As property market activity increases after lockdown, estate agents have reported growing numbers of Londoners looking for properties outside the city, as well as houses with plenty of outdoor and indoor space.
For example, Hamptons International found that the proportion of house-hunters from London that were looking to move outside the capital rose from 8% in March 2020 to 15% in April.
Similarly, latest research from Rightmove showed that the number of city dwellers interested in buying a village home in June/July 2020 rose by 126% from the previous year, with a 68% increase in those looking to move to towns.
They found that 54% of Londoners looking to buy were searching for properties outside the capital in June/July 2020, compared to 45% in 2019. They also saw a notable increase in Edinburgh, Birmingham, Sheffield, Glasgow, and other city buyers looking to move outside their cities.
But why are we now apparently witnessing a greater exodus of London residents since the COVID-19 pandemic? And why is there a rising interest in properties in more rural areas?
We look at the reasons why people want to move out of London and the pros and cons of making such a move.
Why do people want to move out of London?
The COVID-19 pandemic appears to have accelerated many of the trends we were previously seeing as, even before lockdown, there were signs that people were tiring of London living.
In the 12 months leading up to June 2018, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) calculated that 340,500 people moved out of London, the highest level of migration since at least 2011. While there are people still moving into the city (especially younger people in their 20s), over the past few years more people have consistently been moving out of London than migrating in from elsewhere in the UK.
Many Londoners have stayed in the south-east, moving to towns and villages on the fringes of the capital in areas like Dartford, Thurrock, and Broxbourne.
However, not everyone was moving to so-called “commuter towns” as there has been a noticeable increase in Londoners moving to the Midlands and the North, both to more rural areas and cities like Birmingham and Bristol. Figures from Hamptons International support this, highlighting that in 2019 13% of people who moved out of London went to the north of England compared to just 1% in 2009.
The impact of the pandemic
It’s unsurprising that the COVID-19 pandemic has seemingly encouraged this trend of moving out of the cities.
With most of the population spending more time in their homes than ever before during the months of lockdown restrictions, many city residents will have longed for a more spacious house with a garden, as well as access to more green spaces. As a result, coronavirus seems to have encouraged people to re-evaluate their lifestyles and think about how they want to live post-lockdown.
Before COVID-19, lots of people will have accepted living in a relatively small and expensive flat or house in London, purely because of its convenience for travelling to the office.
However, particularly with the growth of remote working, it appears people want more from their home than simply a base for commuting.
Instead, they want a home that will improve their quality of life and allow them to lead a healthier lifestyle, which seems to be leading people to consider larger properties in the countryside, outside of the cities.
For example, Savills have seen increased demand for rural locations, with 32% of their new applicants for country properties coming from London, compared to only 21% in 2019.
The role of the changing workplace
With the government advising that people work from home wherever possible during lockdown, estimates indicate that approximately 50% of the UK workforce have been working remotely over the last few months.
This is a significant increase on previous figures as, in 2019, only 1.7 million people said they worked mainly at home. 8.7 million people said that they have ever worked from home, but this was still less than 30% of the workforce.
Remote working may have been intended as a temporary measure to minimise the spread of coronavirus, but it seems that both employers and employees are recognising that the benefits of working from home make it a viable, and even desirable, long-term arrangement.
Even when employees can return to offices, many businesses seem keen to continue working from home. For example, 13% of business leaders surveyed by the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) thought they would make remote working standard practice and would no longer use a permanent office.
So, lockdown may have potentially triggered a significant shift in the way we work, which would open up new possibilities for the population and where they live.
If workers no longer need to commute to their office every day, they can choose to live in a wider range of (more affordable) locations than previously, including more rural areas away from the big cities.
What properties are people looking for?
Since lockdown, buyers seem to be prioritising homes which offer plenty of space- both indoors and outdoors.
Rightmove data showed more renters and buyers were searching for bungalows and houses in May 2020 than a year earlier, with a declining interest in flats.
This is even being displayed in London property prices, with the average outer prime London house value falling by 0.5% in Q2 of 2020, while average flat prices slipped 1.6%. In normal circumstances, flats tend to outperform houses, which perhaps suggests that buyers are favouring more spacious properties.
The desire for more interior space reflects, in part, the impact of remote working.
If people have been working for months at a kitchen table in a small flat, it’s easy to see why having the space for a separate home office is so attractive, especially if remote working arrangements become more permanent.
Outdoor space is also becoming a more highly-prized feature among buyers, whether it’s a garden or proximity to green space. With little else to do during the weeks of lockdown other than exercise outdoors, people have come to appreciate gardens and local parks much more than before.
For example, stats from First Mortgage show that 86% of surveyed Brits think having a garden in their future property is important, while 45% said lockdown had made them value a nearby park.
“What we have found is people are prioritising gardens and open space more now. We polled the country to see how housing perspectives have changed, and what we found was that close to half, 45%, of Brits now prioritise a green space. With offices contemplating moving towards a ‘work from home’ model, and people starting to change the way they balance work life, people suddenly have more options of what they can have at home, aside from the proximity to their workplaces.”
David McGrail, Compliance Director at firstmortgage.co.uk
Meanwhile, on Rightmove, searches for homes with gardens increased by 42% in May 2020 compared to the previous year. This supports the results from a survey they conducted, looking at what buyers are prioritising in their property search:
- 63% want a bigger garden or access to one
- 43% want a bigger home
- 36% want access to a parking space/garage
- 36% want a better home workspace
- 31% want to live closer to parks and green spaces
- 30% want to live in a rural area.
So, with people prioritising houses with interior and exterior space, it is not surprising that they are increasingly looking outside of London where larger properties are more affordable and where green space is much more accessible.
Where are people moving to?
Properties in less-populated and more rural locations, including county towns, seem to be of particular interest to London and other city buyers.
Rightmove recorded a 144% increase in enquiries from Londoners for village homes in June/July 2020 compared to 2019, with residents of Birmingham (186%), Edinburgh (205%), and Liverpool (275%) notching up an even greater increase. There was also a smaller, but still significant, rise in enquiries from city residents interested in moving to towns.
Lots of these city movers appear to want to stay in the same region, possibly so they can still be within commuting distance of the city for work and social reasons, but enjoy the space and perks that village living offers.
As a result, many of the people leaving London seem to be staying in the south, with Rightmove highlighting the Buckinghamshire village of Iver as experiencing a particular surge in demand, along with other locations in the London “commuter belt”. Especially since the cut in stamp duty, there has been growing interest in locations like Milton Keynes, Watford, Harrow, and Chelmsford.
Meanwhile, Hamptons identified places like Epping Forest, Broxbourne, and Dartford as experiencing rising levels of interest from Londoners.
Data from Hamptons have highlighted some other in-demand locations, such as Aylesbury Vale in Buckinghamshire which has seen a big increase in people signing up for viewings from London. In April 2019, 28% of those signing up for viewings were from London, compared to 44% since the COVID-19 pandemic. Other locations like Medway in Kent and Worthing in West Sussex have also had increased interest from prospective London buyers.
However, there are signs that people are looking further afield, to properties in regions outside their city including the South-West, the Midlands, and the North.
Rightmove recorded significant increases in buyer demand for certain locations in the first two weeks of June 2020 compared to the first 2 weeks of March, with Hereford in the West Midlands topping the list with a 77% increase. Northern towns Wigan, Rochdale, Wilmslow, Scarborough, and Bolton also saw major increases in demand, with Hastings the only southern destination making the top ten.
Although these figures are nationwide and not restricted to London buyers, it highlights the growing popularity of smaller towns, especially when you compare them to the demand for city properties. For example, London only saw a 19% increase in buyer demand between March and June, with Manchester and Birmingham only showing 21% and 26% increases respectively.
“Whether they are looking to move to a 3-bedroom house in a home counties town, or considering overhauling their life to live in a remote village surrounded by countryside, many Londoners appear to have grown tired of their city properties during lockdown. Even though vibrant city life will continue to hold an allure for many, particularly younger people, families and other individuals seem to be prioritising more spacious homes away from the busy cities.
"However, it is too early to say whether this will have a significant impact on the property market, as it will take a while to see whether the increased interest in more regional and rural properties translates into actual sales”
John Ellmore, Director of knowyourmoney.co.uk
What are the benefits of moving out of London?
Although lots of people love the social life and buzz of a big city, living outside of London can bring a number of benefits:
- Able to enjoy more green spaces and countryside walks.
- Cheaper properties than in London, especially with a garden. You can normally get a bigger property and more space for your money.
- However, should demand for certain locations continue to rise, properties there could become more expensive.
- Offers a healthier lifestyle (with less traffic and pollution) and arguably a better quality of life, especially for families with children.
- Less-crowded and easier to social distance while coronavirus continues to pose a risk.
- Smaller cities and county towns still have plenty of things to enjoy e.g. theatres, restaurants, pubs, sports facilities, attractions.
- Gain a better work-life balance, especially if you work from home and don’t have a long, stressful daily commute.
What are the cons of moving out of London?
Small town and rural living are not to everyone’s taste. Even though there are benefits to living in less-populated areas, there are still some reasons why people might want to stay in London.
- You might miss the diverse and busy city lifestyle and all the opportunities it offers, including social, cultural, and culinary. Those who have lived in a city for a long time may find it particularly hard to adjust to a quieter area with a slower pace of living.
- If you choose to move away from London and work from home, you might miss the social interaction with colleagues in the office.
- You could regret your decision if you don’t take enough time to research the place you plan to move to, especially if you are unfamiliar with the area.
- With the trend seeming to show people moving out of London, some homeowners could struggle to sell their existing property to enable them to move elsewhere.
- Living in a more rural area is very different to staying there for a holiday. You won’t necessarily get an idyllic country life as you will face different challenges, such as the weather (flooding or getting snowed-in), needing to drive further for shopping and other activities, and you could feel isolated and lonely.
These are just some of the pros and cons to moving out of a city. The decision on whether moving or staying is right for you will depend on your individual needs, what you enjoy doing, and what features you value the most in a home.
If you are thinking of relocating, what do you need to consider?
Moving house requires a lot of thought and planning, but even more so if you are wanting to relocate to a different part of the country.
Some of the extra factors you will need to consider when choosing somewhere new to live include:
- Will you still want to travel to the city regularly, for work or pleasure?
- Is there a good internet connection? Although there are plans to roll out reliable broadband access across the UK, some rural areas still have slow or patchy internet connections which could be a particular issue if you need to work from home.
- Does the area have everything you want and need? Consider schools, doctors, shops, eateries, attractions, leisure etc.
- What is the public transport like? And will you need to buy a car (if you don’t have one already)?
- How easy will it be to see any friends and family?
- Remember that less-populated rural areas are very different across the UK. A county town in the south will be very different to a remote village in the heart of the Peak District for example, so consider what kind of lifestyle you would prefer.
In addition to these points, there are the usual considerations to think of whenever you plan to move house.
You will need to start saving up for a mortgage deposit, remembering that the more you can put down, the more competitive deals you can access. It will be helpful to research the property prices in the location where you are looking to buy, so you can determine just how much you need to save and budget accordingly.
Using a mortgage calculator can help you to plan how much you will be able to borrow and how much your monthly repayments would be.
Don’t forget you will need to factor in stamp duty as well as any other charges, such as removal costs, surveyor’s fees, and legal fees.
Thanks to the government increasing the threshold at which buyers need to pay stamp duty, anyone that completes their property purchase before 31st March 2021 can benefit from reduced stamp duty costs.
Once you have done your research and found a property, you will then have to choose a mortgage and send in your application. You apply for a mortgage after making an offer, but you may improve your chances of getting the property you want by obtaining an Agreement in Principle (AIP) from a lender - it's an indication of what you can borrow, and shows the seller you are in a good position to purchase.
This is known as getting a mortgage in principle, which states that the lender is willing to lend you a certain amount, subject to further checks when you make your full mortgage application.
If you have prepared well, hopefully the seller will accept your offer and the mortgage provider will approve your application, so you can start planning for the next stage of your move!