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Geelong leads pandemic population surge

Geelong saw the largest population increase during the pandemic as homebuyers sought out more space and an escape from the city.

The latest data on population growth by small area from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) shows Geelong’s population increased by 7157 per year compared to the long term average of 5074 over the course of the pandemic.

Buxton Newtown Director Ben Riddle said people were flocking to Geelong last year thanks to a perfect storm of lockdowns and record low interest rates.

“Last year, was all about Covid-trapped people in the big city wanting to escape and also the ongoing increase in tree changers combining with low interest rates that gave us a 12 to 15-month run that just wasn’t foreseeable,” Mr Riddle said.

“Prices exceeded 20 per cent growth in nearly every suburb of Geelong and people were buying property sight unseen and bidding online from video tours and it just added fuel to the fire.

“A lot of it was artificial and no one could really predict what would happen with buying behaviours.”

Ray White Group Chief Economist Nerida Conisbee said many other areas had seen a move away from the larger cities over the past 18 months.

“While Geelong was a major people attractor, so too was the outer Brisbane area of Logan-Beaudesert,” Ms Conisbee said.

“A search for bigger homes on bigger blocks resulted in much stronger population growth for this area. 

“The Hunter Valley came in third with similar drivers to Geelong – a search for space was key, but so too were changes to the way people were working through the pandemic which allowed for greater choice of location.

The Hunter Valley saw a 5280 person population increase during the pandemic compared to the 20-year average of 3639. While Latrobe – Gippsland jumped by 4316 people compared to the historical average of 2968.

Ms Conisbee said areas within a driveable distance benefited most during the pandemic.

“The majority of top pandemic growth regions were either outer suburban areas of capital cities or regional locations close to capital cities,” she said.

“The one outlier was the Murray region of NSW where population growth was more than double the long term average. 

“The Murray region includes the towns of Albury, Hay and Deniliquin, none of which are within commuting distance to any capital city. 

“It is likely that the popularity of this area is part lifestyle change but also due to some bumper agricultural conditions that have been seen over the past two years.”

With the pandemic continuing to ease, Ms Conisbee believes some areas are still likely to see further population growth.

“It is possible that many of these areas will see even greater population growth in the next 12 months,” she said.

“International borders are open again which means that migration to Australia is starting up again. 

“The momentum in many of these areas is set to continue.”

Mr Riddle said while still a popular location, population movements in Geelong have now gone back to pre-pandemic levels.

“We’re now seeing one in four or one in five buyers who are wanting to relocate from Melbourne – that’s back to normal rates,” he said.

“The threat of interest rate rises and the election have also had a curbing effect on what we were seeing last year.”

“The market is becoming more predictable now and is on a more even playing field.

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Rowan Crosby

Rowan Crosby is a freelance journalist specialising in finance and real estate.