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An exodus from the city?

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After the housing market reopened in May, numerous tenant and homeowner surveys indicated a preference for outside space and a desire to live in more suburban or rural locations. Our Director of Mortgage Sales, Moray Hulme, discusses if this means that we can expect to see a mass exodus from built-up urban areas.

Being confined to a home made many of us evaluate what we want from where we live, whilst working from home raised the prospect of being liberated from commuter hubs. These changes led some to question whether we’d see tenants look to move away from urban areas, to attractive rural locations that offered more for their money and a quieter pace of life.

It’s too early to tell through hard data whether this trend is materialising, but feedback we’ve received from Paragon’s in-house regional surveyors shows that sentiment has not yet turned to actual behaviour.

At this point no mass exodus has been seen because even in London - one of the few locations not contributing to post-lockdown UK-wide rental growth - people aren’t loading their belongings into removal vans bound for the countryside. Instead, there is an increase in interest for outer boroughs, such as Bromley, which is comparatively greener and more open. The shift is there but maybe just not as dramatic as was expected.

In the pursuit of affordable family accommodation with a garden or easy access to outdoor space, some young London-based tenants have expressed a desire to move to commuter towns and coastal areas in Kent, Essex and Surrey.  This is supported by reports from the South East, where a change in demand has been noticed, but instead of being centred on sleepy rural villages, would-be movers are eyeing long-established commuter towns that benefit from good train or road links to the capital, such as Tunbridge Wells and Sevenoaks.

Experienced agents note that while the Covid-19 pandemic may have acted as a catalyst, tenants moving away from London is not a new phenomenon. The capital pulses, with a fresh inflow of graduates and overseas workers moving to the city each year to start their careers and enjoy the lifestyle, replacing those who have maybe met their partners, started their families and wish to swap the bright lights for more space and a quieter life.

Behaviour outside of London and the South East appears to be at odds with any expectation that people would be influenced by the pandemic to move away from cities.

Our surveyor in North Yorkshire reports no significant change in the popularity of suburban locations with landlords still seeking properties in large towns or cities like Leeds, where demand for affordable housing remains. This is mirrored in Wales and the North West, where the trend towards people migrating to urban districts from suburban localities appears to be continuing at pace.

In the North West, Paragon’s Regional Surveyors report that demand in urban areas is driven by an influx of young professionals, drawn by strong economies in cities like Liverpool and Manchester, where the area’s traditional manufacturing-led economy has been bolstered by burgeoning science and technology industries, as well as financial and professional services.

Demand has remained strong and stable in other parts of the country that enjoy strong economies. In Warwickshire for example, market and spa towns such as Kenilworth and Royal Leamington Spa are relatively affluent, attractive and in easy reach of countryside, so tenants have little reason to relocate.   

So, why are we seeing the difference between sentiment and behaviour? Well, it can be difficult to pick up a life and move it elsewhere. We become embedded in where we live, building networks and friendship groups. Perusing your favourite property portal to see what you can afford in another appealable area is one thing, but actually moving your children to another school or away from your friends and family, is another. 

We are still in the early days of the true fallout of this pandemic and how it will change behaviours over the long-term. Whilst consumer surveys are a great indicator of trends, whether the findings result in action is a different question.

Paragon Banking Group PLC.  Registered in England number 2336032.  Registered office 51 Homer Road, Solihull, West Midlands  B91 3QJ.