ESCAPE PLAN

From properties to schools – it’s all part of the research

Before you can make those dreamy country days a permanent part of your life,
there’s a ton of work to be done

STORY: KYLIE DULHUNTY     PHOTOGRAPHY: KAREN WEBB capturebykaren.com.au

Making a tree-change or a sea-change can be life-changing, but it’s a  decision that should be considered with your head and not just your heart. 

While internal migration from Australia’s capital cities to some of the country’s most picturesque rural areas is not a new phenomenon, the impact of COVID-19 has spurred a new wave of people packing up and heading to the regions.

But where do you move to, and what kind of property should you choose?

Buyer’s agent Cate Bakos urges city dwellers to take their time when weighing up a move to regional Australia.

“A lot of people do it, love it, and never look back,” she explains. “But for some it doesn’t work out and a mistaken-move is an expensive, and stressful, ordeal.”

Cate says people will naturally be drawn to coastal town or quaint country villages, but there’s a host of factors to examine when deciding what town to call home.

Employment prospects is the first big ticket item that must be considered. COVID-19 has proven many jobs can be done from home, but there are also those that require you to be onsite – at least part of the time.

If moving will mean commuting to the city for work, you need to consider the time it will take and whether it will be a drive or a trip on public transport.

“I recommend trying before you buy,” says Cate. “Stay in an Airbnb for a week or two and get on the train to the city to see if you can handle the travel and conditions.

“Buying a property that has a spare bedroom or a nice bungalow, can make all the difference when guests are no longer dropping in for a cuppa, but travelling a long distance to see you.”

“If you’re driving, think about commute times in peak hour and how much petrol, tolls and parking will cost.”

If you decide the move will also mean a change of job, it’s important to thoroughly investigate employment prospects and business opportunities in regional centres on your selection list. In fact, this can become a criteria for the town that will suit you best. Bigger regional towns, such as Ballarat and Geelong in Victoria and Newcastle in NSW attract new residents because of their diverse job sector. 

Further, State and Federal Governments are decentralising government departments and services and relocating them to regional Australia to boost regional job opportunities. Still you may need to account for a reduced salary and a career path that’s not as obvious.

Families on the move need to consider their support network. How will they manage without grandparents around the corner, or best friends to hang out with on weekends? Will friends or family visit regardless of where you move to, or will they only make the journey if you’re within an easy drive from the city?

Buying a property that has a spare bedroom or a nice bungalow, can make all the difference when guests are no longer dropping in for a cuppa, but travelling a long distance to see you.

Simon and Ann Reynolds are about to make the move from Beaumont Hills, in Sydney’s west, to Maitland, which is two hours away.

The couple wanted to stay within easy striking distance of Sydney as Ann will need to commute for work twice a week. 

“Maitland has all of the services we want, property is very affordable and it’s only two hours from Sydney so we can visit family and they can come to us,” Simon says. 

“We spent six months going up and back to get a feel for the place and a good six weeks seriously looking for a place to buy.”

Cate says the Reynolds did the right thing in checking out the community atmosphere.

“Is the community welcoming? Are there clubs to join, or is it the sort of place where you’ll feel like an outsider if you’re not a third generation local?” she says.

Education options are another important factor when families, or young couples planning to have children, are considering where to move.  Is there kindergarten to Year 12 schools? Will they need to take a bus to school, or is it close enough to walk? It’s a good idea to take a tour of any school you’re are considering.

“You need to ask about the quality of the school  and what the curriculum is like,” Cate recommends.

“Some very small regional schools have all of the year levels in the one or two classrooms, so you need to ascertain if that’s something the teacher is able to cater to well, and if it’s the right fit for your child. 

“On the flipside, some of the larger regional towns have some of the finest schools and they come at a discount compared to their city counterparts.”

Cate also urges people to consider the health care options available in regional areas, the level of development forecast for the area and whether or not a town is in a flood or fire prone location.

Albury-Wodonga real estate agent Jack Stean, of Stean Nicholls, says buyers from Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra are moving to Albury-Wodonga for its proximity to the snowfields, Rutherglen and King Valley winery regions and excellent services including good schools, medical facilities and the airport.

“You really need to consider the size of the regional town or city you move to and whether it is large enough to have the amenities you need,” he says.

Jack says buyers then need to decide whether they want to buy or build a house and what features they want in a home. 

“We are seeing more buyers who are looking for properties with a home office or a fifth and sixth bedroom that can be converted into two studies,” he says. “Having a spare room for guests to come and stay is also on a lot of wishlists. 

“Properties, including small acreages, with a nice view or which backs onto a nature reserve are also in high demand as people no longer want to feel hemmed in.”

At The Agency’s Hunter Valley office, Property Partner Charlie Lund says buyers from Sydney, Newcastle and the central coast were moving to Maitland for its lifestyle options and affordable property prices.

Charlie says she’s just hired a buyer’s manager to help keep up with demand, and she recommends buyers establish a good relationship with their agent or buyer manager, especially if they are moving a long distance and will need to rely on them to secure the right property.

“A good buyer’s manager will really get to know their buyers,” she says.

“Tell them exactly where you want to live, what type of home you want and what your must-haves are and they will start searching for you and get everything lined up for you to look at.”

Jack says to ensure you’re on an agent’s database as well, so they can alert you as soon as properties come up, as many are selling before they are widely advertised online.

Regional properties are also selling faster than normal, with Ray White Bendigo Sales Manager Brent Mason highlighting the town’s average days on market had dropped from about 90 to 21.

With properties selling so quickly, it’s important for buyers to have their finance in order, including pre-approval.

“That way you can move quickly when the right property comes up,” Brent says.

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