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Australians are on the move due to COVID-19

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An online removalist booking platform has discovered the Australian cities people are moving out of, and in to, during coronavirus.

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Moving interstate is challenging at the best of times, throw a global pandemic, border controls and quarantine requirements into the mix and you might expect most people to be put off the idea entirely.

However new search data from removalist booking platform Muval has found a sharp uptick in customer interest in moving interstate since wide-ranging industry and workplace lockdowns were announced on 22 March.

Traffic to the Muval site increased three-fold, driven in part by hits on a blog Muval published answering questions about whether or not it was possible to move house during the outbreak.

While most industries have suffered as a result of measures to control coronavirus, Muval CEO James Morrell says he was confident customer interest in moving house would remain strong.

“Typically speaking, any volatility in the economy means more migration and more movement,” Morrell says.

“If you’re a removalist there is less activity in a steady, plateauing economy, because people tend to stay put.

“As soon as there’s talk of recession, or boom periods where people are moving for big job opportunities, you’ll see a big spike in removal bookings, because that sort of activity in the economy drives migration interstate.”

According to Morrell, what is interesting about removalist search and booking data is that it’s the earliest indicator of interstate migration trends.

“Other data sources really only pick up on this stuff once you’ve done the move,” he says.

“So the search for removal services and booking into removal services will be one of the initial indicators of where the flows of migration may or may not be. Often you can get a heads up in terms of areas that might be on the rise in terms of property prices and get in early.”

So where are people moving out of, and in to, in post-COVID-19 Australia?

Enquiries for leaving Melbourne and Sydney both grew compared to other cities, by 17 and three per cent respectively.

For those packing up and leaving Sydney, the most popular destination was Melbourne, up 14 per cent compared to before the lockdown.

For those leaving Melbourne, the most popular destination was Brisbane, up 14 per cent, followed by Perth, which was up 15 per cent.

Director of Executive Search at recruiting firm Six Degrees, Kristan De Sousa, cites a number of reasons for the Melbourne and Sydney exodus, including that many people move to commercial centres for employment opportunities.

“If it’s not your home city people tend to move home in times of crisis,” she says.

“I think the other thing is the density of those cities and if you all of a sudden have a virus that is spread through close contact, I think that’s definitely one aspect.

“The other thing there is the size of properties and the price per square metre… if you go into lockdown and you’ve got no room and you think you might be in lockdown for three or six months, you might want to get out of a small apartment or a small property.”

De Sousa says they’ve also seen a trend for people to finally act on a long-standing plan.

“We’ve (also) seen a trend during COVID of people making decisions, of people going, ‘OK, I now know what I want, I’ve been talking about moving to Queensland, I’m definitely moving to Queensland now’. I think it’s just been a bit of a reality check for people,” De Sousa says.

In contrast to other Eastern-state cities, Canberra saw a decrease in outbound enquiries at the same time as an increase in inbound enquiries, which De Sousa says is likely a result of the Federal Government presence in that city.

“With Canberra being so government-centric, it was all hands on deck. So from an industry and job security perspective that does not surprise me about Canberra – it’s probably one of the safest cities you can be in,” De Sousa says.

In addition to remaining a popular destination for movers, people in Perth chose to stay put more following the March lockdown, with outbound enquiries dropping by 25 per cent compared to other cities.

Morrell believes the surge in interest in moving to Perth from certain cities, and the reluctance of people to move out of WA, could be related to the strong FIFO component of the workforce being affected by the travel restrictions into the state.

“We heard anecdotally from customers that there were some intricacies around where you could live and do your FIFO from,” Morrell says.

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