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Revealed – How has Covid affected global housing market trends?

Few places remain unaffected by the Covid-19 pandemic, with cases fluctuating across the nation, but still high overall. Domestically, as far as the property market is concerned, there is still confidence among home movers who hope to benefit from the stamp duty holiday before the March 31 deadline.

But with the virus affecting international travel, local economies and personal plans, what can expats - those looking to escape the UK for a life elsewhere - expect from their potential house move? Equally, how does the UK currently hold up for those eager to make Britain their home.

Aetna International looked at the current and new trends in global housing markets to determine how the pandemic has changed the housing landscape across the world.


It analysed house price, mortgage and rental metrics from 2015 onwards, to predict how specific markets should have looked in 2020. It then compared these predictions to the latest data to uncover usual trends that could be attributed to Covid-19.

We outline the key findings below.


Despite projected growth, the relative change between mid-2019 and mid-2020 was -5.1% for mortgage as a percentage of income and -6.2% for price-to-income.

The study reveals that, relatively speaking, house prices in China are falling. These low prices may explain reports from 2020 that suggest sales are booming in China – probably due to buyers taking advantage of affordable mortgages.


In Germany, both rental and buying markets are lower than predicted. Price-to-income and mortgage as a percentage of income both saw a decrease of 0.7%, while price-to-rent ratios dropped inside and outside major cities by 0.9% and 2.9% respectively.

As such, buying property is currently more favourable than renting – a potential issue for expats considering a short-term move.

The nation’s proactive response to the first wave of Covid may well be a reason for the relatively low impact on Germany’s housing markets, which was not impacted as badly as similar countries, such as the UK.

Hong Kong

In recent years, Hong Kong has maintained a steady buying and rental market. However, in 2020, the rate of growth in the rental market slowed and both price-to-income ratio and mortgage as a percentage of income bucked predicted trends, with the former dropping by 11.9% from mid-2019 and mid-2020.

As a result, the affordability of buying a property has increased for many families on an average income.


The Indonesia buying market has seen notable divergence from predictions. Since mid-2019, mortgage as a percentage of income rose by 58.9% and price-to-income ratio increased by 41.3%, making housing far less affordable for the average family during the course of the pandemic.

Indonesia experienced steady growth in Covid-19 cases last year. Coupled with an economy in recession, the affordability of housing may continue to feel the impact of these combined circumstances.


France has seen year-on-year increases for both rental and buying markets, mostly in line with the pre-pandemic trend. However, the price-to-rent ratio outside the city centres has seen a much larger increase than expected – over 13.1% year-on-year.

Relatively speaking, this means that renting in locations outside city centres is currently a more attractive option than buying.


The analysis suggests that the pandemic has impacted the housing market, with the emergence of more affordable buying options. After reaching relative highs in mid-2019 for price-to-income ratio and mortgage as a percentage of income, both have seen a downturn since the start of 2020.

Price-to-rent ratios have also seen a drop in the most recent set of data from mid-2020 after increases earlier in the year. This means that the rent is a high proportion of the ownership cost, making buying a more attractive option for expats.


Rental and housing markets in the UK maintained stable increases into the early part of 2020, but these reversed in mid-2020 when the pandemic’s first wave peaked.

While there were percentage dips, the change was not quite as dramatic as other countries. The biggest switch was 2.8% for price-to-rent outside major cities. Renting has become less attractive and buying property is more affordable.

However, it remains to be seen how the government’s freeze on stamp duty in mid-2020 will impact the housing market when it ends in March.

What do the findings mean for expats?

Caroline Pain, senior vice president of customer proposition at Aetna International, comments: “While Covid-19 has clearly had a dramatic impact on the global housing market, it will be difficult to fully assess the resulting change until economies stabilise.”

“The pandemic could spur further fluctuations in the global housing market, so pre-trip planning is more essential than ever during this uncertain period. Expats looking to move abroad should consider the measures put in place to support the housing market by the government in their destination country.”

She concludes: “Above all, expats should prioritise the health and well-being of their family - relocating to a new country is big life change even when there isn't a global pandemic.”

The full report by Aetna International can be viewed here.

Poll: Despite strong activity in the market, should expats wait for the pandemic to settle down before moving abroad?



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