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Lifestyle locations and our COVID-induced city exodus - August 2020

By Rich Harvey, CEO & Founder, propertybuyer.com.au

An unexpected consequence of coronavirus has been the sudden rush of city dwellers to abandon Sydney and Melbourne in favour of a tree, sea or town change.

Anecdotally, there’s been a recent influx of people from the capitals to idyllic locations like Sydney’s Northern Beaches, the NSW Southern Highlands or charming regional towns like Ballarat in Victoria.

A few things are causing this snap decision to cut and run, I believe.

Pent-up frustration at the busy pace of city life is now being coupled with the more recent experience of job flexibility, thanks to working from home being suddenly possible almost overnight due to the pandemic.

But when COVID-19 is a thing of the past, will this rush to lifestyle-driven property choices still seem like a good idea?


It’s very tempting                                  

Most of us would have spent time daydreaming about one day ditching the rat race to go and live a quieter life near the beach or mountains, or in some quaint small town.

No more traffic. Much less noise. Friendlier neighbourhoods where you know people’s names. A lazy and relaxed pace.

It’s a pretty appealing idea, but one usually imagined close to retirement – not in the middle of maintaining careers and raising families.

And yet, I’ve had a bit of enquiry from potential clients keen to get out of the city now, not later, in search of lifestyle. Agents I speak with in many lifestyle areas of choice are seeing a similar trend.

Coronavirus has fuelled a lot of this thinking.

For years, the idea of flexible job arrangements and working from home were placed in the ‘too hard’ basket by the majority of industries. Setting it up and regulating it felt impossible. But then, COVID-19 came along and companies needed to get remote employment sorted out overnight.

So now, if you can work from home, you might as well do it in a picturesque location like the Northern Beaches, Central Coast, Southern Highlands or Hunter Valley, right?

If you can keep that big city job but do it from a pleasant little town where your kids can ride their bikes to school and learn that food actually comes from plants and animals, and isn’t invented by Woolworths, why wouldn’t you?

You can get much more bang for your buck in these areas too. Seriously – have a look. For the cost of a two-bedroom unit in Sydney’s inner suburbs, you could buy an oversized family home with all of the modern conveniences in, say, Orange.

Building your dream home is also less of a pipe dream and more of an achievable reality in some of these lifestyle locations.

Just think of what you could design if you could afford a bit of land, an architect and a builder!


There are big considerations

At the risk of bursting that pleasant bubble, there are some downsides to trading in city life for a lifestyle-driven property purchase.

For starters, historically, resilient property values and good long-term capital growth potential are much better in the city than in regional areas. That’s just a simple reality of the supply and demand equation – there will always be a greater volume of people looking for homes in Sydney and Melbourne than in, say, Berry or Ballarat.

Sure, some lifestyle areas come with big median house prices that can remain stable and even grow over an extended period of time, but they also carry a lot of risk. When the economy struggles or tourism falters, or localised industries experience fluctuations, real estate is often the first place to be hit.

There’s also a price to be paid for lost convenience. Cities retain the lion’s share of world-class essential services, from schools to hospitals and public transport.

Moving away might see you spend less time in traffic, but you could be forced to commute for healthcare or to send your kid to sports or music camp.

The working from home revolution has worked well during coronavirus, and there’s a big discussion underway about what legacy this will all create.

But let’s be realistic – the majority of businesses will still want and need their staff onsite once things have returned to normal. I have no doubt that flexibility will stay, but the ability to never step foot in your office again? I doubt it.

And not every workplace can function with its staff being ‘there’ remotely.

Finally, lifestyle is nice, but can it compensate for the missed social connections that city living provide? When you’re on holidays these areas look great, but missing family connections and long held friendships when they are more than 2 hours away can mean a gapping hole is left in your social and family life.

It’s something those considering an escape should keep in mind.

There are upsides and some locations with long-commute options, such as the Hunter Valley, might make attractive options for those only needing occasional access to Sydney’s city center, but choosing to throw in your urban life on a whim isn’t advisable. Instead, a discussion with a knowledgeable industry expert, such as a buyers’ agent, can ensure you find a home that meets your lifestyle needs for both now and in the future.


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