City dwellers have been rethinking their living arrangements in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, choosing to shift to the country to seek out more wide-open and isolated places from where to live and work.
Data from property website Rightmove shows that enquiries for homes in small villages are up by 126% in June and July as compared to the previous year. Another figure shared by Hamptons real estate shows that the proportion of Londoners (as a total of the UK population) looking for houses outside of the city increased by 7% in April, which coincides with the peak period during which stay-at-home restrictions were in full force.
Reasons given behind these inquiries include the need for a garden, exercise facilities and proximity to essential services, indicating that the lockdown is having a vast impact on the way people are leading their everyday lives.
The other indicator that people are ready to abandon the big city life comes from career sites. Escape the City, a career advisory service, reported that the number of job seekers wanting to move away from London has more than doubled over the past fortnight as compared with the same period last year.
With more and more companies adopting fully remote work policies for their employees, people now have the flexibility to live and work from wherever they want. On average, renting in smaller towns is less expensive. Additionally, the time saved on commuting helps people spend more time with their families while saving significant expenses, which further adds to the appeal of living in smaller towns. Finally, the health benefits (both mental and physical) of living in smaller towns is another reason why many office workers are choosing to shift their home base.
While some experts argue that buyers are simply taking advantage of the growth in housing prices over the past years to "trade up", average asking prices for homes in villages tend to be higher than those in cities. Hence, this surge in demand suggests a change in attitudes towards housing, rather than price-led decision making.
As per Rightmove, eight of the ten places in England that are seeing the highest levels of buyer demand are small towns in the North. Family homes are the most popularly sought option, with a survey of newly agreed sales indicating that 98% of them were able to achieve their asking prices.
As a result of widespread self-isolation and social distancing, it is becoming increasingly more frustrating for people to be locked indoors in small, closed-off spaces. With a complete recovery to normalcy still a far way off, it would seem that the trend towards a more rural lifestyle is set to continue for quite a while.