How to decide if a tree change is for you

Many people dream of moving to the country and leaving the stresses of city living behind.

And what a dream it is - rural living can conjure up postcards of natural beauty and peaceful landscapes, simpler ways, closer community ties and friendly neighbours. Leave the keys in the car and never lock the house. Grow your own veggies and go for long walks with your dog in a green and pleasant land.

All that is possible, but like any housing decision its success depends on research and the old principle of location, location, location.

The benefits

The top reason why people choose to leave the city and move to the country is cheaper housing. In these days of poor housing affordability, the idea of buying a spacious home on a big block for less than half the price of a capital city equivalent is attractive. For many people, especially young families, it is the only way they can achieve the Great Australian Dream.

But there's more:

You can include a shorter commute if you work locally, freedom from big city crime and security problems and a greater sense of community.

Then there are the specifically rural benefits of a quieter and more peaceful way of life, the ability to own farm animals, which are often banned in the suburbs, and growing your own fruit and vegetables.

The drawbacks

Now, a few sobering thoughts. Sadly, many country towns, especially the smaller ones, are emptying fast. Jobs are scarce and young people head to the city in search of work and opportunity. When populations dwindle, so do services linked to things like transport, health and leisure.

A study of tree-changers in Victoria found that 90 per cent of those surveyed planned to move back to where they came from or to the coast within five years.

They cited high living costs, poor work opportunities, a lack of services and a lukewarm reception from the locals as contributing factors.

For many, though, moving back to familiar territory in the city was a struggle because, having left the market and their jobs, it was now too expensive.

For this reason, if you own a capital city property, it can be a good idea to keep it and rent in your new location for a few years until you are absolutely sure you will stay.

Plan your move

The reason that many tree-changes don’t work out is that too many people don't do their homework before they make their move. That same survey revealed that only 2 percent of people researched their move properly.

As a result, says Charles Sturt University's Dr Angela Ragusa, who led the study, there were "deep chasms" between expectations and reality.

The message is that you have to do some investigation of the place you plan to move to before you commit.
Be realistic

What does this mean for you?

If you plan to work, look at the area's job opportunities. Perhaps talk to Centrelink to get a feel for the employment situation in the district.

Know what stimulates you. If you love fishing, for example, there's no point going to a place where the river is dry for 10 months of the year and in flood for the other two. You need a thorough understanding of the leisure activities available to you.

Are the services you need within a reasonable distance? For many people the whole point of moving to the country is to take it easy, but if you are having to spend hours in the car for regular visits to a doctor or some other professional, it defeats the purpose.

And as with any move, the onus is on you to reach out if you want to make friends and become a real part of the community, so you’ll need to find out if the clubs and volunteer associations exist to make that easy.

The more community activities a place has, the more welcoming it will tend to be.

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