Relocation And Downshifting: Introduction
Chris and Gillean Sangster downshifted themselves from London, first to Wiltshire and then to Scotland where they now run their own holiday let business.
Perhaps you have a little nagging voice in the back of your head somewhere, suggesting that you should be thinking of a major change of direction in your life. When you watch a programme on TV where people are considering a relocation or describing a complete change of life or work focus which they have achieved, perhaps you answer the voice with a quiet ‘I could do that’. If you have these kinds of feelings periodically, consider the following:
- Have you ever stood face-to-back in an underground train on an August afternoon and wondered why you’re doing it?
- Do you regularly find yourself crawling along in a queue of traffic for what seems like for ever — and are still miles from home?
- Have you sat viewing the piles of paperwork on your desk and wondered whether you’ll ever see clear wood veneer again?
- Is it part of your key Sunday activity to look through the country property section of the newspapers and think, ‘What would I give to live there’?
- Have you ever watched someone do as a job what you only touch on as a hobby and thought, ‘I would rather be doing that’?
- Have you ever sat looking about you in your present house and thought, ‘What am I doing here?’?
- Have you ever driven past a cottage in the country with a For Sale sign outside and fallen in love with it?
If you have, this book is for you.
What’s the plan?
This book will look at some of the key implications of downshifting and relocation and consider the main criteria you can use to judge whether the time is right for you. We’ll review the pros and cons of living in different parts of the country and provide ways for you to judge what level of country living is best for you. This could be roses round the porch door in the middle of a village, that isolated croft house surrounded by acres of your very own land, or myriad other options. Specific chapters will check out the finer points of selecting and purchasing a property and the realities of using part of your home for running your business, whether it be B & B, office for networking assignments or art and craft studio. We’ll consider all the options.
Although we lived in Europe for a couple of years, we will focus on relocation within the UK, while acknowledging that many of the thought processes leading towards deciding to downshift will be similar, regardless of where you finally relocate. You may already be conscious through reading in the press that relocation abroad is a very country-specific exercise, with legal systems, property laws and local council or equivalent arrangements varying dramatically between countries and sometimes within different areas of the same country. If your sights are set abroad, we recommend that you consult books and reference sources which concentrate on each particular country, to avoid problems at a later stage of the exercise.
With some thoughts towards your personal work/life balance, we’ll review the options for changing your way of life — and how you can keep life and work as separate as you wish when working from a home base. Assuming that the relocation is more likely to be from town to country, we’ll discuss the finer points of keeping your property up and running, considering possible obstacles such as:
- septic tanks
- private water supplies
- local tradesmen
- the possibility of living miles from the nearest large town.
Special attention will be focused on the finer points of running a business which allows you to earn enough to live on while still enjoying the relaxed country atmosphere you crave when you’re stuck in that underground train or traffic jam.
So, let’s get down to business. How do we define the difference between relocation and downshifting?
Downshifting and relocation
The dictionary defines relocation as ‘movement to a new district of work or residence’, with emphasis on the change of place or location from one point to another. Downshifting can be defined as being ‘movement from a way of life and work to a lower, less stressful level’. You could, fairly evidently, relocate from, say, London to Newcastle while continuing to work in the same or a similar job for your current company. This might have little effect on your work/life balance, although it might give you a less stressful journey to and from work. By our definitions, it would involve relocation but not downshifting.
As an alternative but additional step along the relocation/downshifting path, you could for example be a solicitor who lives and works in London and who decides to move to the Bath area. There you might take up a position with a legal and estate agency practice, with perhaps your partner giving up full-time employment. This would involve an element of downshifting as well as relocation but not entail working from home (unless this was within your partner’s game plan). The book will consider a range of such options, with the implications of each.
Getting more focused
The type of relocation which we’re considering, therefore, will include at least some degree of downshifting in order for there to be any point in going through the process. As the old adage goes, moving house is one of the most stressful things you can do, bar divorce. Add the potential of changing your lifestyle, setting up to be self-employed, kissing goodbye to a regular income and probably even dragging teenage children away from their much-loved urban haunts and you have an amalgam that must beat divorce by a short straw.
Are we trying to put you off the whole exercise? We certainly are not! Are we trying to present the situation as objectively as possible to allow you to prepare yourself properly and thoroughly? We certainly are.
Value for money
In Britain, it’s a key pastime to regularly check on the value of your current property and discuss what this sum would buy in other parts of the country. As a reality check, the days when the half a million from your two-bedroomed Kensington flat or whatever would buy a castled estate in Scotland are largely gone, unless the aforementioned castle needs twice that amount spent on it to make it weathertight and habitable.
There certainly are variable values around the country, however, and if you’re realistic, your downshifting in terms of job and income can still result in having a more flexible, relaxed lifestyle than you currently enjoy, in a property with grounds and facilities that you can only dream about at present. The chapters which follow will take you through the process of making the judgements necessary to decide whether those dreams will be turned into realities.
As you will read in Appendix 1, we have moved between Scotland and England several times, have lived in rented accommodation in Brussels for a couple of years and have owned a variety of properties. These have ranged from our first home, a one-bedroomed terraced cottage in a Scottish village costing little over the equivalent of a year’s salary in the 1970s, to a 500-year-old thatched and timber-framed manor house, which we sold for what can be smugly referred to as ‘a tidy sum’. Like many others, much of our financial flexibility can be put down to the purchase of a relatively run-down London property with potential, which we sold 14 years later at a very healthy profit.
Moving from London to Wiltshire and from Wiltshire to the West Highlands of Scotland allowed us to get more for our money, certainly in pure property terms. The selection of location and facilities has allowed us also to revise our work/life balance in order to downshift to a more enjoyable, flexible lifestyle than possible when conventionally employed, while maintaining a reasonable income. In the world of checks and balances, what we may have lost in safe, regular salary earning, we have infinitely more than made up for in quality and enjoyment of life. That, in our judgement, is crucial. That is what this book will help you achieve, with eyes wide open.
Objective decision making is very important when going through the process of changing your whole way of life quite dramatically. Decisions regarding relocation and downshifting should not be engendered by an absolute hatred of your current job and/or location. If they are, you’re liable to make subjective judgements which you will live to regret. If, for example, you’ve spent most of your adult life in the middle of a town but are growing weary of living cheek by jowl with neighbours you don’t like, the immediate solution of a cottage in the middle of nowhere in the Scottish Highlands may not seem so wise in deepest winter if the power fails and the water pipes freeze. Or maybe you can take the challenge in your stride?
In order to check this out, we always strongly advise people who are thinking of moving to a new area to make a point of visiting – and staying in – the area at different times of the year. You can find that some places which veritably buzz with activity in the height of summer draw in their limbs like a hibernating tortoise for four or five months over the winter. Is that what you want? It may be, but then again ... You must make the judgement because it’s you who will be living with your decision.
Don’t think about selling up and downshifting from town to country on a whim to ‘see how you get on’ in some rural idyll for a few years. If you do, you can be fairly certain that, financially, you’ll have eaten into the amount you made from selling the house in town – and probably can’t afford to buy it back to pick up on your former lifestyle. If you’re thinking about self-sufficiency in Wales, rent an allotment near home for a while first and experience the amount of effort involved in growing a row of carrots to half the size you buy in the supermarket! This book will help you make these types of decisions objectively – and save the heartache later.
Getting your sums right
Be realistic about the earning potential of your relocation and downshifting plans, especially for the initial months. In writing business plans, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of including year-on-year income increases which you know the bank manager loves to read, without having any real idea where that income’s coming from – or the real level of investment or expenditure necessary to make these projected incomes possible. It’s a natural reaction to start off house hunting with a particular budget, which then rises like a thermometer in a heatwave as you’re tempted by what’s available over the financial horizon. Remember that you have to pay the mortgage in the quiet months as well as the successful ones – don’t create a millstone for your neck which will overwhelm any improved lifestyle you have set out to achieve.
At this point, you may be thinking there are a lot of ‘don’ts’ creeping into the text. Are they trying to put us off totally and if so, what’s the point in us reading further? No, the ‘don’ts’ are there to get you in the right frame of mind to consider your options fully. Only by doing this will you appreciate the relocation process as a bigger picture which you will gradually tailor to suit your particular priorities.
Planning objectively, you’ll be in a better position to decide what you really want to do and where you really want to go. You’ll be able to better judge locations and price brackets which will then allow you to do what you want to do in a sustainable way. We, for example, have set up a holiday cottage business. We worked out that the minimum number of letting properties which would bring us an acceptable income over the year would be three. Knowing the sum of money which selling the property we owned at the time would realise, we could then assess the highest amount we could spend on purchasing these three letting units and a home for ourselves.
This figure had implications on the choice of areas around Britain where suitable properties were within our price range. (We had already decided to stay in this country – buying abroad would of course have been another option.) Where we underestimated in our calculations was in judging the overall cost of refurbishing and structurally altering the property we purchased in order to produce these four living spaces. This was further complicated by the difficulty of judging the amount of work involved in converting an older building, where you seldom know the extent of the job until you start removing the surface coatings.
So, however well you plan, there are always pitfalls and traps along the way. Invariably, once you’ve got your first bank loan, additional loans are more easily forthcoming. However, tread that path with care. It may seem like the answer to the problem to extend your borrowing – but just remember the cloud of the monthly repayment. As a benchmark, you can ask yourself the question, ‘Are my repayments in January and February going to colour my enjoyment of the Christmas festivities?’ And if the answer is ‘no’, is it because you can cope or is it because you’ve gone past caring? Think objectively – it may be boring but it helps to support your chosen work/life balance, long term.
The range of our investigations
A rapid scan through the contents pages will give you a taste of what’s to come. This book is mainly concerned with the property side of relocation and downshifting. The specifics of downshifting and the choices and decisions open to you may be discussed separately. It will, however, be necessary to consider the implications of downshifting from time to time, where decisions associated with your plans will have a knock-on effect on relocation choices. So, the book will review locations, building types, facilities and the variety of requirements on offer to help you achieve the kind of work/life balance you prefer.
We’ll consider the various options for working from home and what requirements this places on the design of the property itself, reviewing some of the priorities for setting up a professional office within your home. We’ll share our experiences – and those of others – regarding the upkeep and maintenance of larger and rural properties and compare and contrast our dealings with tradespeople around the country, in both urban and rural settings. Periodically, we’ll include questionnaires and other forms of interactive checklists to give you the opportunity to review your priorities and decisions as you gradually refine your personal master plan towards designing your new life and location.
So, what are we waiting for? Let’s get down to it!