On Escape from the City, I help people find their dream sea-change homes. Here’s how to find yours
By Escape from the City host Del Irani
Cat Clarke and Luke Johnston wanted a tree-change with a commute to the city. (Fremantle: Escape from the City)
I’ve spent most of 2018 in my dream job.
I travelled all over Australia to help people find their dream home as they tried to make a life-changing move to coastal and regional towns, the bush or the country-side. Most of them are city-slickers who have been dreaming of a tree/sea change for several years and after seeing the casting call for the new ABC TV show, Escape from the City, decided that now was as good a time as any.
To my surprise, the show attracted Australians of all ages — retired couples, families with young children, even single women who were hoping the move would spark a romantic connection.
After considering their different needs, desires and budgets, I presented each house-hunter with four properties, hoping one would become their dream home. Together, we explored beach-side shacks, vintage houses, even bushland retreats from the Kimberly regions of Broome in Western Australia to the tropical rainforests in far north Queensland — our property obsession saw no limits!
Along the way, the house-hunters let me in on their deeply personal journey and after enduring the highs and lows of their life-changing experiences, I’ve compiled the following tips for those who’re planning on turning their regional dreams into a reality.
1. Try before you buy
If you’re contemplating moving to a regional area, I recommend spending as much time there as possible.
Try renting a property there for a few months. If renting is not an option, try to visit as frequently as possible — especially during the non-tourist season. After filming a couple of episodes in Port Douglas and Cairns during the winter months, I fell in love with the area.
I casually remarked to one of the locals, “I could move here permanently myself”, but before I finished the sentence, they retorted, “Come back in summer and see if you still feel that way!”
Turns out that during the sweltering far north Queensland summers, cooling off with a dip is simply not an option due to crocodiles and jellyfish.
Spending time in the region is a good way to get a sense of the housing market, check out neighbourhoods and explore community groups/activities that you can join to ensure that you will adjust to the different lifestyle the region has to offer.
2. Go bargain hunting
Everything is negotiable in real estate. It goes without saying that you’ll get more for your money moving from a metropolitan city into a regional area. At first, the prices will seem astoundingly cheaper.
But you’ll be surprised by the bargains you can snap up if you’re willing to expand your range of suburbs.
When I met Melbourne resident Simone Illet, she had her heart set on the lovely country town of Daylesford — somewhere she’d been visiting for several years on holidays and a very popular tourist spot. She had a budget of around $450,000 but the median house price for Daylesford was $507,500, so finding the dream home was a struggle.
I convinced her to expand the search to include the neighbouring town of Castlemaine, where the median house price is $480,000. There, we found Simone her dream home within her budget.
Cat Clarke and Luke Johnston found the peace and quiet they were looking for in regional Victoria. (Fremantle: Escape from the City)
3. How will you fund your new life?
Unless you have saved up enough to completely fund your new lifestyle for several years, you will have to find a way to work or a source of supplemental income.
Many of the house hunters I met decided to hedge their bets by choosing a region that would allow them to commute to the nearest city. For newlyweds Cat Clarke and Luke Johnston, Victoria’s Kyneton and Castlemaine were a perfect choice as both are connected by train with Melbourne — a roughly hour-and-a-half commute to the CBD.
Lara and Phillip Gray were planning to move from Manly in Sydney to Port Douglas in far north Queensland as they were craving that outdoor lifestyle for their two young daughters. They were looking for a four-bedroom house close to the beach and near good schools.
We explored a couple of options for selling their Manly home — either spend the whole sum on one massive beach-side property and live mortgage free, or purchase a property a couple of blocks back from the beach and use the remainder to invest in a second, smaller property that could general rental income.
We advised them to consult a trusted financial adviser before reaching a decision.
Lara and Phillip Gray were craving an outdoor lifestyle in far-north Queensland. (Fremantle: Escape from the City)
4. So you’ve moved to the country … now what?
Imagine yourself living in that dream home in your country or coastal town — what does your life look like?
Are you spending your days gardening in your new (much bigger) backyard? Are you feeding the chickens, horses or any multitude of animals you’ve acquired on your newly purchased acreage? Or perhaps you’re spending your days hiking the nearby bush trails?
Whatever that dream life looks like, consider what types of activities you’re keen to pursue, the community groups you’d like to be involved with and choose a region based on this.
This is how retired couple Nonnie Betts and Stuart Wine chose the Eurobodalla region on the NSW South Coast. They are both passionate beachgoers — they love getting out on the water as much as possible, whether its kayaking, fishing, or strolling along the sand.
They wanted to be part of a small community, so we steered clear of larger towns like Batemans Bay and Narooma. Nonnie also wanted to connect with an artistic community.
So, we explored properties in Malua Bay, near a beach popular with walkers and kayakers, and other properties including a former artist’s home in Nelligan on the banks of the Clyde river, just 15 minutes from the ocean.
Combining your house hunt with your lifestyle goals and hobbies will make the transition easier.
Nonnie and Stuart wanted to combine an outdoors lifestyle with an artistic community. (Fremantle: Escape from the City)
5. You’re going to get cold feet and that’s OK
The best part of hosting Escape from the City is that priceless moment when joy spreads across the house hunters’ faces and they’re in love.
The reaction gets even better when they guess the price and realise — much to their disbelief — they can actually afford it.
I’ve had people like 55-year old single mother of five Lisa Moylan hold my hand and jump up and down in disbelief when she saw her dream home on the Sunshine coast.
There were tears of joy and hugs for days. It’s a powerful, emotional moment for many people and it’s an absolute privilege to be part of it.
Lisa (right) was looking for a relaxing, seaside lifestyle and found this on the Sunshine coast. (Fremantle: Escape from the City)
But the joy is often fleeting because sooner or later, the other shoe drops. We’ve made their dreams come true and nothing could be more terrifying.
The thought of moving your whole life to a new place, embracing a completely different way of living is enough to scare off most of us.
So, I often ask the house-hunters to remember why they’re doing this.
Lisa dedicated her entire life to her five children (including triplets). This sea change was about finally putting herself first and embracing a healthier, more relaxing outdoor lifestyle.
Another couple, semi-retired Malcolm and Phyllis Roberts, had a life-long dream of moving back to their country roots, but work, family or travel had prevented that from happening.
A health scare made Malcolm realise it was now or never. I’m delighted to say we found Malcolm and Phyllis not one but two dream houses (including a converted church) and here’s hoping they can finally make their move.
Escape from the City is on ABC TV tonight at 7:30pm or on iView.