Londoners left the city in their droves during the pandemic, choosing to relocate to more rural areas – but new statistics suggest the exodus is beginning to turn around.

Data from Rightmove shows London has become the runaway leader as the most-searched UK location for house-hunting, while estate agents estimate the number of people moving further afield has dropped by around 20% in the space of a year.

Here, Which? delves into the figures, and offers advice on things to bear in mind if you’re considering a new place to live.

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London exodus slows after pandemic

Figures from Hamptons suggest the mass departure from London has passed its peak, with the ‘escape to the country’ trend starting to wind down. 

An estimated 81,200 people bought a property outside London in 2022, down from 100,540 in 2021.

In 2022, Londoners bought 7.3% of all homes sold outside the UK’s biggest city, down from 2021’s 14-year high of 7.8%. 

Aneisha Beveridge, head of research at Hamptons, said: ‘While 2021 was dominated by space seekers swapping the bright city lights for pastures green, 2022 signalled the return to the office. 

‘That said, the widespread popularity of flexible working has meant Londoners continue to move that little bit further out of the city to gain more space, meaning outmigration numbers remain higher than pre-Covid times.’

Could London gain popularity in 2023?

Hamptons predicts the pace of outmigration from London will cool further in 2023, as demand from the Covid-related trend wanes. 

What’s more, despite some workplaces offering flexible hybrid working models, commuting from far afield isn’t feasible for everyone. Plus, the wages on offer in the city are unlikely to be matched in the further out areas popular during the pandemic.

It’s worth bearing in mind that while London outmigration dropped by around a fifth last year, the housing market across the whole of the UK was slower in 2022 – compared to the uptick in 2021 caused by the stamp duty holiday.

Overall, there were around 300,000 fewer property sales last year – so, it could be argued that the fall in London movers just reflects the national picture.

    London most-searched destination ahead of prime coastal spots

    In 2021, London narrowly fended off Cornwall to be the most-searched location on property portal Rightmove. The southwestern county even replaced London at the top spot for several months as people looked to relocate to the coast.

    It was a different story in 2022, with the trend reversing and searches for London increasing by 9% while searches for Cornwall and its neighbour Devon dropped by 18% and by 17% respectively.

    End-of-year data shows London had 36% more buyer searches than Cornwall, which is the biggest gap since 2019. 

    Bristol and Glasgow rounded out the top five as the most-searched UK areas for property hunters last year.

      Higher house prices put off people wanting to relocate

      Hefty house price increases in UK regions – especially in south-east and south-west England – has made it harder for prospective movers to up sticks and leave London.

      While prices in surrounding regions shot up by double-digit figures, London itself recorded the slowest rate of annual house price growth (7.1%) from November 2021 to November 2022.

      Halifax data shows six London boroughs – Islington, Tower Hamlets, Westminster, Lambeth, Southward, Lewisham and Camden – were among the top 20 places in the UK with the weakest annual house price growth.

      The graph below reveals how the city fared against the UK’s other 11 regions across the 12-month period, using data from Halifax.

      How far are Londoners moving?

      For those who are leaving, Londoners are having to move further afield to get the space they require.

      On average, buyers purchased property 34 miles from the city in 2022 – 1.2 miles further away than in 2021, according to data from Hamptons.

      However, this varied depending on the type of buyer. Existing homeowners, for example, relocated an average of 27 miles away from London, while first-time buyers tended to buy properties that were a bit closer. Investors seeking higher rental yields bought properties furthest from the city, as shown in the table below:

      The popular new locations for London buyers

      Many prospective buyers from London have been looking further than the traditional commuter belt hotspots. 

      For example, Hamptons data shows that in 2019 just 1% of applicants registering to buy in Wiltshire came from London. But in 2022, 16% of prospective buyers were looking to move from the city – the biggest increase of London buyers.

      Swale – a Kent borough home to the historic town of Faversham – and Mid Sussex, which features the likes of East Grinstead and Haywards Heath, have also proved popular with Londoners moving out of the city.

      The table below shows the areas that have gained the most interest from those planning to leave London, using data from Hamptons.

      How to decide where to live

      Whether you’re thinking of moving closer to London, or elsewhere in the UK, there are lots of factors to think about when trying to find a location that suits your lifestyle. Here are some points to consider before making any firm choices:

      Are there nearby shops and facilities?

      If you enjoy eating out regularly, does the area have good local restaurants? Or a gym, if you like to work out? Have a think about what kind of services you’ll want to use regularly, including things like bank branches and GP surgeries. 

      What are the transport connections like?

      If you’ll need to commute to work, how easy would it be? If you don’t drive, you might want to check how much buses or trains cost, and how frequent they are.

      Are you in a school catchment area?

      If you have children, or you’re planning to have them, you can check catchment areas for local schools on the local authority’s website. That way, you can make sure any prospective properties are within the boundaries if you have a particular school in mind.

      Are there any flood risks?

      Depending on the geography of the local area, sometimes you can find yourself in a floodplain despite being nowhere near the coast or a river. You can check the risk of flooding on the UK government’s flood maps.

      What are crime rates like?

      It’s a good idea to check how crime rates and types compare with other areas. You can find crime maps by postcode on the website.

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