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Tens of thousands of Australians fled major capital cities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cheaper property prices and a more-attractive lifestyle are key reasons for the exodus, made easier by the ability of many tree-changers to take their jobs with them and work from home.
Alex West on the verandah of his Hunter Valley property.
With the cost of living rising fast, it may be even more appealing for city dwellers to head for the exits.
Money spoke with a number of people who have made the change, to see if the financial savings are real, and whether lifestyle benefits gained outweigh any extra costs.
Moved from Sydney’s North Shore to the Hunter Valley in February 2020
Education: He is paying a third for private education for his children that he was paying in Sydney
Entertainment costs: Significantly less
Council rates: Cheaper on a per-metre basis, but extra because he owns more land
Mortgage: Has dropped slightly
Non-tangible benefits: No more interstate work trips
Life stuck at home during lockdowns prompted the West family of five to sell their North Shore home on a quarter-acre block to buy a 40-acre farm in the Hunter Valley.
Alex West, a company chief executive, started in a new role in February 2020, shifting to working from home a month later. He says he has not looked back since.
“Affordability and seeking a better lifestyle was a big factor in the move,” he says.
West pays extra council rates because he owns more land, but says the rates are less on a per-metre basis. However, his mortgage payments have dropped.
Entertainment is also cheaper because there are fewer places to spend money, he says. “The kids aren’t off at the cinemas all the time”.
He is now contemplating how to make a little extra money from the farming land he has purchased.
Moved from Erskineville to Corrimal, near Wollongong, in November 2021
Entertainment: Substantially less, as spending more time at home and at the beach
Council rates: Half of what they would be in Sydney for comparable land size
Mortgage: Paying $150 more a week than rental cost in Sydney, but the home is three times larger
Groceries: Saving $100 a week – more if you count regular spontaneous meals out in Sydney.
Lifestyle: Purchasing a coffee machine saved $10-$20 a day on takeaway coffee
A PR executive, Louise Nealon and her partner made a sea change, purchasing a three-bedroom home for the same price as the small flat they were renting was worth in Sydney’s inner-city Erskineville.
The couple looked beyond the city until they found a mortgage they could afford. They not sure how much they are saving, but say it is definitely cheaper.
“In Sydney, we would spend spontaneously, whether it was last-minute tickets to an event or a meal out. When you’re a little bit away, it takes more planning to spend,” Nealon says.
She has switched to shopping less frequently – even though the shops are closer – and is using her freezer more, cooking at home and planning meals in advance.
Moved from Sydney to Newcastle in January.
Entertainment: About the same as Sydney
Rent: Dropped from $770 a week to $610 a week
Groceries: Saving more than $180 a week
Jennifer Robson moved from an apartment in Sydney to rent a renovated house with a pool in a quiet area of Newcastle.
She is confident that long-term savings will be realised. The first major saving has been rent, which dropped by $120 a week. She is hopeful that her annual electricity bill will be lower, too.
Robson says she feels like life is now much less frantic than it was in Sydney, and is cooking at home a lot more.
“I felt a lot of pressure to always be doing something in Sydney, which costs money, but life feels a lot more relaxed now.”
Moved from Sydney to Port Stephens in January 2021
Education: Childcare is $55 less a day, private schooling is $4700 a year.
Rent: Saving $140 a week
Groceries: Comparable to Sydney
Travel: Work from home, but travels to Sydney once a month and pays own accommodation.
Glenn Freeman was contemplating moving out of Sydney before the coronavirus hit. “However, being able to work from home made the move easier… companies are now more accepting of it,” he says.
Freeman, his wife and two young children moved after frustrations that they could not find stability in the rental market. “We just couldn’t get ahead financially. We want to eventually purchase a house,” he says.
Rent for a two-bedroom villa in North Ryde was $690 a week and childcare was unaffordable, impacting work opportunities, he says.
“We had a tiny postage stamp of a backyard. We just weren’t prepared to pay $800 a week in rent in Sydney, just to get a place with a bigger yard”.
He is now paying rent of $550 a week in Port Stephens. “I can see the ocean. It is a two-storey house that is four doors down from my brother, giving us family support,” he says.
“It’s not all pure savings, but we’ve definitely got a better quality of life.”
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