Apparently, only 2% of tree-changers research their new location before moving *my over-thinker's brain implodes*
A term that has been gaining momentum since around 2003, “tree-changers” are people who have left city areas for life in the country. With many urban-dwellers becoming disenchanted with the intensity of city living, and often enamoured by pleasant experiences on holidays away, it was estimated by demographer Bernard Salt in 2007 some 2.4 million had made the jump. Now, some years along the line, the term “tree-change” and “sea-change” are part of the vernacular. According to a Ray White Real Estate researcher, up to 80% favour “lifestyle” properties, smaller acreage on an urban fringe. McCrindle Research futurist Mark McCrindle, said that whilst tree-changers can come from all walks of life - singles looking for re-invention, retirees looking to “downshift” - about 80% of tree-changers are families with the parents under 50. And this is exactly us.
In 2017, our family became “tree-changers”. We sold up our property in the outer suburbs and bought 7.5 acres of bush block in a suburb just beyond the outskirts of the Perth metropolitan area in Western Australia. About equidistant from the supermarket and post office of the nearest metropolitan suburb and our nearest official “country town”, it would hopefully afford us the best of both worlds. My husband could still maintain a realistic commute to work and we could still have relatively easy access to city infrastructure, but we could be far enough away to have a bit more space, peace and the benefits of a country community.
The reactions from those who knew us were varied. It became quite clear that many urbanites have no real idea about what country living involves or has to offer (the good or bad), so I wondered how this “new” social group was performing after their “counterurbanisation” moves.
Dr Angela Ragusa from Charles Sturt University has studied the subject of tree changers in some detail and being an incredible over-thinker, I was startled to read her finding that only about 2% of tree-changers have studied their locale in any depth before moving. So it is hardly surprising that the real experience of moving to the country may not live up to their expectations. Tree-changers are an optimistic lot, it seems. Largely fired into action by a sense of dissatisfaction with city life and their jobs, many end up moving to places where they have only spent short holidays. And whilst the romantic notion of “being on holiday everyday” is wonderful, the reality can prove quite different. Ragusa’s study of 50 ex-Melbourne tree-changers found 90% of them thinking about returning to the city, and a study by McCrindle put a figure of 1 in 5 returning within 5 years.
The key too a successful tree-change is research, honest self-evaluation and planning. For us and a great many others, the tree-change lifestyle is a wonderful one. However, it is not without its issues. McCrindle says,
“You have to realise that a tree change will not solve your problems, it will bring a new set. But if you say to yourself, ‘I would prefer those challenges than my current ones, that is OK.”
Firstly, really gain an understanding about what you and your family do and do not enjoy. What sort of infrastructure and facilities is required to support your family with their specific needs and interests. When you find what looks like an ideal location, join the local community Facebook page see how the community operates over an extended period. Visit at different times of the year, experience different times of the day. Ask for honest opinions from locals. Stay for an extended visit or even consider renting in the area before buying. Consider your financial position and the economics of a move. Research and (hopefully) secure employment opportunities. Understand the commute required for all your daily tasks - not just work, but school, shops, doctors etc. Get in and get dirty with all the realities. I even got a tour of the local school from the Principal and asked for the lowdown on everything.
Take some time to learn about the logistics about caring for your potential property. The internet allows us access to a huge amount of information, so there is simply no excuse to fly blind, even if you don’t know anyone doing it. Some people do not realise the work that comes with looking after acreage. There is a huge amount of general maintenance. Even simple bush blocks require some clearing and cleaning. In Australia, bush fires are probably the largest concern and fire hazard reduction is a vital part of any rural property’s maintenance plan and is enforced by local councils. Also, everything is upsized in the country, so the expense and effort must be factored in. Mulching my whole suburban yard took one trailer-load. Now one trailer load won’t top up one garden bed. Taking the bins out was once an 8m trip to the kerb, now it’s a 1/2km round trip. Want to keep animals? Again, do a little research. Are you up for what is involved
I love our country lifestyle and I couldn’t imagine living back in the suburbs. Maybe when we progress into old age, practical, logistical decisions may one day take us back there. For people like us it was a great choice. I can only caution that, as with any big life decision - do your research.
So as I sit here advising caution (as the massive over thinker I am), I’m now going to flip it over and also say: Don’t let fear stop you from making bold choices. Moving to the country was never a “logical” or “sensible” option if we just wrote it out on paper. We made a formidable list of pros and cons that we could have just kept discussing until we were too old for it to be possible. Heart had to fight it out with head. We had to take a (calculated) risk. Without a bit of a leap of faith, we wouldn’t have done it and we would have had a much less rich life for it. Then when we made the choice we also committed wholeheartedly. I have made an effort to get involved with all aspects of running our land. I have made an effort to get involved in the local community. We can all take on some responsibility to really try and make a dream happen.
Follow your dreams - just keep your head on.