New research shows that nearly a third of Australians have been working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, the demand for properties in regional New South Wales is growing.
Are people leaving the cities in search of larger properties with space for a home office? Or are they leaving because they feel safer in the country where there have been fewer cases of the virus?
George Southwell, real estate agent at Ray White Yass – which has been receiving between 30 and 40 new property enquiries each day since the pandemic began – says it’s both.
He says his business now advertises the fact that buyers can have two studies instead of one with properties that have four bedrooms or more.
“The number of home offices in an advertisement has become very important,” George said.
Additionally, the number of viewers at open inspections and the number of registered bidders at property auctions are both up by 50 per cent as more people flock to the country, according to George.
“We’re experiencing very high demand for properties from people wanting to escape the rat race and invest in the bush,” George said.
It’s the same story in the regional rental market currently, with a survey by the Real Estate Institute of NSW showing a vacancy rate of less than 1 per cent in most regional areas in September. That number fell to 0.8 per cent in South East NSW where Yass is located.
Without the pressure for many to be close to the office any longer, people feel freer to explore.
George said about 60 per cent of the demand for property in Yass is coming from Sydney and the Southern Highlands, while 40 per cent of demand is coming from Canberra.
Unsurprisingly, Australians in the capital cities (36 per cent) are more likely to be working from home than those in country areas (25 per cent). Notably, Canberra has the highest proportion of workers (48 per cent) working from home and Yass is right on Canberra’s doorstep.
For Felicity-Jane Miller, her husband and their two children, moving to Yass was a chance to connect with a community at a time when there was so much uncertainty.
They left their home in Weston to move across the border to the regional town during the pandemic.
“We were craving a better connection, something that we felt was lacking during the lockdown,” Felicity-Jane said.
“Both my husband and I were born and bred in Canberra, so the shift was significant for us – selling our house central to Canberra and close to work – but what we’ve bought here is more than a home.”
They were able to buy a house with an office for the days Felicity-Jane works from home during the week and with a big enough backyard for their children to run around and play in safely.
They also love that they can drive from Yass to Canberra in 45 minutes.
“In the grand scheme of things, 45-minutes isn’t much; it’s a good podcast or it’s a little bit of extra time to practise times tables or spelling with my kids,” Felicity-Jane said.
However, while there have been positives for people such as George and Felicity-Jane, there has been the unintended outcome of property prices rising because of the demand.
House prices in the Yass Valley local government area have grown by 24.7 per cent in the past five years and 0.6 per cent in the past year, according to Domain’s latest House Price Report. That’s pushed the average house price in the Yass Valley to $611,000.
In fact, property prices everywhere in regional NSW – except Armidale – have risen in the past 12 months according to the report. That’s while prices dropped in Sydney by almost $23,000 for houses and $14,000 in June.
However, this demand and increasing house prices aren’t anything those already living in regional areas such as Yass should be afraid of, according to George.
“It’s very exciting to see that there’s interest in regional Australia but we can’t stick to our old ways of not wanting to grow our towns. There’s always resistance to outsiders moving in and in my opinion, that really needs to stop. People don’t like that people are moving from outside of the area and spending more for homes because it pushes the prices up, but if we want to survive we need their dollar and we need them to hang around,” he said.