New research indicates people could shave years off their home loan if they move from Sydney to Armidale, with little impact to their standard of living.
The Regional Australia Institute (RAI) has called for a new national awareness campaign to promote the opportunities of living in regional Australia, and help drive a population shift in coming decades.
The recommendation is part of its new report launched earlier this month, Regional Population Growth: Are We Ready? - that looks at the economic consequences of alternative population scenarios that could alleviate Australia's megacity future and supercharge regions.
According to the report, in Armidale the average annual income is $54,936 with a median house price of $356,752 which means it takes 23 years on average to pay off the mortgage.
That is 15 years faster than those paying off a mortgage in Penrith (a suburb on the outskirts of Sydney) despite their higher average annual income of $63,939.
However the unemployment rate of 6.5 percent in Armidale is nearly double that of Penrith, which also has a much more diversified range of local industry and is closer to the coast and national parks.
RAI co-CEO, Dr Kim Houghton says this new body of work raises serious questions about the type of future Australia has if predicted population growth continues as projected in the outer suburbs of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.
"The new research has shown that many workers living in our outer city suburbs could be financially better off if they moved to regional Australia," Dr Houghton said.
"Many homeowners in our state capitals are paying double the mortgage of their regional city counterparts, but have a similar average wage.
Many homeowners in our state capitals are paying double the mortgage of their regional city counterparts, but have a similar average wageDr Kim Houghton
"Australia's population is set to grow by up to 19 million by 2056, with the Sydney and Melbourne to hit megacity status in the next few decades. Brisbane and Perth will grow to the size of Sydney and Melbourne today.
"But if we continue with our current geographic patterns of settlement, most of that population will end up in the outer suburbs.
Dr Houghton said in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, the outer suburban population is forecast to more than double. In Brisbane, the outer suburbs population level will nearly triple.
RAI co-CEO, Liz Ritchie, says rapid urban population growth creates challenges already clear to residents in our outer suburbs, with high house prices paid by average wages and longer commute distances already emerging as key points in our big Australia debate.
"The average outer suburban Sydney worker earns $80,088, whereas their regional city counterpart has a wage of slightly less at $71,281. Across the country, the difference between the two groups are small and generally less than 10 percent," Liz Ritchie said.
"However, the stark contrast emerges when house prices are compared. In Melbourne, the average home in the suburbs costs $776,276, while in Victoria's regional centres, the figure is less than half, at $344,365," Ms Ritchie said.
Detailed in the new report, scenario modelling found that under the business as usual base case, commute distances in outer Sydney and Melbourne will increase by around 60 percent and close to 25 percent in outer Brisbane and Perth.
"Under the alternative distributed population scenario, where population growth is shared more evenly between outer suburbs and regional centres, commute distances for Sydney would rise by just 15 percent, and Melbourne 40 percent," Liz Ritchie said.
The RAI has also unveiled its latest tool, MOVE, which allows potential homeowners to find out which areas in Australia give them the best chance of paying off their mortgage faster.
By combining the average wage of a particular wage Local Government Area (LGA) with the average house price, people can quickly find out where they could pay off their mortgage the fastest.
They can also compare lifestyle factors such as proximity to the coast and national parks; as well as unemployment rates and the diversity of local industry.
"This new research really poses a significant question to families in the future - will you be financially better off setting up a life in regional Australia? We know the answer could be yes," Liz Ritchie said.
Speaking at the launch event in Melbourne, David Matthews, Director at Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, said with job opportunities growing in regional Australia, there is more reason than ever for those living in cities to consider a change in lifestyle.
"Regional Australia has so much to offer, be it more affordable housing, a quicker commute to work and a safe welcoming environment to share with your family.
"With an intelligent and sustainable population strategy, Australians, no matter where they live, can continue to enjoy the lifestyle that we're most famous for around the world," Mr Matthews said.