Wollongong and the South Coast remain top destinations for residents leaving capital cities, though restrictions on movement during Sydney's lockdown has slowed migration to the area, according to a new report.
The latest figures from the Regional Australia Institute and the Commonwealth Bank found that the Wollongong local government area accounted for three per cent of capital to regional migration during the September quarter.
That's half the number recorded in the previous quarter, though still enough to make Wollongong the fourth most popular destination for those leaving the big smoke.
Total migration out of capital cities jumped by 14 per cent in the quarter, according to the Regional Movers Index, which tracks changes to Commonwealth bank customer addresses.
At least 100 people must have migrated to an LGA to be counted in the index.
Queensland's Gold Coast was the most popular destination, followed by the Sunshine Coast, Greater Geelong, and then Wollongong and Lake Macquarie.
Migration to the region from capital cities was up nine per cent over the past 12 months.
RAI chief economist Dr Kim Houghton said that Wollongong had cemented itself as a top sea change destination, though the Sydney lockdown had meant growth had tapered slightly in the most recent quarter due to restrictions on movement.
Pointing to the significant increase in outbound migration from Melbourne between lockdowns, recorded in previous RAI surveys, Dr Houghton predicted that the end of Sydney's lockdown would lead to a boost in moves to Wollongong in the last quarter of 2021.
"Given a lot of the moves are into Wollongong from Sydney, I would expect that to go up a bit," he said.
He said that the nine per cent annual increase was still a significant number of people and that the influx was likely being felt by local businesses.
"Nine per cent more people, the community would definitely feel that increased growth. It's much stronger internal migration growth [than previous years]," he said.
Areas such as Wingecarribee, in the Southern Highlands, and the Shoalhaven were also proving a hit with former city dwellers, with their share of migration standing at 11 per cent and 5 per cent for the year.
While rising house prices in Wollongong wouldn't deter Sydneysiders from moving, they could have an impact on retirees looking to settle on the South Coast.
"What [rising house prices] will put a dent in is people wanting to downshift or retire," he said.
Buyers agent Jack Corbett, of Corbett Property Buyers, said that 75 per cent of his clients were based in Sydney and looking to move to Wollongong and surrounds for the "lifestyle and affordability".
Demand had picked up considerably since the onset of the pandemic, particularly from buyers in Sydney's inner west.
"The biggest reason is the changing work landscape. For a lot of people, 12 or 18 months ago it wasn't an option to live this far out of Sydney and work in the city," he said.
"I've now got people working in North Sydney and living in Wollongong and they commute a couple of days a week."
The increased flexibility meant buyers were no longer confined to northern suburbs like Thirroul and instead would look "as far south as Figtree," he added.
Commonwealth Bank Executive General Manager for Regional and Agribusiness Banking, Grant Cairns predicted that flexible work arrangements would remain a fixture in the years ahead, leading to a sustained level of outbound migration from capital cities.
"Despite the lockdowns in New South Wales and Victoria, we have seen key projects - such as infrastructure projects - create more jobs in the regions," Mr Cairns said.
"More job opportunities combined with the fact that many Australians have the opportunity to work remotely means we will likely continue to see a shift in the number of people choosing to live in the regions," he added.