Focus Special

Moving to the country

A greater willingness to contemplate a move to the country may be one of the longer-lasting consequences of lockdown. Working from home – which was supposed to be a temporary arrangement - seems set to become a way of life for more employees at every level in organisations. The length of the commute to London has always been a prime consideration in the choice of a home to buy or rent. But househunters are becoming more focused on such features as garden size and space for a home office. A kitchen table tends not to be a long-term substitute for a desk.

In April, Londoners accounted for 15% of those registering at a Countrywide group branch outside London, up from 8% in March. This may not immediately increase the total numbers of those leaving London this year: the pandemic will continue to make any type of relocation a challenge. But such migration may reach a new peak in 2021 if the rural idyll continues to exercise its current attraction.

The desire to start a new life outside London last peaked in 2016 when 75,690 urbanites bought outside the capital. Subsequently, the annual average has been about 73,000.

The desire for views over fields has not only seized families. More than a third - 37% - of the Londoners registering to buy in a branch outside London in April were first-time buyers, against 27% in the same month of 2019. This is yet more evidence of the challenges posed by trying to live and work in a small flat during lockdown.

Most people hoping to leave the city want to move to a location in the South. Close to one-in-five (19%) applicants who registered in a Southern branch in April 2020 were Londoners. This was up from 12% in April 2019 and above the last peak of 13% in April 2016. Londoners made up 7% of those registering in branches in the Midlands, but there was a small annual fall in the share of London applicants registering to buy in the North. The yearning to relocate to the Lake District may be strong, but, in practice, many workers suspect they will have to be in their central London office for one or two days a week, as lockdown eases.

This is influencing the choice of relocation destinations: 25 out of the 50 local authorities with the highest proportion of London applicants were in the South East. And the traditional commuter hotspots remain the most popular.

Broxbourne in Hertfordshire was the most favoured destination in March and April with 78% of applicants from London. An average journey time of 33 minutes to London Liverpool Street helps explain the area’s popularity: the average house price is £427,900. This puts it within the budget of the average Londoner shopping for a home in the shires which is £422,000. About 5% of those who pine for a place in the countryside have a £1 million budget.

The analysis suggests that some are unsure whether they are ready for a permanent move out of town. One-infive of the people registering to rent a home with a rural branch in the South is coming from London. Best to try before you buy, perhaps, to find out if you will miss the urban lifestyle.

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Of our Summer 2020 Market Insight

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