Migration, housing demand and the coronavirus pandemic

Many countries around the world are past their peak coronavirus death toll, researchers are in open dialogue about antibody tests, potential vaccines are undergoing human trials – now what?

To date at least, Australia has the privilege of reinforcing its title as the lucky country. Less than 100 fatalities on our island nation so far compare to approximately 30,000 in Italy, 29,000 in the UK and 70,000 in the US. Our neighbours across the Tasman are ahead of us on easing lockdowns which is a convenient resource of foresight.

Hopefully, the worst is behind us. If that’s the case, we will eventually be heading into the aftermath of this pandemic which means a whole lot of cleaning up to do – both literally and metaphorically. Governments around the world will have to deal with the huge amount of debt they accrued to keep their economies as buoyant as possible, airlines will have to get their planes back in the air and many of us will be faced with the life decisions we were contemplating before this all began, alongside some new ones.

Every month, somewhere between 40,000 and 80,000 foreign residents decide to call Australia home. At the same time, a smaller number of Australians decide to call elsewhere home. This exchange of people and families across borders contributes about 250,000 heads to the net yearly growth of Australia’s population and thus, demand for housing. Although the statistics for March and April are yet to be released, it’s pretty safe to say our migration numbers have plummeted. In the short term, this will likely persist, but many argue that the long-term effect will be an increased demand to live in Australia.

The potential short-term impacts of declining immigration in Australia have been remarked upon widely in the media, particularly when it comes to demand for housing. The obverse point, however, is often missed: Australians aren’t leaving our shores (usually a loss of about 25,000 people each month) and many of us living overseas have returned home. Although those now remaining and returning home mitigate some of our growth shortfall (as well as a possible pandemic baby boom), the vast majority of our usual international arrivals are in the form of short-term visits (usually about 780,000 per month) which fuel the tourism industry.

As property investors, we can be cautiously optimistic about the short-term nature of coronavirus-related travel restrictions but those who depend on tourism will likely face much greater struggles. It will be important for us to keep this in mind when we finally face our clean-up challenge, just as we did in the aftermath of the bushfires.

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