Many regional centres are welcoming tree changers with open arms, but anyone making the move should first know about the local climate and customs.
While some city dwellers have been moving to the regions for more space and affordability for years, the trend has accelerated following a widespread shift to remote working prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.
In Bowral, the largest town in the Southern Highlands of NSW, the population has grown substantially as city buyers flocked to the area.
But be warned – new home buyers in Bowral were often not aware of the colder weather in the region, local real estate agent Duncan Hill Property principal Duncan Hill said.
“It’s definitely a colder climate here in the highlands,” he said.
Mr Hill recommended new residents set the central heating to about 21 degrees and dress warmly to save on electricity costs.
The area has been so popular that school waiting lists were growing longer.
“There have definitely been buyers from Sydney and a few from Melbourne,” Mr Hill said. “They’re been looking for size and space and a little bit more distance from the neighbours.”
City dwellers might not be used to it, but Bowral had a friendly atmosphere.
“What I love about Bowral and the other areas like Berrima and Moss Vale is that you can walk down the street and say hello to people,” he said.
“In Sydney you don’t get that. And, you can talk to people you don’t necessarily know.”
Being aware of the varied climate is also handy for tree changers moving to the regional Victorian cities of Ballarat and Bendigo.
Temperatures there swing wildly from hot to cold through the seasons.
“It can test your patience,” Bendigo Real Estate principal Nekti Tzouroutis said with a laugh.
But Bendigo offered an oasis for those living in smaller houses in the city, and had its own unique culture, he said.
“Bendigo is all about being positive and working together,” Mr Tzouroutis said. “I’ve always said it’s an oversized country town with all the features and benefits.”
Like other regional cities, home buyers had been flooding in.
“We’ve been inundated over the past eight weeks even through the worst of the lockdown by buyers from Melbourne and Queensland,” he said. “Some of them were buying sight unseen.”
Although many tree changers plan to keep their city jobs and work from home, there are also local jobs to consider.
Commerce Ballarat chair Nick Thurlbeck highlighted a new state government-built office for public servants, GovHub, which will relocate hundreds of positions from Melbourne.
It would offer up to 2000 new roles for government workers, he said, and was expected to be completed next year.
In recent months, buyers had come to the regional city for cheaper house prices and also the popular local foodie scene.
“Ballarat has excellent universities and it has excellent employment opportunities and the cost of living is low,” Mr Thurlbeck said.
“There are some absolutely beautiful regions you can live in that are rural or semi-rural as well as the CBD.”
Some regional centres are more cosmopolitan than city dwellers might realise.
Wollongong, south of Sydney, has a thriving arts and theatre scene that some potential buyers might not be aware of, Wollongong City acting lord mayor Tania Brown said.
She noted the Merrigong Theatre Company, where she is on the board of directors.
The influx of sea change buyers are filling some of the gap left by a lack of international migrants, including international students, currently being kept out of Australia due to COVID-19.
“I think as a university town, we’re quite used to welcoming people including those with a multicultural background,” Cr Brown said. “We have a very multicultural community.”
She pointed to amenities such as 17 of the “world’s best beaches”, beautiful coastal walks including the Blue Mile Pathway and improvements to bike paths to make it easier to get around.