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Are people still moving out of cities or are they moving back?

July 12, 2022

Throughout the pandemic, there were many reports of both homeowners and renters moving out of cities to smaller towns and villages, to take advantage of the extra space and easy access to countryside that comes with more rural locations.

A year ago, although around half of major city dwellers on the move were looking for a new home outside the city, most wanted to stay in the same region. There was a pretty even split in terms of buyers looking for towns and those wanting village life. So it certainly wasn’t the case that hordes of people were flocking to remote locations – far from it.

But what does the picture look like today, now that lockdowns are (hopefully) a thing of the past and ‘normal’, pre-pandemic life has more-or-less returned? Has the desire for extra space and being closer to nature stayed with people or have some reverted to their ‘old’ life and been drawn back to cities? After all, the convenience of public transport options and being within easy reach of bars, restaurants, entertainment, and major culture hubs is still very attractive to many.

For some, flexible working and rising house prices has caused a permanent shift away from cities

According to analysis from Experian, a lot of movers have happily relocated from city centres to nearby towns and villages, with around a 25% increase in net inward migration for many of these areas over the last couple of years. They suggest lower average house prices and only having to be in the office part-time has led to people seeking a healthier work-life balance in locations that are more rural but still have good transport links for commuters.


Still, many of those who left cities for the countryside now regret their move

In contrast, Rightmove reported in May that demand for homes in big cities has returned. Now that most workers are back in the office for at least part of the week, being closer to work has become a bigger priority than having extra space. Compared to the lockdown period of January 2021, they’ve seen a 50% increase in people looking to move from rural homes into some of Britain’s biggest cities, and a fall in the number of people heading to the countryside.

Although figures vary, there are also a number of reports suggesting that a clear majority of the people who moved out of cities in the early part of the pandemic now plan to return - for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Missing family and friends
  • Wanting to be closer to leisure and sporting amenities
  • Wanting to socialise after periods of isolation during lockdowns
  • Feeling disconnected
  • Missing a faster pace of life
  • Return to offices making long commutes unattractive


And in terms of property type, while people were looking for as much space as possible during the pandemic and houses topped wish-lists, Rightmove is now seeing an even bigger rise in demand for city centre flats.

But which cities are most popular?

Cities are continuing to draw buyers

In early 2022, property expert Phil Spencer predicted that people would move back to cities this year, now that restaurants, clubs and theatres are back up and running, with London, Manchester and Liverpool likely to be particularly popular with movers. And there is certainly data to back this up.

The Data and Forensics team at Sky News recently carried out research into where people have been buying over the past two years. Looking at GP records, they found that northwest London and Salford, just on the outskirts of Manchester, are the two most popular places to move to, with the populations of both rising by around 6% between March 2020 and March 2022. Manchester also tops the list of cities for rent increases over the last two years, with average rents in the city up by around 12.5%.

At the same time, Rightmove has reported a significant rise in demand for homes in cities that offer easy access to the countryside, giving people the best of both worlds. Plymouth, Gloucester, Norwich and Southend-on-Sea all make the top 10 of city hotspots for year-on-year asking price growth, with Bath in the number one position. All these cities have seen prices rise by double-digits as demand continues to outstrip supply. Meanwhile in Wales, the Cardiff housing market continues to be popular, driving average prices up by 8.4% on last year. This increases to 9% in sought-after areas of the capital such as Canton and Pontcanna. This popularity and increase in prices is mirrored in the rental market too.


Looking at all the various reports and analysis, it seems that what we have is a pretty balanced housing market, which is good news. We do expect house price growth to slow as the market returns to a steady and stable post-pandemic ‘norm’. However good demand from buyers and tenants across the board both in and out of cities is currently showing no sign of disappearing.

If you’d like to discuss the current market in your own area, just get in touch with your local Portico branch.


Additional sources:
Research by First Mortgage on city returners: https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/property/people-plan-move-back-cities-23394547
Moving back to London: https://londonlovesbusiness.com/moving-back-to-the-city/
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2021/08/14/return-london-families-moving-back-countryside-figures-show/
Phil Spencer’s comment: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/cities-are-regaining-their-allure-after-covid-and-we-should-be-glad-that-they-are-5c7vgxlmr




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