The great post-pandemic exodus to the countryside has just begun, but at what cost?

More people are moving to rural areas and this is expected to boom once lockdown ends

As either a direct or indirect response to the pandemic more and more people are turning to rural dwelling, but at what price? This article explores some of the main challenges and budgetary issues to be aware of before moving to the countryside, and the top tips to overcome them.

Contrary to what popular folklore and gothic horror stories would lead you to believe, the scariest threats to an idyllic life in the countryside are not represented by murderous pagan cults à la Wicker Man, nor by the lingering haunting of Hawthorn-ian ghosts. There is, instead, a more mundane yet undeniably real threat of financial instability led by: among others, high maintenance costs, lack of infrastructure and unexpected repairs. Many of these issues tend to ‘come with the territory’ and yet most urban-dwellers are still often ill-prepared to face them.

The number of people seeking a property in the countryside or looking to relocate entirely from more urban areas has skyrocketed during the pandemic, as the longing for open-spaces and the comfort of smaller communities had gained momentum. This was also massively aided by a shift in remote working, which for the first time in history, had made the exodus not only desirable but highly possible. This phenomenon has been often described as: de-urbanisation.

“Back in early March 2020, I had friends who worked in the government, who leaked information and told us lockdown was coming (…) I used that as an opportunity to make a decision. I realised that I needed outdoor space and to be out of the city while lockdown was going on.” Cheryl Muir.

Cheryl Muir

A 2020 survey conducted by estate agents Savills found that four out of ten respondents preferred a more rural location, and more surprisingly, 71% of young buyers valued more outdoor space. This shows a trend, especially among younger folks towards the country lifestyle. But how do expectations hold up against reality after taking ‘the big step?

More and more people are starting to warn others against taking too rushed decisions and some even regret the move entirely. The reason isn’t simple but it can be boiled down to four main points. 

  1. Old structures that cannot stand the test of time
  2. The high cost of energy
  3. Less than ideal transport
  4. Grocery shopping & deliveries are scarce and expensive

But this piece isn’t only about dragging the countryside into the mud, no-pun-intended, rural dwelling can be the right choice for you as long as this is approached with carefulness and awareness. We’ll look at some of the main grievances and provide our advice from expert sources on how to be better prepared.

“I work with clients over Zoom, and the WiFi is not always consistently strong. If it rains hard, the WiFi is glitchy! True story.”

Cheryl Muir

1.Old and Inefficient Structures

Although part of the charm of the countryside lies in its beautifully stone-clad cottages and ancient villages, the extent of maintenance that many of these older structures require can be surprisingly off putting. What is more is that not every issue lies in plain sight:

Mould, a lack of proper insulation are among the most common problems but perhaps not the most pernicious. Things like old and inadequate piping, inefficient heating, signs of structural damage can be less than optimal, and subsequently result in impossibly high living and maintenance costs.

Vengeful spirits? More like the ghost of the moulding past and present!

Our first suggestion may sound quite obvious but remains, nonetheless the most important advice. Whether you are renting or buying, be sure to have a checklist to guide you when looking out for some of the most common signs that your property might be in need of more work than you can afford. 

Among the many checks, a very important one for country housing in particular are any sign of widespread moulding. Spots of moulding and crack on walls’ coating may not only suggest that the house is in need of a nice repainting, but that the structure is poorly insulated and thus is at the mercy of humidity and other adverse weather conditions. Also, mould is no laughing matter when it comes to health, and an exposure to the substances naturally produced by its spores can cause allergic reactions and can be seriously damaging for people with a weakened immune system.

Keep an eye out for insufficient ventilation. The most common predictors for mould are external humidity and dampness caused by condensation forming inside the house, therefore, an underperforming heating system and inefficient ventilation are big tellers that the house’s current mould issue may not  be one to go away so easily. 

2. The high cost of energy.

Clearly, these two issues bleed into each other pretty evidently. Defects and inefficiencies in the structure lead to high energy consumption, leading to higher and higher expenses. And though this is by no means a uniquely rural issue, it is indeed far more likely:

“Fuel poverty is proportionately more prevalent in rural areas.Homes in rural areas are typically less energy efficient and can be more reliant on potentially more expensive heating fuels”

Rural Housing Statistics (202) .Gov

One of the worst offenders when it comes to energy consumption is of course, heating. And because the old structures rarely benefit from more sophisticated energy-efficient insulation, the effort of heating your home can be enormous and still have less than adequate results. 

Moreover, heating is one of the main components to reduce humidity and prevent moulding, so really, the heating issue lies at the heart of the matter.

A great choice to save energy costs is installing a wood-burning stove. In fact, these are not only quintessentially country and will give off the warmth and glow that is hard to beat on a winter’s evening, but you’ll be able to heat your home for a fraction of the cost of conventional fuels.

You won’t have to compromise on style or substance, by choosing a charming yet cheap wood-burning stove.

When making this choice, of course you will have to look out for the most efficient models that will require less wood to generate heat.

Pellet stoves hit the 90% efficiency mark and they run on waste wood such as sawdust compressed into pellets and are very cheap, very efficient and make overall for a more eco-friendly combustion.

We cannot recommend this enough. These appliances are great for country installations especially if compared to oil burners and once in place your heating bills will plummet. 

You could even decide to leverage your new location and source your own wood, however, even when this is not possible, remember that one tree could easily support one heating season on an efficient stove. This means that a real Christmas tree could turn into an all-year-round free fuel.  Also, all those old newspapers and cardboard that lie around everybody’s houses will make for great free fire lighters.

For kindling, buy a kindling axe and it is easy as well as satisfying to chop your wood down into small sticks. After all, isn’t’ this one of the best parts of living the country lifestyle?

 Make the best of your new country lifestyle by sourcing your own materials.

Sourcing wood locally would be the best option both from a cost and environmental perspective, in fact, unlike gas and oil, wood-burning is a far more sustainable option. After all, you are not burning fossil fuel and by sourcing local wood you’ll leave a much smaller carbon footprint. You could start by speaking to a local tree surgeon who will almost certainly be able to provide good quality cheap logs.

“You must ensure that your logs are seasoned though as otherwise they will not give off the heat, be bad for the environment and your chimney.”

 Richard Fewings – Managing Director of Volsom Ltd.

Moreover, stoves are incredibly advantageous in the event of a power outage, which in remote country locations can be very disruptive. Stoves can be easily used as cookers as well as heaters and water boilers. 

3. Less than ideal transport. Although many might have been inspired to move by their love of fantasy literature and its celebration of nature, this doesn’t mean that they should approach a trip to the post office with the same risk-assessment required by a hero’s quest in a Tolkien saga. Yet, the remoteness of many countryside locations and lack of infrastructure can make journeys difficult to plan, expensive and in some cases, even risky.

The most obvious advice would be to make sure you minimise your travel, if you require a three hour commute every day, perhaps you’re not ready to relocate just yet. But even if you enjoy far better arrangements, you’ll find that travelling in the countryside has its downsides. Forget a safe and relatively cheap taxi ride after a boozy Friday night. Taxi companies are scarce and therefore their prices are steeper and often they won’t be available at certain times and need advance scheduling. Access to trains can also be a hassle as delays and cancellations of the few rides can jeopardise your plans.

During the re-pandemic ages, car-sharing was becoming increasingly popular among young people on a budget and especially for those living in rural areas, it also encouraged a much needed sense of community and one of the most eco-friendly ways to save on fuel and other travel expenses.

Car sharing could become popular again

Although it may not be advisable within the current emergency, it’s safe to assume that it will resume as soon as things go back to normal. In the meantime, cycling continues to gain popularity, with the government-backed cycle to work scheme and other initiatives to facilitate access to and encourage cycling and walking. And thanks to the wider availability of electric bikes even those new to cycling will be able to cover more than reasonable distances.

4. Grocery shopping & deliveries are scarce and expensive:

Needless to say the range of choice you might have grown accustomed to in the city, is not a given in the country. Say goodbye to the endlessly diverse gastronomical world-tour of takeaways, and the same is true with other essentials. If you are accustomed to relying on deliveries, make sure you take into account extra costs as well as delivery delays. Furthermore, local stores tend to have overall higher prices and fewer bargains

Even though the obvious choice would be to go power-shopping and fill your vehicle to the brink at the closest megastore, maybe first it would be useful to remind yourself why you moved to the countryside to begin with. 

Growing your own fruit is sustainable

It would be such a waste not to support and reap the benefits from the abundant supply of fresh produce and food provided by local farmers and markets. These often represent the gold standard in terms of quality and processes. Also, in many cases, it’s still possible to negotiate prices and quantities as you’d be eliminating the middle-man. And while we’re on the subject, why not start growing your own food? Chances are, you’ll have more access to fertile land and if you’re up to the challenge, the extra outdoor space could be possible to keep chickens and have fresh eggs every day.

In conclusion… should you stay or should you go?

Earlier on in the article we quoted Cheryl, who fled the city last year right before lockdown, and she doesn’t regret this choice for one moment

“I started to explore aspects of country life I hadn’t tried before – summertime wild swimming, ice swimming and hiking. I’m looking forward to learning to horse ride, and attend a local retreat called meditating with horses. It’s a much more relaxed, healthy, nourishing way of life in the countryside.”

Living in the country has brought to her unexpected health benefits that vastly surpass any practical annoyance or the buzz of the city life. Another aspect that she highlights is that city life can also be incredibly expensive, however, contrary to the countryside, there is simply not the same trade-off in terms of benefits, rather, the stress and rhythm of city life is notoriously stressful.

“I would focus on the lifestyle benefits – what will be different? Will you be able to hike, take your dogs up the fells, to learn to horse ride? How will that impact your mental and emotional wellbeing? From there, you truly have the drive and motivation to deal with any small annoyances in the home, or any glitchy WiFi moments. It’s worth it!”

Cheryl Muir

Cheryl’s story highlights a trend in millennials going back to nature, looking to retrace their roots. She has travelled the world and lived in many urban areas, such as Melbourne, Manchester and Vancouver, but she felt that it’s time to return to her Lake District, where she grew up. There truly is No Place Like Home!

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