Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.
— Samuel Johnson
Samuel Johnson made this remark in 1777 to one of his friends who lived in the wilds of Scotland. Covid, the internet and cars hadn’t happened at the time. But he did have a point.
Many office workers have been told they are unlikely to return to their places of work this side of Christmas. And when you do return, it is likely that home working could be on the cards at least one if not two days a week. If that’s the case, do you really need to live in a central city area? After all you could have nature on your side and a whole different lifestyle ahead…
Before you fall for a rural or seaside idyll, it’s worth dispelling some very common misconceptions about leaving the city:
1. The internet means you can work from home
Before settling on any location do your homework. You need to be very careful because there are a lot of holes in our national network. Life without good broadband isn’t worth living – well, working life at least.
2. Friends and family will visit
They might once or twice but if they live a long way away it will be an annual escapade. If you’re going to move out, you need to be committed to making new friends. Knowing your own interests is absolutely key to forming a local social set in rural areas: whether it’s cycling, tennis, horse-riding, shooting or walking the dog, find your hobby and bear it in mind when looking for a house. If you’re a tennis player, for instance, look for a village or town with a club – it’s an instant way into the community. And whatever you do, make an effort with the neighbours – anonymous London living can’t be done in a small village.
3. You can swap Deliveroo for the local pub
Whilst many of your restaurants and haunts are in Covid protection mode they aren’t that attractive to visit. That makes your urban life somewhat less enjoyable. These places will not be closed for ever. When they return, you’ll miss them. Outside the big cities, takeaways tend to be average at best. Life without Deliveroo may take some adjustment. There’s certainly no gourmet burgers, fusion cooking, decent sushi or urban dining. If the gourmand in you is going to suffer from the move, make sure you bear in mind the local dining options when looking for your dream home. Online property searches encourage us to judge the house in isolation without giving much insight into the area’s amenities or community. Go and talk to locals and spend some days in the area before falling for the house of your dreams.
4. Moving out will give you more space
Yes, you will have more space but bigger properties – especially those with land – mean more responsibility. Lockdown turned the garden into a prized asset and understandably so. But even a modest garden is hard work. Either you have to have people to look after it for you or you’ll have to put in a lot of work yourself. For every acre you own, factor in half a day of work a week during the spring, summer and autumn.
5. You can get to London by train
You might not be travelling now but when things return to normal, you will be. Just getting to the station or airport from a rural idyll can be a total nightmare. Train fares are sky high and carriages crammed. Be sure to do your research and test out your new commute at peak times so that you know what you’re potentially letting yourself in for. An hour’s commute looks fine on paper but are you happy to do it every day if need be?
6. Online shopping means you won’t miss the city centre
Of course, everyone loves internet shopping, especially right now when next-day delivery is still a novelty. But nothing changes the fact that, when it comes to cultural trends, London leads and the others follow. It does explain why so many properties have a whiff of 80s shininess about them. Because that’s when many of the last owners were plugged in to real life.
You could argue that Covid has all but killed off the high street and certainly it will lack the draw that it once did. But it’s still worth thinking about your proximity to urban centres when looking for a home – it doesn’t have to be London but it pays to be within touching distance of somewhere that allows you to keep one finger on the pulse, albeit remotely: Cambridge, Oxford, Bristol, Bath, Bournemouth – even smaller towns like Winchester and Leamington Spa, will give you a valuable urban link.
7. Living in the countryside will be so much less expensive
We all know you can get a lot more for your money out of an urban environment. £600k might buy you a reasonable two bed urban pad. But take that money out of the city and you’d be able to get a nice chunk of house and land to play with. Running costs will ostensibly be lower but if you didn’t have a car, you’ll need one now. There will be more maintenance and energy costs if you’re opting for a larger home – especially a period one.
8. But it’s so beautiful!
Lockdown was the best PR the British countryside could have asked for. Londoners who’d never given a second thought to moving out were all of a sudden eyeing up properties in the Home Counties. But there’s no such thing as exclusivity if you live on an island. The Cotswold village you’ve fallen in love may well be a honeypot in the summer – and the same goes for that Salcombe beach house.
The miraculously sunny stretch of weather we all experienced in lockdown is not indicative of a normal British spring and you may have started to see the countryside through rose tinted glasses. Think about what the property will be like to live in in all seasons – summers in the countryside are indeed glorious but the winters can be long with little to do. A good local gastropub can be just the thing to get you through.
9. It will make you happy!
If you weren’t happy before, you probably won’t be happy after either. Move for the right reasons, the pull factors rather than the push factors. And if there are underlying issues in your happiness or health, try to address them before you take the plunge.
10. It’s all or nothing
Have you thought about whether you’d have to leave the city completely to make your move work? With London property at a premium, you could keep one foot on the ladder in London and buy a rural idyll to retreat to at weekends.
Next time I’ll give you some tips on how to achieve that, what you should look for and how best to make sure you are setting your life up for a lifestyle that works with a financial plan that makes sense. Too many people give up their stake in the London property market only to regret it years later.
James Max presents the Early Breakfast Show on TalkRADIO every weekday from 5 – 6.30am and is a qualified chartered surveyor.