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Go (south) west

City dwellers want to relocate to the south west after lockdown

27 April 2021

3 minute read

We explore why so many people appear to be moving away from urban areas to rural communities and what impact this may have on UK property prices.

If viewing figures for television’s ‘Escape to the country’ are any indication, people are fleeing city life for the great outdoors in almost record numbers1. The coronavirus situation has certainly played its part in bringing about a somewhat seismic shift in property searches but who is moving and why, where are they going, and perhaps most importantly, what does this all mean for UK property prices?

Who is moving?

Research from Barclays Mortgages has found residents of the UK’s biggest cities are no longer happy with where they’re living and, as a result, are considering moving to areas with more green space on their doorstep. About a third of residents in Birmingham and London feel the biggest urge to move (Figure 1).

But why?

The research found that those living in major cities are looking to escape a feeling of being ‘locked in’, with many desperately seeking a garden, a bigger garden or, at the very least, a balcony, in their next move. As such, properties with outdoor space are becoming increasingly desirable for property buyers, with almost 39% saying they’d like to move to a home that offered a large garden.

This desire to move reflects a craving to escape urban living and embrace the quieter side of life. Over a quarter of those polled stated a preference to be close to the seaside, and similar amounts wished to live in more rural areas. This was echoed by those living in and around the M25, with two in five homeowners in the area admitting they’d like to move out for a better quality of life.

But it’s not just the longing for outdoor space that is pushing people to relocate, as some of the other reasons for a post-lockdown move include; living nearer essential services (29%), living in an area where they can exercise easily (24%), being nearer relatives (23%), and living somewhere with a stronger local community (23%).

Where to?

When it comes to the hotspots luring city dwellers away from urban sprawls, the south west – counties such as Cornwall, Devon and Somerset with their stunning rural and coastal communities – ticks off the ‘must-haves’ for many hailing from Birmingham, Nottingham, London, and Manchester.

While the top five cities are most likely to see residents eyeing up a move, it’s by no means an isolated desire, as almost one-third of all Brits admit they would like to move to the countryside post-lockdown. Just half that number said a move to a city was in their future plans. The younger generation is leading those bucking the trend however, with one-third of under-25s dreaming of moving to a big city.

Figure 1: Top ten cities to leave, and locations to move to, post-lockdown
Top ten cities homeowners wish to leave post lockdown Top location(s) residents wish to move to
1. Birmingham (32%) south west (24%) or Wales (22%)
2. London (30%) south west (20%)
3. Leeds (28%) Scotland and south east (19% each)
4. Norwich (27%) Wales (20%)
5. Nottingham (25%) south west (26%)
6. Sheffield (21%) East Midlands and north east (14% each)
7. Liverpool (21%) Scotland (25%)
8. Manchester (20%) north east, south west, Wales and Yorkshire and Humber (15% each)
9. Glasgow (20%) south east (18%)
10. Newcastle (19%) Scotland (47%) and Yorkshire and the Humber (33%)

Source: Barclays

What the data tells us

The move from urban areas to more rural locations appears to be borne out by the numbers with demand pushing prices higher. According to data from HM Land Registry2, UK house prices increased by 7.5% in the year to January 2021. At the country level, the largest annual house price growth in the year to January was recorded in Wales, where house prices increased by 9.6%. Meanwhile, the UK Property Transactions Statistics showed that in January 2021, on a seasonally-adjusted basis, the estimated number of transactions of residential properties (with a value of £40,000 or greater) was 24.1% higher than a year ago.

Dr Peter Brooks, Chief Behavioural Scientist at Barclays, commenting on the Barclays Mortgages research, says: "Spending the last few months in lockdown has been a massive life event felt by the whole nation. All this time at home has given many of us the opportunity to reflect on where we live and why we’ve chosen those areas, as well as time to consider what’s important to us.”

“This research indicates an aspiration for a big move and complete lifestyle change. More outside space and the benefits of being closer to friends and family are high on the ‘must-have’ list for many movers. As working from home becomes more commonplace, moving cross-country looks to be more achievable for many as there is less of a need to be within a short commute to the office. If the findings of this research are reflected in the housing market, we could well see a trend for people to leave urban areas in favour of more rural locations.”

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