Finance Property Tree change: Pandemic pressures spark rush to country lifestyles Updated:

Tree change: Pandemic pressures spark rush to country lifestyles

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Months of remote working and home isolation during the pandemic have given city slickers ample time to pause and reflect about a tree change.

Bustling urban hubs lost their lustre when city attractions were forced to close their doors, and new concerns have emerged about affordability and the tradeoff between good health and high-density living.

As a result, many are primed for a life-changing move.

And it’s sparked a flurry of activity that some say is the start of a mass city exodus to regional hubs and towns within 90 minutes of the capital cities.

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Emily Mogic, son Lachlan and Cheryl Downes are fast-tracking their plans to move to country Victoria. Photo: Emily Mogic

Melbourne-based business transformation manager Emily Mogic and her wife, Cheryl, had pre-pandemic plans to tree change within five years.

It was an idea born 18 months ago from a visit to a friend’s farmlet in New South Wales, where they felt an undeniable sense of community, easy accessibility to nature and room to stretch their legs.

When the pandemic hit – and their employers both gave assurances that flexible working would be a long-term option – that was the trigger needed to fast-track their plans.

“I started working from home in March and spent more time browsing, and, after looking at land close to our friends in NSW, turned to Victoria to see what value for money we could get,” Ms Mogic told The New Daily. 

After the Victorian government imposed strict limits on gatherings  during the first wave of infections, Ms Mogic’s family decided to embark on what she called an “example of extreme-iso shopping.”

“We planned a big radius around Melbourne of places we could access with a 90-minute drive, and on the weekends, we would travel out to vacant blocks and get a sense of the town’s character,” Ms Mogic said.

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Thousands of Australians, like Emily, now see country living as a viable option. Photo: Emily Mogic

After settling on a vacant block in regional Victoria’s Trentham in September, they hope to rent nearby until their Yarraville property sells, before building a farmhouse-style property within a year.

“The option for us to go potentially mortgage-free was appealing in these uncertain economic times, and as we get older, have different options we can look forward to,” Ms Mogic said.

“But most of all, I’m looking forward to looking out the window and feel my stress reduced by looking at nature or grass and trees, and having the opportunity to start building our new community,” Ms Mogic said.

Director of digital regional real estate agency Parkstone Real Estate Toby Pinhol, whose plans to relocate his family from Melbourne were thwarted by the city’s Stage 4 lockdown, said his business had fielded “very strong amounts” of inquiries over the past three months.

His firm – which covers Daylesford, Castlemaine and the Macedon Ranges – largely heard from city slickers who now deem a dramatic lifestyle switch more “socially acceptable”, as a result of the transition towards remote and cloud-based working.

The trend towards digitalisation has encouraged workers to search for larger home offices, multi-acre backyards and low-density living, he said.

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Locations within 90 minutes of major cities are expected to be the big winners of the tree change boom. Photo: Getty

“You have a lot of places where it’s within close proximity of a train line for easy access to the city for a couple of days a week, and secondly, the buying power of your dollar is so much more,” Mr Pinhol told The New Daily. 

But don’t expect a mass exodus all at once.

Ms Pinhol said the tree change movement will be a slow burn that gathers momentum over several years.

“People are valuing that they need to find a property where they can actually live, not just exist,” he said.

“People are only pulling the trigger once it’s a known quantity and we’re not seeing anyone make those decisions sight unseen, so buyers right now are those who have grown up in the country, have family or relatives in the neighbourhood, or have holidayed extensively there before.”

A report released by CoreLogic last month seems to back that idea.

The property analytics firm found that house prices in some regional markets had grown faster through the June quarter than in neighbouring capitals, in which prices fell over the three months.

Though each of the regional markets analysed experienced slowing growth during the early stages of the pandemic, they have been quicker to bounce back.

But the differing fortunes of city and regional property markets are neither the result of tree changers, nor expected to last over the long term, Ms Owen said.

“This more positive outcome is short term, and is more likely tied to cyclical patterns than changes in demographic trends, which are typically a gradual phenomenon,” Ms Owen said.

Much like capital cities, the number of regional properties sold at auction amid strict coronavirus measures has slowed – but longer-term figures may eventually confirm a tree change revolution is on the cards.

“The normalisation of remote work amid COVID-19 is more likely to bolster regional migration than slow it,” Ms Owen said.