Regional regret? Warnings and potential pitfalls of a COVID-19-inspired property tree change

A rush to escape the big city life became a pandemic priority for many Australians, but chasing a quieter life in the country can have financial and emotional consequences if you get it wrong.

Before COVID-19, Edwina Cameron moved to regional Queensland in search of a quieter life, but her tree change later turned sour.

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“I moved out of Brisbane with my first husband in 2013, but it just didn’t work out. He was away a lot working a fly-in, fly out job because there wasn’t much work available locally and before I knew it I was essentially a single mother for weeks at a time,” she said.

“I found myself living on acreage with a small child and a very limited support network,” she said.

Images for tree change mistake story. Picture: Supplied

Edwina Cameron’s first attempt at a tree change didn’t work out like she hoped. Picture: Supplied

Although Edwina doesn’t blame the move for her eventual divorce, she said some of the unforeseen pressures brought on by her new life didn’t help.

“It’s stresses you don’t necessarily experience in a city where there’s support – and public transport – around. I found it was the little things, like if my husband was away and the car broke down, with a small child I couldn’t just leave it at the mechanic for the day.”

“It’s easy to think about an idyllic lifestyle, and that is part of it, but there are also a lot of practicalities that can be really stressful. I have no doubt that impacts on a lot of people’s relationships,” she said.

“You need to keep in mind that if you do experience a relationship breakdown, the logistics can be a nightmare. Would you both stay in your new location, or would one of you have to move back to the city for work?”

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“If you have kids, how are you going to share custody if you end up needing to live in different places? It’s not something anyone actually plans for or even wants to consider, but unfortunately it is a reality for many couples, so it’s probably worth some thought.”

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

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, according to ABS internal migration data for the September 2020 quarter.

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.

Images for tree change mistake story. Picture: Supplied

Edwina had a better experience with her second tree change. Picture: Supplied

How to make it work for you

A negative experience didn’t put Edwina Cameron off trying another tree change. Along with her now husband Gerry and their two children, the family recently relocated from Brisbane to the Sunshine Coast hinterland town of Maleny to embrace a simpler lifestyle and grow their creative business.

“There’s no way we would’ve been able to take the leap into growing ‘I Heart Wall Art’ if we’d have stayed in the city because physically we just wouldn’t have had the space we needed to make our pieces, plus our cost of living was a lot higher in the city, so we both needed to work full-time,” Ms Cameron said.

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“People talk a lot about career options being limited outside cities and how you’re not going to make the same money, but you’re also not going to have the same expenses. The move has given us the freedom to step back a bit and really focus on building our business – as well as to enjoy life and our surroundings a lot more.”

“Being that little bit further on in our lives also meant we had more buying power to get a property closer to Brisbane and to the train station. Those things can end up making a big difference in terms of visiting friends, or even commuting a day or two a week,” she said.

Images for tree change mistake story. Picture: Supplied

Edwina Cameron and her new husband Gerry Fogarty. Picture: Supplied

Bryce Holdaway, presenter on the ABC’s Escape from the City and co-host of The Property Couch podcast, recently moved from Melbourne to the Victorian Surf Coast.

He highlighted that sea or tree change regret can set in when people don’t accurately consider timing for both their family – and finances.

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Home among the trees.

“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.

“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?”

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Bryce Holdaway says people considering a tree change should think about whether they want to live in the bush long term.

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Catherine McGauran, a client care manager at Nest Legal, 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.

Ryde home sellers

Samantha, 31, and husband Nathan, 30 decided to sell their Ryde home and move to the Gold Coast for a sea-change in June 2020. Picture: David Swift.

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