Cheaper property prices, bigger homes, and a quieter way of life are enticing Millennials away from the big smoke to smaller settings.
Months after the height of COVID-19, when regional migration more than doubled, the attraction of rural, semi-rural, and outer suburban areas for young families remains high, economists and real estate agents say.
Interstate migration may have eased in recent months from its pandemic peak, yet price and lifestyle are still primary drivers of a steady shift away from inner-city areas, according to PropTrack director of economic research Cameron Kusher.
“As cities re-open and things continue to return to normal, the third driver will really be determined by businesses – whether they want to support people continuing to work remotely or push for more people to come back to the office,” Mr Kusher said .
In the thick of it
Fortunately enough for this physical workplace trend to be of no concern is digital nomad Niall McCarthy, 35, and his 31-year-old wife Savannah.
After finding life in some of Sydney’s most fast-paced and fashionable inner-city areas “financially crippling”, the couple moved to the far quieter and less expensive regional Queensland city of Toowoomba, 90 minutes west of Brisbane.
Their pre-COVID choice to move allowed them to rent a spacious home on a 1000sqm block for virtually half the $800-a-week cost of their former tiny, inner-city apartment and have their first child, Errol, now eight months old.
“We wouldn’t have had our little boy if we’d stayed in the city – no way,” Mr McCarthy revealed.
“It wouldn’t have even been for financial reasons either [but] simply because of enjoying all the city has to offer, going out all the time, eating at great places.
“We’d spent three years in Surry Hills and two years renting on Enmore Road in Newtown, living in the thick of it.”
Niall and Savannah McCarthy swapped Sydney for Toowoomba and couldn’t be happier. Picture: Supplied
With Savannah originally from Toowoomba, and himself from northern rural New South Wales, the quaint regional city has proved ideal.
“It’s been a wonderful place for me and my family,” said Mr McCarthy, who runs his successful online payment platform Newie.app from home.
“If I think about the difference in lifestyle, it’s mainly that there’s no hassles here. Everything is a breeze. You can do laps of the street with your little kid and there’s a phenomenal park just down the road I often have all to myself.
“We got married up here, and I can see my boy every single day, which wouldn’t be the case if I worked in a city office. If anything, I’m more effective with my time because I can switch off for lunch and then get back to work.”
The regional Queensland town of Toowoomba has a lot to offer. Picture: Getty
The couple has no intentions to buy their own home just yet and instead want to be easily able to move elsewhere when they so desire.
“I think of places in five-year blocks,” Mr McCarthy said.
“We’ve been here two-and-a-half years and so we’re thinking the next place we want to live is Tasmania. I’d love to buy a property, but I’d rather move and experience different places now rather than after I’m 60.”
On the purchasing side, buyer’s agent Campbell Lemmon from Sydney firm Maker Advisory said regional centers within commutable distance of a major CBD had been steadily growing in popularity for at least 10 years – not just during COVID.
“Anywhere within a couple of hours’ drive of a major CBD, and ideally with a rail option, has been very popular with Millennials,” Mr Lammon said.
“So, that’s where we’ve been focussing our activity.”
Hotspots included such places as the NSW Central Coast, especially Terrigal, just north of Sydney.
Terrigal is one NSW Central Coast town attracting an influx of younger buyers and renters. Picture: Getty
In Victoria, Ballarat and Geelong near Melbourne are also popular among buyers. And in Queensland, the Sunshine Coast north of Brisbane has boomed.
“The price increase has been outstanding from an investment point of view in many of these places,” Mr Lemmon said.
Living the carefree life
While still renting for now, Jerry and Isabelle Cox say they can’t believe it took them so long to make the move from the densely populated north-western suburbs of Sydney to the far quieter Blue Mountains town of Springwood, only an hour away.
The married couple in their late 30s have two children, aged two and one, and are expecting a third in a few months.
They had been talking about moving “for years” mainly for proximity to certain schools, but pretty quickly discovered there’s so much more to love about life in the semi-rural area.
“We were told that there was a real community feel here,” Mr Cox said. “But we didn’t understand how valuable it was until we experienced it.
“We only moved here in March and know three-quarters of our neighbors already – and when they say, ‘let us know if there’s anything we can do to help’, they mean it.
“We’re close enough to walk up the shops. It feels very safe too, so if you forgot to lock your door you wouldn’t race home for instance.
“Anywhere we need to go there’s rarely traffic. The only downside is obviously there’s not as many stores open all the time.”
The Blue Mountains is another popular spot, offering the best of both worlds – a quiet life not too far from the city. Picture: Getty
A huge plus is their new home.
For about $100 more a week, they have gone from a cramped granny flat squeezed into a Thornleigh backyard to a spacious four-bedroom house with a giant lounge room and separate dining area and large kitchen.
Outside they have their own sprawling backyard and lawn.
“The playroom for our kids here in Springwood is as big as the combined kitchen, dining and living area in our former house,” said Mr Cox, a mortgage broker who works from home and commutes back to his city office once a week or so .
“Our one-year-old is fascinated by being able to run through corridors from room to room, and even by the bath tub.”
Kangaroos still bound by the recently built homes in the outer-suburban area of Manor Lakes taking shape on the very fringe of Melbourne.
Despite being 50 minutes or more to the CBD, buying their first home here last November was a no-brainer for 27-year-old Joanne Giglio and her 29-year-old partner Ben Hockley.
Joanne Giglio and Ben Hockley traded city life for outer-suburban bliss. Picture: Supplied
“We were renting a house for $1400 a month and now we’re paying just $300 more a month for our own house,” said Ms Giglio, a national food quality manager.
“To be honest, we didn’t even look into moving closer to the city because we knew we wouldn’t be able to afford it and thought: ‘Why bother?’
“We wouldn’t have been able to save for a deposit, plus we’d promised each other that once we purchased our first home, we could start a family.”
The pair, now expecting their first child in August, paid $495,000 for their near-new, four-bedroom home on a 336sqm block, meters from a bushland walking track and wetland reserve.
Besides being able to personalize their own home without worrying about a landlord, one of the best things about living in an outer fringe suburb is that it has – or eventually will have – everything they need.
“That’s why we jumped on this area,” Ms Giglio said.
“Even just down our road there is so much construction going on and we can see in the next 10 years it’s going to be so much bigger and better.
“Where we’re living is a new estate. They’ve just completed the town centre, opened a third major supermarket, and they’re planning on a better freeway.
“It’s a lot more open with parks and it’s quieter and you don’t hear people zooming in and out. Everything is new.”
Joanne and Ben’s near-new home cost only marginally more than their city rental. Picture: Supplied
The couple was not alone in the decision to snap up a first home in Manor Lakes, according to agents Richard and Marina Falzon from Wyndham Real Estate, the area’s longest established agency.
Prices ranged from $395,000 for entry level properties, such as a two-bedroom apartment with study, to about $600,000 for a three- or four-bedroom house, Mr Falzon said.
“Our buyers are predominantly looking for their first home but also looking for community, affordability and value for money,” Ms Falzon added.
“We are finding many moving from inner-city rental apartments in places like Docklands in Melbourne, but we’re also getting a lot of young buyers from Sydney too.”