Escaping the city has become a pandemic priority for thousands of Aussies, but chasing the simple life has its complications.

Tree or sea change regret can take a huge emotional - and financial - toll on those who get it wrong.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has fuelled an unprecedented number of people taking the plunge to move to the countryside in 2020.

Tree change or sea change: Both sound appealing, but is it right for you?
Tree change or sea change: Both sound appealing, but is it right for you?

According to ABS internal migration data for the September quarter, regional Australia had a net gain of more than 11,000 people from capital cities - the largest quarterly net loss of people from the capitals since the data series began in 2001.

Inevitably, a rise in house prices has followed. The latest CoreLogic Hedonic Home Value Index found regional markets had recorded a 12-month rise in dwelling values of 7.9 per cent, compared to just 1.7 per cent across the capitals.

But while everyone is getting swept up in the 'go regional' bandwagon - it is important to think about the long term ramifications of such a big move.

Elyse and Jayden Cockfield and son Sonny have recently relocated to an affordable coastal town after lockdown, as Crib Point was named as one of Melbourne's cheapest beachside suburbs
Elyse and Jayden Cockfield and son Sonny have recently relocated to an affordable coastal town after lockdown, as Crib Point was named as one of Melbourne's cheapest beachside suburbs

Consider the social network

Catherine McGauran is the client care manager at Nest Legal in Castlemaine, Victoria and a tree changer herself.

She said people can underestimate the enormity of such a move.

"It's one thing to enjoy going somewhere on holiday, but it's completely different when you relocate your family, job and schools," she said

"Because we're a family law practice, we see people who are separating and it can come back to the fact they've moved. One of the main reasons it doesn't work out is the lack of a support network, or not being able to find an appropriate job in their field or geographical area," she said.

"Any of those stresses will put pressure on your relationship and if you've got a limited number of people you can turn to, then you're relying solely on your partner."

"It's inevitable that at times you're going to need someone to help you, it can become quite stressful if you're on your own," she added.

The serenity is amazing – but will you want it forever?
The serenity is amazing – but will you want it forever?

Work from wherever, but forever?

While the virus has forced employers to embrace remote working, Ms McGauran said individuals should contemplate their long term career picture.

"Look at what type of work you do and see if those types of jobs are available in the area. COVID-19 has definitely contributed to this interest in working age people making tree and sea changes - and maybe that facilitates you living in a regional area and commuting to the city - but while the idea of travelling to work by train for an hour and a half each way seems doable the reality can be quite different," she said.

"Right now one employer might be happy for you to work remotely, but another in the future might not be.

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"Then what if you're unable to find something locally because that industry isn't based in your area?" she said.

Bryce Holdaway, presenter on the ABC's Escape from the City and co-host of The Property Couch podcast, said it could be a gamble for some people to bet on remote working.

"Everyone's in the thick of coronavirus and the work from home movement. But what if we go three or four years down the track when coronavirus is no longer front of mind and all of a sudden there's a preference for certain industries to bring everyone back into the office?"

"It's a case of the great unknown around how this work from home experiment will impact people," Mr Holdaway said.

Bryce Holdaway has made a sea change — but thinks regret can seep in if you haven’t considered some key factors
Bryce Holdaway has made a sea change — but thinks regret can seep in if you haven’t considered some key factors

Making it work for you

Mr Holdaway, who recently moved from Melbourne to the Victorian Surf Coast, added that sea or tree change regret can set in when people don't accurately consider timing for both their family - and finances.

"My sea change was made around what was the right decision for my kids because the window for moving them in or out of school was narrowing very quickly. Remember, it's very difficult to do a U-turn if you're at the wrong stage of life. Particularly if it's not just you," he said.

Living by the beach can feel like a permanent holiday. But is everyone in your household ready for that?
Living by the beach can feel like a permanent holiday. But is everyone in your household ready for that?

Make sure you're all in the same boat

Moving to the country can be a "sweet and sour experience", according to the ABC podcast host.

"By that I mean the lifestyle of the sea change is off the charts better, at least it has been for us," Mr Holdaway said.

But it can come at a cost - and that's relationships and family. My wife's a Melbourne girl, and we can go back easily to see family for weekends. But I'm a Perth boy who doesn't see his family that much," he said.

"It can also be an expensive exercise to reverse with agent fees on the way out, and stamp duty on the way in.

 

Homes like these in Currumbin Valley, QLD may make you never want to go back to the city.
Homes like these in Currumbin Valley, QLD may make you never want to go back to the city.

"Then oops, all that again and price movement as well - especially if you've gone from a strong market to a weak market and then back to a strong one again. It can have an enormous financial impact."

Mr Holdaway stressed that potential "changers" should carefully weigh up the pros and cons.

"Just go to town on the downsides and speak to some people who've actually done it. Then weigh up if the pros and the cons equal a net positive or a net negative."

"In my experience, both on the show and in my business, I've seen people say 'This is a great idea, I need some excitement in my life!'

"But as soon as they look around the corner they realise they haven't accurately assessed the costs. Their pros list is enormous, but they've forgotten to do the cons part," Mr Holdaway said.

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Originally published as COVID-19 sea change can be 'sweet and sour'


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