The Irish have a lengthy history of emigrating. However, a record 29,000 Irish nationals returned home in the year to April 2020, the highest in more than a decade. And this was before the epidemic took hold. a
Since then, the tendency has become much more pronounced. According to Ray Palmer-Smith, of Knight Frank New Homes in Ireland, more than 20% of the top new-home residential transactions negotiated by Knight Frank in Dublin over the last 12 months have been sold to Irish expatriates seeking to buy a property in Ireland. And he anticipates that number will rise this year as international travel restrictions relax.
“Being closer to family has been the overwhelming reason many customers have cited for purchasing, but the Irish government’s reaction to the epidemic has also been highlighted as a good factor,” Mr. Palmer-Smith added.
Ireland is not the only nation seeing a surge in interest from expatriates wanting to come home as a result of the Covid-19 issue. According to The Economist, between the start of the epidemic and June 2020, about 15,000 US citizens were returned from Asia. Knight Frank has also seen an increase in activity from expatriates seeking to return home to the United Kingdom, France, Australia, and New Zealand.
They come from all over the globe, according to Kate Everett-Allen, Knight Frank’s director of international residential research, who adds that it is “more about distance than place.”
“Expats who were more than eight hours away from home will probably toconsider purchasing a property back home, either as a second home, permanent move, or what we called a 50/50 home,” she explained, referring to a house that would serve as a base in the home country and to which expats might return permanently in the future.
More Expats to buy Property in their Home Country
According to a Knight Frank study released last summer following the initial wave of the epidemic, 64 percent of expatriates said the lockdown impacted their choice to purchase a house in their home country. According to Ms. Everett-Allen, some people have already moved, while others are still “throwing feelers out” in the midst of the epidemic.According to Hugo Thistlethwayte, Savills’ head of international residential, there are two types of European expats: those who go abroad when they are young, advance quickly in their careers, and then decide to return home for their children’s education, and those who stay for the majority of their careers and return to Europe to retire.
“It’s a pattern that’s been going on forever—people go overseas and then return,” he said, adding that he has seen more of it since the epidemic. “A lot of people, even expats, are rethinking what they want to do right now… and they may be at the more extreme end of it since they are often far from home.”
The Allure of Family
According to the Knight Frank study, the most common reason for returning home was to be closer to family and a support network.
“[The epidemic] is causing individuals to ask themselves, ‘What do I want from life?’” said Victoria Garrett, of Knight Frank Asia-Pacific. “Being an expat, you never considered not being able to return home and what that meant…it was always, ‘You can hop on a flight.’”
The report’s author, Ms. Everett-Allen, believes the trend is related to specific generations of expatriates, “especially those who have children who may have been at boarding school situated overseas, or those with elderly parents and wanting to be closer to them.”
A less important, but still significant, reason cited was worry about air travel limitations and the difficulty of quarantining after visiting home nations.
“I’m a mother with two children, I’ve quarantined on my own for two weeks, and the idea of quarantining with my two children is not something I want to do,” Ms. Garrett, who lives in Singapore, said. “Many individuals are wondering, ‘I’m separated from my loved ones; if I go, how simple would it be to return?’ [And] what does the future hold for me if I can’t travel easily?'”
People who have small children and those who have elderly parents are not the only ones who have changed their goals. Younger individuals, it seems, are also opting to return home.
“Younger expats can no longer go throughout Asia,” said Zoltan Szelyes, of Zurich-based Macro Real Estate AG.
He said that he has received anecdotal reports of numerous Swiss individuals returning from places such as Singapore.
“Life is difficult right now—challenging and boring,” he said. “They’re essentially locked in.”
Ms. Garrett has also seen a reverse trend, with Singaporeans living overseas deciding to return home.
“[The government] was very aggressive in saying to its people all over the world, ‘If you want to return home, come back and be here,’” she said. “I believe it is the same driver—being separated from family, not knowing how simple it is to travel, and also from a safety standpoint, when you look at the pandemic, [Singapore has] been very on top of it, really quick when instances flare up.”
Returning to a Quieter Life
While there has been an increase in enquiries for large rural houses in Ireland, Mr. Palmer-Smith said Dublin has dominated, with closeness to family being a key attraction, as well as access to excellent schools and facilities such as parks and beaches.
He has seen increasing focus on established residential areas around the central business district (CBD), such as Dublin 4’s Ballsbridge and Sandymount, as well as Blackrock and Mount Merrion farther south. The emphasis has been on projects with unit prices ranging from €850,000 ($US1 million) to €8.47 million.
Mr. Palmer-Smith said that he works with Irish expats in Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and North America, some of whom have completed purchases without seeing the homes in person.
The countryside has become increasingly popular in the United Kingdom. According to Mr. Thistlethwayte of Savills, returning expats are opting for more rural locations rather than London.
“Family is frequently a pull that will determine where they will be—often it’s the reason they are returning,” he added. “However, they are not trading a huge Asian metropolis for downtown London. They may return to enjoy a pied-a-terre in London, but they usually return to live a calmer life.”
Ms. Garrett has seen a similar tendency in the countryside of the United Kingdom.
“With the [temporary] stamp duty adjustments in the United Kingdom, it caused individuals to think, ‘Actually, maybe now is the time to purchase that asset and have it ready for when I do go home,’” she said.
According to the Knight Frank study, French expats choose spacier places such as the Alps over downtown Paris. It highlighted that the kinds of houses most often sought by returning expats were not high-yielding assets that could be leased out half the year, but rather properties in which expatriates might ultimately retire and utilize as a part-time base in the meanwhile.
According to Mr. Thistlethwayte, some British expats coming to the West from Asia or the Middle East may begin with a second residence in another European nation, such as Portugal, Spain, or other places with golden visa-type programs.
“They don’t always return to the realm of full taxation on day one,” he said. “It’s a tough pill to take if you’ve been living overseas for a long period and not paying much tax.”
He added that Portugal, as well as other European holiday destinations such as Verbier in the Swiss Alps, are still “quite a bit closer than if you’re on the other side of the globe.” They also offer thriving international communities and excellent international schools to cater to individuals who have previously had second homes but are now wanting to stay longer.
“What we do know is that individuals are spending more time in their second houses or even relocating to them,” Mr. Thistlethwayte said.