Realtors across the Capes region are reporting a surge in home sales driven by COVID-19. Known as “Virus Escapees Seeking Provincial Australia”, Perth VESPAs are downsizing in the city, or leaving the metro area altogether, to buy in the regions. The trend follows last month’s Times report about homes also getting snapped up by wealthy interstate figures keen to secure holiday escapes during the halt in international air travel. Demographer Bernard Salt said parts of the South West were high on the national VESPA destination list, as those more at risk of serious health complications from being infected sought safety, security, space and affordability within striking distance of a capital city. South West real estate agents said the most common recent buyers were baby boomers reassessing their lives during the virus lockdown. There were 43 property sales in Margaret River in June, up more than tenfold from four sales in the same month last year. There were 100 sales in Busselton in June, compared with 58 a year previously, and Dunsborough had 23 sales in June, compared with nine a year ago, according to the Real Estate Institute of WA. Margaret River prices jumped 1.7 per cent between the March and June quarter, while Dunsborough was up 3.7 per cent and Busselton up 2.1 per cent in the same time. Some buyers are so keen they are buying sight unseen, including a $1.9 million home in Yallingup sold by Stocker Preston to a WA resident unable to inspect the property. Stocker Preston director Louis De Chiera said it was a sudden and dramatic change. “COVID-19 has let people step back and think about how they are living,” Mr De Chiera said. “A lot of people have taken the opportunity to move down here on a permanent basis, including east coast FIFO families who are able to fly in and out of Busselton to Rio Tinto sites,” he said. “Many Perth buyers want a holiday house, and they see the potential in renting it out when they are not using it. Plus a lot of people don’t see themselves going overseas for a few years.” He said that before COVID-19 hit, he sold four blocks of land in The Cove Estate in Dunsborough over six months. After government building grants were announced, he sold 50 blocks in three weeks. Kelly Donaldson, director of First National Margaret River, said the rental market had also gone into overdrive, with 180 people registering interest in their rental properties. “We are getting a lot of inquiries from Sydney, and people are saying they can’t get into WA until they can prove they have purchased a property,” Mr Donaldson said. Joe White of Dunsborough’s JMW Real Estate said the change was a “beautiful relief” after many quiet years in the sector. South West musician Brayden Sibbald and his girlfriend Kelsea Buxton faced fierce competition from Perth-based buyers during their recent South West house hunt. When they found a house they liked in Dunsborough, they immediately offered the full $495,000 listing price. “With 20 other people looking at it, we realised it would get up to that price eventually so we didn’t want to mess around,” he said. He said most locals welcomed city folk, but lamented the impact the competition was having on prices.