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One in six Australians have changed living arrangements due to COVID-19, survey shows

By Emma Smith

About one in six Australians have changed their living arrangements due to the coronavirus pandemic, a new survey shows.

Australians are moving home to their parents, taking on additional housemates, delaying plans to move and even selling up – in a small number of cases – amid COVID-19, according to the St. George Bank Property Monitor, released on Tuesday.

Of the more than 1000 Australians surveyed in early April, about 16 per cent had already changed their living arrangements due to COVID-19. Some 12 per cent had made an active change – having moved home or had others move in with them. Another 3 per cent had delayed plans to move, and the remaining 1 per cent had made other unspecified changes.

St. George Bank general manager Ross Miller said the economic impact of COVID-19 was making many Australians revise their living situation.

“The most impacted were singles, who had made the decision to move back home with their parents, or delay moving out. This seems to complement the ‘stay at home’ environment that we are in, where families are clearly delaying big moving decisions,” Mr Miller said.

Those in New South Wales and the ACT were most affected, with 18 per cent reporting a change. This was followed by those in Victoria and Western Australia, where 17 per cent and 15 per cent of people had changed their living arrangements.

Single parents were hardest hit, with almost 30 per cent having made an active move – with 12 per cent moving into shared living arrangements.

Meanwhile renters were more likely to move than home owners, singles more likely to move than those in relationships and people with dependent children were 45 per cent more likely to have made a change.

More than one in 10 people have already moved home or had someone move in with them because of COVID-19. Photo: Stocksy

Demographer Mark McCrindle of McCrindle Research said the pandemic was having a dramatic impact on living arrangements and would likely push the number of people per household – at 2.6 people at the last census – higher.

“About 12 per cent have actively had a move or change, that’s phenomenal, that’s three million Australians who have already had some household shifts, which would make it one of the biggest internal migrations we’ve ever had,” Mr McCrindle said.

He put changes down to a mix of financial, emotional and health reasons. From households changed to accommodate elderly parents, to the couples who decided to move in together, or the students – studying away from home – and those out of work, who had returned to the family nest.

Mr McCrindle expected the numbers to rise in the coming months, and felt the pandemic could have long-term impacts on what people valued in a home – increasing preferences for flexible spaces and a prompting a potential rethink of shrinking dwelling sizes and growing reliance on shared spaces.

Never in recent years have we put our homes to such intensive use, said Mark McCrindle. Photo: iStock

The rental market saw a big jump in new listings over the past month, Domain economist Trent Wiltshire said.

“Supply has increased because of Airbnb effect and people who were looking to sell now putting homes up for rent,” he said. “Meanwhile demand has dropped off because of all these changes people have made to try and save money, like moving in with family, friends, partners, and kids moving back to the family home.”

Despite the changes, the survey also found 47 per cent of people thought now may be a good time to buy property, but only 14 per cent felt it was a good time to sell. More than half would hold out for further price falls before purchasing – with this figure climbing to about 70 per cent for Millennials and Generation Z – and about half of home owners said they would delay buying or selling.

“We’re going to see a big slowdown in property sales over the next few months, as people hold out either because they don’t want to buy [while job security is a concern], or they might think prices are going to fall further,” Mr Wiltshire said.

Almost half of those surveyed felt now could be a good time to buy a property. Photo: iStock

However, he said some market activity would continue as people with stable jobs, particularly those looking to upsize, took advantage of price falls. He added new listings, which had started to drop off, would likely continue their downward trajectory, but said mortgage relief and other financial support should limit forced selling.

Mr Miller said the Westpac Group, which St. George is part of, had received more than 44,000 applications for home loan deferrals since announcing its COVID-19 support package last month.

While there has been some market slowdown, Mr Miller said, the upside was many were still keeping a close eye on property.

“Those who aren’t on the property ladder, they are watching the property market closely, and they will take advantage of the market if they can afford it. This could be comforting news for sellers, particularly those who might not want to delay their property movements,” he said.

James Algar of Mortgage Choice said some pre-approved buyers had decided to park their plans, but he was still taking on new clients who wanted to be prepared to purchase if the market slid.

“Overall pre-approvals are slightly off, maybe down 10 per cent,” he said. “We’ve still got probably more first-home buyers than [anyone] else keeping an eye on the market … [but] anyone who was just looking to expand or for an investment, seems to have chilled their boots.”

Mr Algar had also seen an increase in home owners looking to refinance, with some clients flagging plans to move in with family if mortgage repayments became difficult to meet.

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