The coronavirus pandemic has triggered a seismic shift on where the working Australian chooses to live. The technological wonders of the Internet have made many workers realise that their normal nine-to-five doesn’t always have to be confined to the conventional office building. 

“What was considered idyllic is increasingly becoming the reality for most people,” says Simon Pressley, head of research at market intelligence and buyer’s agency firm Propertyology. “Instead of where one lives being determined by where one works, there is a shift with people now living in a location that they truly love while bringing their jobs with them.”

Pressley describes the work-from-home (WFH) phenomenon as a “structural change,” which will have a profound impact on Australia’s real estate market for the years to come.

What makes a location ideal for remote work?

Propertyology’s recent analysis tipped New South Wale’s Bryon Bay as “arguably the best pre-COVID prototype Australian location for working from home.”

According to the study, 13.4% of Byron Bay’s workforce nominated “home” as their primary work address at the 2016 census. The number is three times the national average of 4.7%.

Additionally, almost half (48%) of the town’s labour force have occupation types that fall into the categories of professionals, managers, or clerical assistants – many of whom can opt to do their jobs remotely if it suits them.

“Few could question the idyllic lifestyle of the seaside township in northern New South Wales,” says Pressley, who is also a Real Estate Institute of Australia (REIA) hall of famer. “What’s not to like about year-round great weather, beautiful beaches, and plethora of great café and restaurants?”

Pressley says Bryon Bay’s geographical location is also an advantage.

“Whenever Byron residents need to go to the big-smoke, Brisbane (two hours) and Gold Coast (one hour) are an easy drive up the highway, while the nearby Ballina-Byron airport has daily flights to other major cities,” he says. “It’s no coincidence that total passenger volumes have increased over the years such that the airport significantly improved its ranking from being Australia’s 40th biggest carrier in 1993 to 1994 to 17th in 2019 to 2020.”

According to Propertyology’s data, the city has a mature age demographic, with a large proportion consisting of 40 to 69-year-olds, and a smaller portion of families with children at 38.1%, which is well below the national average of 44.7%.

Byron Bay also boasts a high number of homeowners with above-average incomes. While real estate in the town is “incredibly pricey,” 36% of households have fully repaid their mortgages, above the national average of 31%, says Pressley.

The median house price in Bryon Bay is $995,000, according to Propertyology’s June figures.

Which locations are tipped to be the next work-from-home hotspots?

Pressley admits that living in Byron Bay is not for everyone as he understands that only a few can afford to buy a property in a town with the country’s highest median house price.

“But a beautiful gift created by the societal circuit-breaker known as COVID-19 will be the evolution of a bunch of ‘alternative Byron Bays’ across Australia,” he says. “When considering where these locations will emerge, one first ponders the various (subjective) lifestyle factors that help people feel relaxed; things that holidays are planned around – surfing, bushwalking, village life, a stroll along the beach, looking out over rolling hills and wineries, food cultures, and mountain biking.”

Among the locations across the country with the highest portion of work-from-home employers, according to the 2016 census are the coastal towns of Surf Coast (12.8%) and Bass Coast (8%) in Victoria, Kiama (11.4%) and Ballina (8.3%) in New South Wales, Noosa (10.8%) in Queensland, Esperance (8.8%) in Western Australia, and Victor Harbour (6.9%) in South Australia.

Locations that boast wineries and foodie cultures include SA’s Adelaide Hills (13.8%), WA’s Margaret River (8.7%), and Victoria’s Macedon Ranges (11.1%) and Mornington Peninsula (8%).

Meanwhile, Golden Plains (16.9%) and Warragul (9.2%) in Victoria, Scenic Rim (12.3%) and Maleny (11.9%) in Queensland, and NSW’s Armidale (6.8%) are emerging locations with various inland wonders.

How will remote work impact the future of Australia’s property market?

“From a property market perspective, it is completely irrelevant whether you personally might or might not WFH,” Pressley says. “What is relevant is that, when Australians complete the next census survey on 10 August 2021, the percentage of the national workforce permanently working from home is likely to be significantly more than the 4.7% in August 2016.”

“Imagine if Australia’s total WFH workforce increased to just 10%. That would mean that, in a country with 10.5 million households, 1.3 million people will be earning their income with ‘home’ being their workplace,” he says.

Pressley says he sees a “transference of housing demand away from congested and expensive capital cities and towards more relaxed parts of regional Australia.”

He adds that part of the appeal of these lifestyle locations is that these areas do not have high-density populations, meaning a population intake of 100 to 200 people annually through internal migration can put “reasonable pressure” on housing demand.

“Up to now, the primary driver for those wanting to live inner-city was that they worked there,” Pressley says. “Given the shift towards WFH, skill level 4 and 5 job losses, and a desire to close to open spaces, it is blatantly obvious that demand for inner-city apartments will wane.”

Propertyology’s recent data shows that the population of Australia’s eight capital cities dropped by 53,000 through net internal migration over the three years ending in June 2019.

“I won’t be surprised at all if this pushes past 100,000 people over the next three years,” Pressley says.