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COVID-19 sparks biggest London exodus since Brexit

Kumutha Ramanathan
·2 min read
Guildford is a picturesque market and university town in Surrey. this photo shows the town hall clock and the steep slope of the high street going towards the River Wey.
Guildford has seen a massive uptick in real estate interest as city dwellers clamour to get out of the capital in the wake of COVID-19. Photo: Getty

City dwellers are leaving London in record numbers for the capital’s commuter belt in the wake of COVID-19.

That’s according to research from estate agency Hamptons and boutique property developer Clearview Developments.

Hamptons’ research showed an estimated 73,950 homebuyers left London in 2020 — a four year high. In contrast, commuter towns such as Kent and Surrey have seen the largest gains.

The last time London saw such a dramatic outflow was 2016, when the UK voted to leave the European Union. Homebuying in London’s highly competitive capital was destabilised at the time, with some nervous buyers pulling out of deals or attempting to renegotiate prices.

The latest 2020 observations are aligned with those of Clearview, which said on Tuesday that 50% of their Bargate House development in Guildford sold within two weeks, whilst an additional 25% have received offers, leaving just one unit open for sale.

“The demand for our Guildford project has been overwhelming,” said Jason Tema, Director at Clearview Developments.

“Although we have always witnessed a high demand from house hunters, we can see that the market has become extremely competitive due to an increasing number of city dwellers looking to relocate.”

Rightmove said the number of enquiries from London residents looking for a village lifestyle on its property portal had risen by 144%.

READ MORE: UK chancellor Rishi Sunak unveils £4.6bn lockdown lifeline for firms and workers

With COVID-19 sparking a stronger desire for city dwellers to move out of the capital in search of space, London’s once hot office property market is drying up. In Knight Frank’s second quarter report, it said the vacancy rate rose to 6.1%, the weakest quarter on record for leasing.

Major UK retail and leisure landlords Capital & Counties (CAPC.L) and Shaftesbury (SHB.L) have also been trading at sharp discounts as the country faces looming coronavirus restrictions, which have discouraged workers from returning to offices as they hunker down at home to get work done.

Capital & Counties shares have taken a further hit of late as the UK government announced its latest lockdown for the nation. Chart: Yahoo Finance
Capital & Counties shares have taken a further hit of late as the UK government announced its latest lockdown for the nation. Chart: Yahoo Finance

The UK government’s Monday announcement of a third wave of lockdowns in the nation as it battles to control COVID-19 cases. The fresh restrictions will likely make potential home buyers continue to look outside London.

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