working from home they will be able to continue to do so even once the offices reopen.”
But she said the couple was going into the lifestyle change with their eyes open and would not rule out a return to inner-city living if the upkeep of their hills home proved too much.
Melbourne agent Sam Fenna, from Belle Property – Carlton and Melbourne, said there had been a recent trend of regional dwellers seeking out city pads so they could have the ‘best of both worlds’.
“We all seem to hear about everyone leaving the city, but the last three or four properties that I’ve sold have been to people in Geelong, Castlemaine and the like, so that defies the belief that people are still heading to the regions,” Mr Fenna said.
“For one of the buyers, his business is based on Collins Street [in Melbourne CBD] but his family are in Geelong. His business hasn’t changed that much that he’s leaving Collins Street.
“It shows that there’s definitely people in the country who still want to live in the city and be among the best of it. There are lot of drawcards – the MCG, there’s some great restaurants that have just opened.
“A lot of owner occupiers who love the city still want to be there. There’s a lot to look forward to.”
Will Sydney’s ‘ghost town’ vibes have a lasting impact?
Sydney agent Sami Yildiz, from Kho & Lee Property Group – Pyrmont, said the Sydney market was yet to see any reinvigoration given the current lockdown.
“Just before the latest [Sydney] lockdown, we were noticing people were coming back to the city. The rental market was reasonably good and we were increasing rents for the first time since COVID,” Mr Yildiz said.
“From the sales point-of-view, we found the majority of people who were interested in buying were first-home buyers. Buyers living in the suburbs were coming to the city to purchase their first home.
“I think once we get over this lockdown, things will build again. It was becoming busy, the streets were busy, the restaurants were getting busier, offices were opening. Now, unfortunately it’s a ghost town at the moment,” he said.
Ms Flaherty said the impact of the lockdown on Sydney’s property market will depend on whether it is extended beyond 28 August.
“If NSW is able to get on top of the outbreak and lift lockdown before spring, it’s likely we’ll see hot conditions as the market makes up for lost time. More stock will come onto the market, sales will rise rapidly, and price rises will recommence,” she said.
“At this stage, it is unlikely the lockdown will have long-term impacts on the property market.”
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