If you think of moving to the country, where do you dream of living?
In a remote farmhouse, surrounded by vast fields? A crofter’s shack half way up a hillside? A chocolate box cottage, in a suitably picturesque village? Or just a whole house in the home counties, not far from the lure of London?
The choice of location will make a massive difference to your life, and not just to the pounds in your pocket.
Whether you dream of fresh air, more space or a simpler outdoor life, moving to the country can also bring financial freedom. Property prices are often cheaper in the country than the city (although perhaps not in celeb corners of the Cotswolds).
Suddenly, you might be able to swap a small flat for a family home. Reduce the monthly mortgage payments, or even ditch the mortgage altogether. Poring over RightMove, it’s easy to get seduced by the idea of snapping up a bargain.
However, there could be a very good reason why the shack in the middle of nowhere is selling for next to nothing. Before shifting your family to the other end of earth, shed the rose-tinted spectacles and consider the reality. Don’t just focus on the roses round the door – look at the bigger picture.
I’ve been reflecting on what makes a good place to live because this week I went back to the village where I grew up. When I was a child, my family moved from the suburbs of Leicester to a small but pretty village surrounded by farms and fields.
And when I say small village, I mean small.
Burton Overy had a church, a pub, a village hall and a village-shop-come-Post-Office that was open two mornings a week. I used to joke that there were probably more sheep than people, which is perfectly possible when the population is just over 250.
Returning as an adult, much of the village looks remarkably unchanged, even if rather more prosperous.
The ‘Main Street’ sign is still fixed to railings round a field with sheep in it.
The facade of the Village Hall is still familiar, even if it does have a fancy new extension on one side.
There are still loads of attractive houses.
The cottage on the corner opposite the pub, which used to feature a rusty corrugated iron roof, has been spruced up with thatch.
The Post Office is now the Old Post Office – which means that inhabitants can’t even wait till Tuesday or Thursday mornings to buy stamps or raid the penny sweets. Forget doctors or dentists or newsagents – in this village, you have to trek at least a couple of miles just for a pint of milk. The only option if you wanted to eat out was the sole pub, The Bell. Takeaway food was limited to the fish and chip van that visited once a week on Fridays. Pizza delivery? Not an option when living outside the delivery area.
My experiences as a child had a big impact on where I wanted to live as an adult.
I was quite sure that I did not want to live in the middle of a field, only able to leave my house in a car or in wellies. I also wanted to steer clear of small villages, not just for my own sake, but so my children could be more independent at a younger age. When I was a child, we had to be driven pretty much everywhere – to school, to see friends, to go shopping, for any activities. Sure, we had bicycles, but it was 8 miles either way to the nearest towns.
There was so little to do for children that my mother actually started a youth club in the Village Hall. This did mean we knew more kids in the village – but the only place to gather was on the bench by the telephone box.
As soon as I got a say in the matter, I high-tailed it off to Paris to work as an au pair for a year. When asked my favourite things about Paris, that city of romance and culture, I got all misty-eyed and nominated…the public transport system. Damn skippy I loved public transport in Paris. After years of living with a single daily bus in to Leicester, and a single bus back, the Metro was a revelation.
So years later, when my husband and I thought of leaving London, we had pretty strong ideas about the kind of place we wanted to live.
For us, it made sense to move to a market town. We have a view out over the fields – but can also walk to a whole range of useful amenities. I’m not a big fan of driving at the best of times, so I like being within easy reach of the primary school, health centre, dentists, opticians, useful shops that don’t just sell teas and antiques. There’s also a library, a leisure centre, a couple of parks and clubs for the kids. We rarely eat out, but there are a few pubs, cafes and restaurants nearby.
If you are considering a move to the country, here are my suggestions for 10 things to think about beforehand.
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10 things to think about before moving to the country
Buying a bigger home can be a massive advantage of moving to the country. However, you’ll also need to maintain, furnish and heat any extra rooms, adding big bucks to your running costs. At the other extreme, that cosy cottage might end up a squash and a squeeze if you’re trying to cram in too much stuff. The characterful low beams are less attractive when you’ve bumped your head on them for the nth time.
Similarly, if you struggle to maintain a couple of houseplants in the centre of a city, it’s worth avoiding acres of garden, unless you have full-on Monty Don tendencies or the budget to pay someone else. I think one estate agent clocked my shock when he suggested a house with fields attached. “Ah” he said. “So you want a garden with your property, rather than land?” (You’ll just have to imagine the ponderous and patronising pauses) Damn right. Perhaps try an allotment before launching into full on self-sufficiency…
Sure you want a more peaceful life, but do you really want to be stuck in the middle of a field?
There’s a whole spectrum of options from isolated to small village to market town to the outskirts of a bigger place. In our case, we were keen to live near a range of local amenities, which focused our house hunting.
Can you walk anywhere from your new des res, or are you going to be driving all the time?
Living in the country means you may have to budget for at least one, and more likely two cars, if you’re moving as a couple. I met one lady who ended up buying a 4×4 their first winter, as otherwise it was impossible to get down the farm track from their house in the snow.
If you have children, don’t just consider the school run, but also chauffeuring kids for any after-school activities, parties and meeting up with friends. What can kids do locally, and is there any public transport when they want to go further afield?
There’s always a balance between property prices and proximity to commuter routes, whether major road or rail links. Paying less for your home could increase your commute – what’s that extra 30 / 60 /90 minutes a day in travel time worth to you?
Do add up how much time and money (whether in fuel or train tickets and station parking) you’ll be spending every week on commuting. Allow for hefty price rises too. Season ticket costs can shoot up a lot faster than average salaries.
Maybe you don’t want to commute. If you can work from home, congratulations, but do check mobile and broadband coverage before you end up living in a broadband blackhole.
Otherwise you need to be realistic about local employment prospects, or resign yourself to life-long commuting. For working parents in particular, flexible and part-time jobs may be trickier to find than in a big city. For us, part of the decision to move to the country was a decision to avoid a daily commute. However, it did then take a while for my husband to find a job nearby.
Even if offspring are only a glint in your eye, consider schools before making the leap, or you could find yourself uprooting all over again. Remember children also have an unfortunate tendency to grow, so scope out secondary schools too.
As a parent, it’s easy to get obsessed with Ofsted reports, but think about what school could be right for your own kids. A tiny village school might help a shy child blossom, but a larger school brings more chance of finding friends with shared interests. Can your children walk to school, particularly in primary years? Is there a school bus, if you don’t want to be shackled to driving the school run every day? What kind of before and after school provision is available, if you’ll be working?
If you have children, the main advice we were given was “the earlier you can move, the better”, so your kids aren’t so established within their own social group, and have more time to find new friends. Ideal world, moving well before school admittance deadlines will mean you’re in the right place with the right paperwork. Within the the state system, there’s often a Catch 22 situation where you can’t nail down a school place until you have exchanged contracts on a new house – but you might not want that house without a school place nearby. You can at least check whether the school is hideously over subscribed or regularly has spare places.
For some, moving to the country means moving closer to family and friends and an extended support network. Great! Otherwise, if you’re moving somewhere completely new, consider how you will cope far from people who have previously helped with emergency babysitting, odd jobs or company over a cup of tea. It can take a while to make new friends in a small community, and if you head off to the Hebrides, your old friends may not be able to visit often either.
If you’re considering a village or small town, is there anything going on? A place that is just a dormitory for a larger town, or full of rarely-used second homes, could be lonely if you’re living there all the time. Maybe you don’t fancy signing up for the local running club or Am Dram panto. However, evidence of sports and social clubs may make it easier to meet people.
10. Changing your mind
More than anything else, it’s worth thinking through a big move to the country because it may be difficult to move back. Certainly we were aware when switching from London to Suffolk we were basically burning our bridges. Why? Because house prices are likely to shoot up faster in cities – especially in London – than in the depths of the countryside. If you find you prefer decent take-out coffee to cowpats, you may also find that you cannot afford to move back.
So if you’re planning to move to the country – do look before you leap!
Now over to you – what are your top tips before relocating? Anything you’d love to know, were glad you did, or wish you’d considered? I’d love to hear in the comments.