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How to Tree Change

Time for another one of my more serious blogs – my take on how to tree change!

When people learn I made a tree change, many will tell me they’d love to escape the city for a quieter life, followed by hundreds of questions on the logistics, including:

  • How did you decide where to move to?
  • How do you manage work?
  • How do you stay connected with family and friends?

So here are my answers to those questions with my advice on the things to consider and do.

Settle in – this is going to be a longer read, even though it’s still a lite version of the ‘how to’!

1. Use your head, not just your heart, when picking your tree change location

It sounds obvious, but extensive research and planning is the foundation of a successful tree change.

It can be all too easy to get caught up in the romanticism of a beautiful location and forget that you also need to be able to live and work in that location every day. As a case in point, in the early days of our tree changing search, I was utterly smitten by a run-down farm in the middle of nowhere, 90 minutes off the highway with no chance of reliable phone or internet services. It was perfect for an off-the-grid weekend away but not much else!

So having a logical checklist to help zero in on where you can live is a must.The list should include:

  • How close you need to be to the essentials of life – family, friends, medical services, vets and transport, including airports.
  • What you need services wise, particularly in terms of phone and internet coverage for work. NBN should be available in even the remotest spots (thanks to its satellite service), but if your job requires reliable mobile coverage that can be trickier in some places. Reliable power is another significant factor. Our electricity from the grid goes out regularly. While off-grid might sound like an obvious fix for this, sufficient solar and battery to last a few cloudy winter days are still costly.
  • For those with kids: what’s available school wise in the area and how the kids will get there. While there are great schools in regional areas, it is very common for kids to have reasonably long commutes on dedicated school buses to get to them.
  • How much you want to spend on your new place and any financial goals you want to realise, i.e. are you looking to be ahead financially after paying out a city mortgage? You’ll notice land size doesn’t actually make much difference to price when you start looking in the country; it’s all about location, services, building rights, water and how the land can be used.
  • What kind of climate you want to live in including the minimum and maximum temperatures you can deal with and weather conditions you love or loathe!
  • How much land you want to be responsible for looking after. Hint: 100 acres = you’ll never have a free weekend ever again!
  • How you’re looking to use your land in your tree change. If you’re thinking about running some animals, things like fence quality is a significant potential cost down the track if not considered in your upfront cost. If you have plans to be a hobby farmer, you’ll need things like good water supply to realise this dream.
  • How close you want to be living to other people.
  • Anything you love and couldn’t live without if it wasn’t located nearby. This can include first-world things like good coffee from a great café or a place to take yoga classes.

When you have this list, mark the things that are not negotiable and those that are nice to have. This is critical as a rural property is easy to buy but can be hard to sell if you have regrets!

Our list looked something like this:

Must be:

  • Within two hours of Sydney to travel to family quickly if needed
  • Within two hours of a major airport to support work travel commitments
  • Within 45 minutes of a major regional town with a major supermarket and shops and a large hospital
  • 20 minutes off a highway, so it’s quick to access but not close enough to hear traffic noise
  • Within a tight, set budget to avoid the need for a mortgage
  • Large enough in land size not to see or hear the neighbours but close enough to visit (for chats or emergencies)
  • Largely bush (not cleared) and with some reliable water
  • Serviced by good phone and internet coverage to support remote working
  • With existing accommodation – either a house we’d be happy to live in (and more expensive up front) or a shouse (a shed house – not sure what you were thinking that meant?!) to live in onsite while we built something more permanent

Once we had our list, we grabbed an old fashioned land services map, drew a circle 1.5 hours out of Sydney and started working through the possibilities. We pretty quickly expanded the circle to 2.5 hours when we saw the asking prices of places closer to Sydney!

Once we’d zeroed in on the area we wanted to be in, we started making day trips to confirm our decision and check out properties.

We were lucky to shortcut this part of the process as my best friend had grown up in the region we were interested in so we’d already spent many lazy weekends at her Dad’s beautiful home in the area.

As luck would have it, we’d also spent a great deal of time in the major town near the area we eventually moved to over the years, pursuing our hobby (car racing) so we quickly knew it was the right place for us.

We looked at property prices to home in on our final location options and set up property alerts, got the local newspaper delivered to us in Sydney for its property section, and made friends with the local real estate agents!

Within six months, we found a place that ticked off just about everything on our list.

If you’re not as familiar with the area, make trips for the weekend or even a more extended stay if you can. Visit the local shops and check out all of the things on your checklist.

It’s sensible to spend as much time as you can around the people who will be your new community too. There can be less diversity in some rural areas, although this seems to be changing pretty rapidly.

It also pays to consider the roads between your prospective property and your most likely regular destinations. Sealed rural roads are generally well maintained and safe as long as you set a sensible pace (particularly at night) but having a sealed road to your property significantly increases the price.

Just on roads, it pays to be aware there is a difference between council maintained unsealed roads and Crown ‘roads’ (which don’t necessarily deserve that name!). Council maintained vs. Crown roads can also make a big difference to the price you’ll pay for a property, and Crown roads can fall into a terrible condition quickly as it’s up to you and your neighbours to maintain them, at your cost.

Google the average temperatures and rainfall for the area but keep in mind any given year can vary wildly from average these days! Wind can also be a significant factor in open rural landscapes, especially on those gorgeous hills with lovely views where houses often get built!

One important thing to check before you sign on the dotted line is the zoning of the land, and what you can do on it, particularly whether you’re allowed to build a house. Don’t assume the answer is yes just because there is some sort of house on the property already. In our searches, we found a lot of houses council don’t think exist and a lot of land that could not be built on due to planning laws.

The only thing we didn’t really think of (and miss) is home delivery of good Italian/Indian/Thai/Chinese food! With our nearest restaurants 40-ish minutes away, home delivery now consists of one of us buying takeaway on the way through town and putting the seat heater on!

Other than that, focusing our search with a comprehensive checklist means we’re incredibly satisfied with where we now live.

2. Try to organise what you’ll do for work before you tree change

We’re lucky to be able to work from home remotely mostly (even pre-COVID 19!), but it wasn’t really luck – it took a lot of planning and organising.

Our overall plan to move out of the city took around 18-months, which included changing our jobs before we left Sydney to ensure we had work we could do remotely after we moved.

What I do is relatively specialised. So my plan involved leaving a company that didn’t support flexible working and joining a VERY progressive organisation that was happy for me to work from anywhere as long as I had good internet and was happy to travel. I also worked remotely from Sydney for them to trial the arrangement before making the move.

And because things don’t always work out, you need to have a Plan B.

Mine is that we still live close enough to Canberra (an hour and a bit away) where there are office-based roles I could take if needed. While that may sound like a long commute, I know many people in the city who spend the same amount of time travelling to work each day, and highway driving is a lot less stressful than traffic!

If you can’t take a job with you and you need to work, you do need to be prepared for a career change as well as a tree change.

It’s highly likely you’ll be competing in a much smaller job market, and it will be unlikely to have jobs utilising the skills seen in the city come up every day. 

The upside is you can almost certainly live a lot cheaper in the country, so you may be able to consider a range of jobs with less commitment but lower pay than you needed in the city.

3. Have a plan for making new friends and connections – and make it a priority

I won’t lie – it can be quite lonely when you move to the country and making new friends as an adult is actually harder than you think!

I was prepared for the physical isolation when we tree changed but underestimated the impact of not being able to quickly pop over to see family and friends for dinner, or even just interact with people when I walked the dogs or grabbed a coffee.

I know this probably sounds silly (especially from someone who wanted to escape the rat race and people everywhere!), but humans are intrinsically social creatures and seeing people occasionally is essential for our mental and emotional health.

So you do need to very consciously make an effort to meet and see people when you move.

Fortunately, you are guaranteed a rotating roster of visitors – especially when you first move – of family & friends who are keen to play escape to the country and check out your new place. I return the favour when I need to travel for work, staying with my family when I overnight in the city so we can have dinner and catch up.

But you will need more than this so it’s also fortunate that people in the country really are friendlier!

We had most of the people living on our 3km long road drop in to meet us during our first month here, and we now catch up regularly for beers and dinners.  Contrast this to living in Sydney where I’d struggle to name anyone on my street beyond my immediate neighbours (and even that was sometimes a stretch!).

We made an effort to go to the monthly drinks at the local community hall and supported events run by the local RFS, expanding the people we knew around here a little further.

And I’ve tried a few different things, like an aerial yoga class(!) to push the circle out a little wider.

BONUS TIP: asking for tips like the best hairdresser,  best doctor/dentist/vet is a great conversation starter and lets you get excellent local intel at the same time.

I’m also lucky that my best friend moved back down to the area full-time and now lives ‘just up the road’ in country terms (40 minutes away), and we have twice-weekly sanity catch-ups (pre-coronavirus lockdowns of course!).

So that’s my lite advice on How to tree change!

I’ll detail more of the ins, outs and hard lessons learned in making a tree change as we go along on this blogging adventure.

Is there anything I’ve missed? Any questions you have? Leave a comment below!



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