Tree Changers & Sea Changers

Moving to Regional Australia

Australia is a highly urbanised nation

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data reveals that the net migration from urban centres to regional Australia is currently at its highest since detailed records began more than two decades ago

Australian capital cities lost over 11,000 people due to internal migration in the last September quarter [2020]

Amy Chien-Yu-Wang. SBS, 24 Feb. 2021

Changing work arrangements have led to an upsurge in working from home during the Covid-19 pandemic. This outcome combined with the frustration of regular snap city lockdowns, has inspired large numbers of city dwellers to look for a tree change to regional towns and rural areas.

The latest Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data tells us that regional Australia experienced a net inflow of 43,000 people moving from the capital cities during 2020. The net figure represents the total number of people moving to the rural regions less the number of people leaving it for the big cities.

Net Internal Migration To Regional Australia

The ABC's Emilia Terzon asserts that the city exodus during COVID-19 has soared not only because people are moving away from the cities, but also because more regional Australians are staying put in their country towns.

As yet, there is not a huge amount of data showing exactly where city people have moved to during the pandemic.

Great Surf Bells Beach Torquay

Property price increases indicate that tree changers are seeking places still relatively close to major capitals, such as the Central Coast near Sydney or the Surf Coast near Melbourne, rather than truly remote locations.

Reports of soaring property prices in regional lifestyle towns favoured by urban movers are now commonplace

Emilia Terzon. ABC Business, 25 June 2021

Rachel Westbury, in her article Unpacking Australia's tree-change trend, cites the Regional Movers Index Report that reveals regional migration is at its highest level since 2018, with net migration to the regions up by 66 per cent.

The report was developed by the Regional Australia Institute in partnership with the Commonwealth Bank to better understand the number of people moving from Australian capital cities to other local government areas.

The areas that saw the largest growth in inland migration was Noosa at 49 per cent, closely followed by Queensland's Southern Downs at 44 per cent.

Other destinations attracting people moving out of cities included the Gold Coast (up 11 per cent), the Sunshine Coast (six per cent), Greater Geelong (four per cent), Wollongong (three per cent) and Newcastle (two per cent).

Westbury notes that the tree-change trend has been a long time coming and is no surprise to demography experts.

A lot of the migration trends we're seeing now are actually longer trends that precede the start of COVID-19 – the pandemic has just amplified existing trends

said Dr Aude Bernard, a demographer from UQ's School of Earth and Environmental Sciences. cited in UQ Contact Magazine, 2021

ABS figures reveal Queensland was the biggest beneficiary, gaining 7,200 people from internal migration in the September 2020 quarter. REA Insights property data show that since April 2020, enquiries from Victoria to Queensland rose by more than 130 per cent by October 2020.

Southport Real Estate Agents are experiencing fierce competition amongst young family Sea Changers looking to rent a property on the Gold Coast

Since as early as the mid-2000s, nearly 80% of people changing from city to regional areas have been under the age of 50. These facts dispel any myth that people moving from cities to sea or tree change areas are predominantly retirees or baby boomers.

CoreLogic, 2021

The 2020 report from the Centre for Population found that overseas migrants contributed to 26 per cent of population growth in regional Australia between 1996 and 2016.

In certain regions, migrants were responsible for more than half of the population growth. Sea change coach Caroline Cameron isn't surprised that this trend is increasing among culturally and linguistically diverse communities

Amy Chien-Yu-Wang. SBS, 24 Feb. 2021

The Attractions of a Tree or Sea Change:

  • Job vacancies outside cities are currently at record highs.
  • Child care is generally easier to obtain.
  • Certain regions have greater housing affordability than in capital cities.
  • Regions provide greater opportunities for a work & lifestyle balance.
  • More space in regional locations.
  • More time can be spent with family.
  • Easier to make social connections in smaller communities.
  • Potential for lower costs of living in regions and rural areas.
  • A healthier and less stressful lifestyle.
  • Reports of higher levels of wellbeing in the regions.

Stanley Tasmania Photo taken from the Nut

Employment options in Tree and Sea Change locations:

  • Local jobs in nearby towns or regional centres.
  • Commuting daily to a capital city job.
  • A mix of commuting infrequently to a capital city job and remote working.
  • Remote working.

Key considerations for prospective Tree and Sea Changers:

  • Transport - travel in many regional and rural areas is predominantly car-based. Young people and those without licences may find mobility an issue.
  • Public transport – may be less frequent especially on weekends.
  • Digital connectivity - there are still many places in Australia where internet and telephone coverage has limits.
  • Teenage needs - regional and rural areas suffer from a drift of youth to the city for education and social experiences, and many don't return to regional and rural areas.
  • Incomes - are lower in regions but grow at about the same rate as urban wages.
  • Medical service gaps – long wait lists in clinics and less bulk-billing centres.
  • Service delivery - from Councils and local authorities is more difficult due to lack of skilled employees and the greater expense due to economy of scales.
  • Rental properties – lower stocks, less choices and higher rental prices.
  • Educational and Cultural life – may not be the same quality, choice or as regular in comparison with capital cities.
  • Soaring property prices – are being reported in regional lifestyle towns favoured by urban movers.
  • Isolation is very real if you cannot find people who share your culture, faith or language.

Out of the 25 regions that recorded the highest net internal migration over 2020 - 2021, thirteen were regional, country or coastal areas. The highest migration was recorded in areas such as Moreton Bay in Queensland, La Trobe in Victoria's Gippsland and Richmond-Tweed in New South Wales.

Regional Medical Clinic

Advice for Property brokers marketing Tree and Sea Change locations:

  • Target workers in sectors that are in demand in local areas, such as the service, education, healthcare or agricultural industries.
  • Make the availability of public transport and quality road links for commuters clear in communications.
  • Outline the connectivity within a regional location, including cycling and walking options, in addition to connectivity between other regional areas and major cities.
  • Be knowledgeable about the availability and type of NBN at a regional, local and property level.
  • Point to real estate opportunities that offer greater value for money, lifestyle living and affordability where a buyer's budget is tight.
  • Promote vibrant communities that possess local sporting and recreational facilities, service clubs, volunteer groups and proximity to local natural assets.
  • List the local services that offer many of the benefits of the city but in a more relaxed environment.
  • Clarify the local or State planning controls in place to maintain the natural, coastal or country environment.
  • Indicate where new regional housing estates have quotas to ensure most sales are to live-in owners rather than investors or absentee landlords.

adapted from CoreLogic, 2021

Gold Coast Spit Aerial View

The Future of Tree Changes and Sea Changes

Post-pandemic, some employers may be less amenable to the current work-from-home agreements or the combination of workplace & work-from-home arrangements that have suited employees who have made the tree change or sea change move during the pandemic

Population experts also believe some city dwellers moving to regional areas during the pandemic will find that their tree change does not meet their expectations and therefore the current migration trend won't last long term.

After COVID is over, we're likely to go back to the trend that sees capital cities remain quite strong and a net flow into the capital cities... because the infrastructure is lagging in the regional areas in comparison to what we have in the city areas

Liz Allen, Demographer at ANU in ABC Business, 25 June 2021.

However, Michael Mackenzie, host of the ABC Life Matters radio program, Flocking to Tree Change Destinations (21 Sept. 2021), also warns town planners and Councils against allowing “the weight of population growth to drown” Tree Change and Sea Change regions around Australia.

Mackenzie's warning is especially pertinent in places like the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Noosa and other South-East Queensland regions close to the capital city of Brisbane

Researched, compiled, composed, written and edited by Dr Steve Gration – Sept 2021.
Sources and References

Amy Chien-Yu-Wang. Sea or tree change: Tips for moving to a regional area. SBS, 24 Feb 2021.
https://www.sbs.com.au/language/english/sea-or-tree-change-tips-for-moving-to-a-regional-area

CoreLogic, 2021. Tree Change, Sea Change: What You Need To Know To Generate Leads.
https://www.corelogic.com.au/resources/tree-change-sea-change-what-you-need-know-generate-leads

Harper, Hillary & Michael Mackenzie. Flocking to Tree Change Destinations... ABC Radio - Life Matters, Fri 10 September 2021.
https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/lifematters/flocking-to-tree-change-destinations-and-the-joy-of-playgrounds/13535952

Kapernick, Kerry & staff. Tree changers swapping city life for a regional and rural lifestyle. Herald-Sun, 7 Feb 2017
https://www.heraldsun.com.au/lifestyle/regional-real-estate-boom-how-to-avoid-regional-regret-and-tree-change-bounce-back/news-story/f6ad0fd2a4bb95134dec6f5d5f98ca58?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIncDf76z28gIVY5JmAh1yLwKAEAMYASAAEgIFI_D_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds

Macdonald, Marian. Is the tree change trend real? Farm Online National, 22 Jul 2021.
https://www.farmonline.com.au/story/7350123/is-the-tree-change-trend-real/

Terzon, Emilia. COVID-19 has made a tree change more alluring – but that may not last. ABC Radio - The Business, Fri 25 Jun 2021.
https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-06-25/covid-regional-australia-population-housing-services/100235562

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