“Living in a rural setting exposes you to so many marvelous things – the natural world and the particular texture of small-town life, and the exhilarating experience of open space.”– Susan Orlean, Bestselling Author & Journalist
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about significant changes in various aspects of the lives of Filipinos, including the way we work and where we choose to live. As lockdowns and remote work became the new normal, many professionals in the National Capital Region started to consider better options regarding their housing arrangements, as well as their physical and mental well-being.
Filipino professionals who can afford to do so have started considering the option of living outside Mega Manila while continuing to work there. This article explores the post-pandemic effect on real estate buyers who are now opting to work in the greater Metro Manila area but live in suburban or rural areas. It delves into the reasons behind this trend, the impact on real estate markets, and the potential long-term implications.
Remote Work and Changing Preferences. The COVID pandemic forced businesses to adapt quickly, resulting in a surge in remote work arrangements. And, as companies shifted to telecommuting, employees realized they could work effectively from anywhere with a stable internet connection. This newfound flexibility sparked a desire among the NCR residents to escape the city’s congestion, high living costs, and limited living spaces. In fact, more Filipino professionals (FilPros) shunned the urban jungle and opted for the expansive greenery of rural areas.
So, what are the advantages of living outside the National Capital Region?
The first is AFFORDABILITY. One of the primary factors driving Filipinos to consider living outside Manila is the affordability of properties in suburban and rural areas. The cost of living in the city, including housing, transportation, and daily expenses, is significantly higher than in smaller towns and provinces. Buyers can acquire larger lot areas with more amenities at a fraction of the price compared to those located in the NCR.
Second, is QUALITY OF LIFE. Most often, living outside the NCR offers a better quality of life with a closer connection to nature, less pollution, and a more relaxed pace. Suburban and rural areas are characterized by spacious neighborhoods, green spaces, and a sense of community. This appeals to individuals seeking a healthier and more balanced lifestyle for themselves and their families – especially those with minor children.
Third, IMPROVED INFRASTRUCTURE. Over the years, infrastructure development outside the NCR has greatly improved, with better road networks, transportation systems, and access to essential services. And with the Build Better More Program for infrastructure development of the current administration in full swing, these enhancements make living outside the major city centers more convenient, reducing travel time and improving overall accessibility.
Knowing these advantages, what are the impacts on real estate markets in the country?
Top of mind is the SHIFT IN DEMAND. The increasing trend of FilPros opting to live outside the NCR has led to a shift in demand for real estate. Properties in suburban and rural areas are experiencing heightened interest, resulting in increased sales, and rising property values. Real estate developers are now focusing on these emerging markets, offering a wider range of housing options to cater to the changing preferences of buyers.
Next is URBAN SPRAWL. The shift towards suburban and rural areas is also contributing to urban sprawl. Urban sprawl, as defined in Britannica.com, is the rapid expansion of the geographic extent of cities and towns, often characterized by low-density residential housing, single-use zoning, and increased reliance on the private automobile for transportation. The cities and municipalities of Cavite, Laguna, and Bulacan bordering the NCR are examples of urban sprawl.
Now, as more Filipinos settle outside the NCR, the demand for housing and infrastructure in these, once far-flung, areas rise. This, in turn, leads to the development of new communities and the expansion of existing ones. While this offers economic opportunities, it also poses challenges in terms of urban planning, transportation, and sustainability. Therefore, there is a real need to pass into law the National Land Use Act to plan the development of the country for the next 30 to 50 years.
What then are the long-term implications of the shift in demand for real estate and urban sprawl?
The first that comes to mind is the DECONGESTION OF MANILA. The exodus of FilPros to suburban and rural areas could alleviate the overcrowding and strain on resources in the National Capital Region. As more FilPros choose to live outside the NCR, there may be a reduction in traffic congestion, improved air quality, and less pressure on urban infrastructure. This shift could potentially create a more sustainable and livable environment within the city.
The second is probably more important than the first, which is the ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT IN THE PROVINCES. The growing interest in real estate outside the NCR has the potential to spur economic development in provinces and smaller towns. The increased demand for goods and services in these areas can lead to job creation, improved local economies, and more balanced regional development. This trend could help alleviate the concentration of economic activities in the NCR and promote rural development in 2nd and 3rd class municipalities in the country.
However, rapid economic development creates certain problems as well. While the shift towards living outside the NCR offers various benefits, it also presents various URBAN PLANNING CHALLENGES. Local authorities and developers must carefully plan and manage the expansion of suburban and rural areas to ensure sustainable growth. Infrastructure, such as roads, utilities, and public services, must be adequately developed to support the increasing population due to the influx of FilPros and their families. Furthermore, preserving the natural environment and maintaining the unique identity of these areas is crucial to preventing urban sprawl from eroding the appeal of these communities.
Several Balik-Probinsiya programs have been launched by previous administrations in the past to decongest the NCR and spur rural development. The pandemic made it easier for Filipinos to make the decision to leave the NCR and thrive in an area where there is less congestion, and the pace of life is a bit slower.
Recognizing the potential of the “work in the NCR, live outside the NCR” trend, the government can play a vital role in facilitating and supporting this transition. Some initiatives that can be considered include three (3) major pillars.
First is INFRASTRUCTURE INVESTMENT. The government should keep on prioritizing infrastructure development in suburban and rural areas to improve connectivity, accessibility, and quality of life for all Filipinos. This includes enhancing transportation networks, expanding broadband internet coverage, and ensuring the availability of basic amenities such as healthcare and education.
The National Government has planned for the expansion of existing LRT lines to Cavite and Bulacan, the construction of the North-South Commuter Railway, and various expressways and major bridges. These projects all aim to enhance connectivity among regional centers through the enhancement of transportation networks. However, along with the massive investment in infrastructure, Government must continue to invest in social services as well. A growing population must be adequately educated. And the existing aging population must be equally cared for.
Next is INCENTIVES FOR BUSINESSES. Encouraging businesses to set up satellite or regional offices or branches outside the NCR can further stimulate economic growth in provinces. Offering tax incentives, grants, and support programs to companies that establish operations in these areas can attract investments and create employment opportunities.
The creation or establishment of new PEZA zones outside the NCR will greatly support the efforts to lure businesses out of existing cities or urban centers. The passage of the Ease of Doing Business Act, Retail Trade Liberalization Act, and Foreign Investment Act hope to bring in more foreign direct investment in the Philippines. However, it seems there are still challenges that remain despite the passage of these key legislation.
Finally, SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GUIDELINES. Local authorities should establish sustainable development guidelines to ensure responsible urban planning and environmental conservation. This involves promoting green building practices, preserving natural landscapes, and implementing regulations that protect the ecological balance of suburban and rural areas.
Key to creating such sustainable development guidelines is considering the impact of severe climate conditions affecting the Philippines on an annual basis. There must be serious policy changes if the government wants to ensure that its investments in infrastructure and social services are protected from the ravages of a warming planet.
In summary, the post-pandemic effect on real estate buyers in the NCR has seen a notable shift towards living outside the city while working in the NCR. The desire for a more affordable cost of living, improved quality of life, and better work-life balance has prompted FilPros to explore suburban and rural areas as viable alternatives. This trend has significant implications for real estate markets, urban planning, and regional development.
As more professionals choose to work in the NCR and live outside the NCR, the demand for real estate in suburban and rural areas will continue to rise. This shift in demand brings economic opportunities for provinces and smaller towns while also presenting challenges in terms of infrastructure and sustainable development.
The National Government plays a crucial role in supporting this trend by investing in infrastructure, providing incentives for businesses, and promoting sustainable development guidelines. By doing so, the government can create a more balanced regional development, alleviate the strain on the NCR’s resources, and improve the overall quality of life for residents in the Philippines.
To conclude, the “work in NCR, live outside NCR” phenomenon is reshaping the real estate landscape and redefining the concept of urban living. As the post-pandemic era progresses, it is crucial to adapt to these changing preferences and embrace sustainable approaches to ensure a harmonious and prosperous future for both Manila and the surrounding suburban and rural areas.
Atty. Jojo is a real estate attorney, an estate planning attorney, a licensed real estate broker, and a PRC-accredited Lecturer/ Speaker for Training Programs in Real Estate. He is a Chartered Trust and Estate Planning (CTEP®) professional who is committed to educating Filipinos about the value and importance of having an estate plan in their lives.