We knew people were leaving their city pads – and London in particular – to head into the country last year as a result of coronavirus. We just weren’t exactly sure where they were heading. Until now, that is.

The results show that actually, many of them were heading to Cambridge, and the commuter town of Huntingdon in particular. Further north, Pontefract in West Yorkshire was also popular and so too was the Norfolk seaside town Great Yarmouth. 

Those were the top three locations (in order) for property purchased during 2020 in England and Wales according to government statistics and research carried out by specialist mortgage company Haysto.

Paul Coss, specialist mortgage broker at Haysto confirmed Covid-19 had altered the landscape when it came to UK property. 

He added: “I truly believe that when we come out of lockdown and the economy starts to bounce back, this could be a good year to move or get on the property ladder.”

Also hitting the high popularity spots were (also in order) Preston, Chichester, Chorley, Doncaster, Bury St Edmonds, Spalding and Bedford.

The top 10 table was based on the number of properties sold per 10,000 people. The numbers for Huntingdon, with a population of 26,000 people, was 400 properties per 10,000, Pontefract was 328 and Great Yarmouth, 320.

Cities losing out to countryside yearnings

Interestingly, all of the places featuring in the top 10 property popularity purchases – with the exception of Preston and Doncaster – all had populations of less than 100,000. Whereas bigger cities such as Birmingham, Manchester and Portsmouth saw demand for housing fall in comparison. 

The desire to move to more rural locations as a result of increased flexible working and a change of lifestyle, was also noted by popular property portal Rightmove last week. They announced that the most searched for location on its search engine in February was Cornwall, closely followed by Devon. In fact, searches for the village of Stithians near Truro was up 224% compared with last year, just before the pandemic in the UK. Other areas proving popular include the Isle of Skye, Norfolk and quiet villages in neighbouring East Sussex.

Exodus to country affecting commercial property

And it’s not only residential properties in further-flung locations that are proving popular – owners of commercial property have also witnessed a move from city to country. Office space company IWG had noted an additional one-fifth of queries concerned offices in country locations and as much as one-third for suburban offices. In contrast, demand for city offices had fallen by as more than one-tenth.

Whether this continues once lockdown is lifted remains to be seen. Although, new government legislation espousing flexible working is expected to be announced at some point later this year. The Bill, which makes flexible working the default position for companies, was announced in the Queens Speech in 2019. 

It’s believed this will include logging in from home and other forms of remote working. What it means in effect is that companies will have to come up with a good reason not to allow employees to work flexibly. And that can only mean more interest in property in quieter, countryside locations.