Rental data shows where Australians want to live during coronavirus (and where they don’t)

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It began with a message on Reddit last week.

“Relocated to Melbourne for work. I think I’m going to like it here,” it read.

It was posted with a picture of the city skyscrapers and a pair of feet just in view as the owner reclined on the grass.

It was a message so at odds with the prevailing conversation around a city in lockdown that it almost demanded a response.

Thousands liked the image. For many, it was a pop of positivity that has been hard to come by here recently.

For others, it was a red rag to a bullish and frustrated population.

Some even suspected it was a troll comment because they figured surely no-one would want to actually move here right now.

“Melbourne is amazing. You’ll love it here,” one person replied.

“Welcome. Your puffer jacket and single origin coffee beans are in the post,” said another.

Others were less charitable.

“Good luck and sorry to hear. Welcome prisoner number 1476294,” said one.

“Why the hell would you willingly come here? Get out if you can, or hide,” was a particularly blunt response.

The person who posted the message, who didn’t want to be identified in this article, told the ABC it was genuine.

Yes, being in lockdown sucked, they said, but there was much to look forward to.

The data tells a mixed story

The case represents the internal struggle for a city consistently ranked the most liveable in the world.

It also highlights a somewhat surprising fact: despite the pandemic, people are still moving to and around Melbourne.

Yet the latest rental vacancy data from SQM Research shows the pandemic is taking a harsher toll here than other capital cities.

The vacancy rate (the percentage of available properties not yet leased) has almost doubled in the 12 months since September last year, rising from 2 per cent to 3.8 per cent.

The average rent has also declined sharply along with that reduced demand.

It’s created what real estate agents might call a “renters’ market”.

Average rent 12-month change
Sydney Houses $611 -8.90%
Units $452 -8.90%
Melbourne Houses $515 -2.20%
Units $390 -5.10%
Brisbane Houses $467 1.10%
Units $377 -0.60%
Perth Houses $473 6.80%
Units $362 7.60%
Adelaide Houses $416 5.10%
Units $315 1.90%
Canberra Houses $623 1.40%
Units $479 3.80%
Darwin Houses $526 1.50%
Units $369 -3.30%
Hobart Houses $454 4.40%
Units $382 -5.20%
Capital city average Houses $527 -3.10%
Units $411 -5.50%

Source: SQM Research

It’s a vastly different story in Perth, where rents have soared over the past 12 months.

Likewise, the vacancy rates have plummeted in Perth and Darwin, likely reflecting the fact that people in those spots are enjoying some of the most relaxed restrictions in the country and aren’t in a rush to leave.

The unexpected landlord

Melbourne’s data reflects several different stories.

For many renters, the year has been a real struggle.

A recent survey of 15,000 renters across Australia during the pandemic found about half reported stress and anxiety.

A third said they had asked or would ask for a rent reduction or deferral to get through the pandemic.

Melbourne renter and app designer Ari Yeung told the ABC last week that despite the law being on her side, she felt powerless when her landlord sent an eviction notice in June.

“We were in the middle of a pandemic. I just felt like, being in a pressure cooker, basically. Having to find a place that was safe, that was suitable,” she said.

She had to scramble to find a new home in July.

Anecdotally, this shuffling of people around the city continues.

Online posting boards still have a steady stream of ads, prompting thousands of replies and applications.

For personal trainer Matt Leitinger, the pandemic has proven a surprising time to move house and become a landlord for the first time.

The 29-year-old co-owns his home in Melbourne’s inner east with his brother, and an unexpected opportunity came up to move into a bigger property nearby.

They recently advertised their three-bedroom townhouse at $650 a week, and three weeks later accepted an offer of $630.

“I expected it to take at least two months because a house similar to ours in the same block took that long to lease back in March,” Mr Leitinger said.

“At the time we listed it there were actually no inspections happening.”

He now has to figure out the logistics of moving and ideally would have liked help from his parents, who live in regional Victoria and outside the metro zone.

“We have to figure out exactly what’s permitted under the current restrictions,” he said.

While Melbourne’s renting scene has been hard hit, analysts say it’s still too early to say if the market has bottomed out.

And whether Mr Leitinger’s experience could be a one-off or signal a rebound.

“Elevated rental vacancy rates in Sydney and Melbourne continue to push city rents downwards,” SQM Research managing director Louis Christopher said.

“This is particularly the case in the CBD and inner-ring suburbs close to the CBDs.

“In short, in September, the population was still looking to stay away from the large cities.

“We think this trend may soon reverse, but to what extent remains a mystery.”

By Patrick Wood (Original ABC Article)

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