For those expanding families who are struggling with their existing space and deliberating whether to move out or do up, here are some thoughts from Esmond Elliot Property Consultancy that might be worth a ponder.
The old debate of whether to stay in London or move out to the country has for a long time been the frequent topic of conversation for numerous families. There is much about the country life that is extremely beguiling to many of us. And it is no accident that the leafy suburbs of south London are often used as a staging post before a family makes the country move.
For those who are familiar with the practicalities of living in the country and are naturally country people, the country move will be absolutely the right thing to do and I would not want to say anything to deter them. There are, however, many of us, myself included, who have a tendency to over glorify life in the country and perhaps don’t think through some of the possible ramifications. It is perhaps worth considering some of these, so that any decision is made with sober judgement.
Increased Isolation-More Driving
Whenever my love/hate relationship with London turns more towards hate than love my beloved wife gently reminds me of a number of home truths. One of the reasons why she loves living where we do is that there is such a strong sense of community and that she is only 5-10 minutes walk or bicycle ride from friends, shops, doctor, dentist, gym and all the other things that make up every day living.
Whilst there might well be a strong sense of community in a rural village, services and friends will be more dispersed and this will undoubtedly mean more time spent behind the wheel. There is also, of course, the school run. Unless you are extremely lucky, this is likely to take up more of your day. Ferrying the children to and fro to both school and any playdates with friends can easily result in parents feeling that they are a taxi service for their kids.
Moving away from the Culture
Now how much this affects you is very much a subjective thing. I for one can think of nothing better than being in the middle of a wood far from the madding crowd. There are many, I am sure, who might think this peculiar and thirst for more prosaic sustenance. We are so very lucky in London to have such a plethora of cinemas, theatres, museums, concert halls and alike on our door step. We often take these for granted and only really miss them when they are no longer available to us.
Commuting Time & Costs
It might well be the case that the breadwinner’s job is transferable to the country and if so that is all well and good. However, for many this will not be the case, and the escalating cost of commuting can be a serious consideration in this debate. It is worth working out what the financial impact would be to your family budget. The other implication, of course, is time. It might well mean that the commuter has to leave home earlier and return later than would have been the case in town, resulting in less time during the week being spent with their loved ones.
Exiting the London Property market
Over the last 17 years working as an estate agent I have known many families move out to the country and for the large majority of them it has been a success. I have known quite a number, however, who discovered that for them the country life was not quite what it was cracked up to be, largely due to the above considerations. There was then the painful realisation that if they reversed the process and moved back to London they could no longer afford the kind of house that they were living in, as the market had moved on and they were forced to settle for a house which was inferior to what they had been used to.
To negate this potential hazard, it might be a good idea to consider renting for a period of time. This way you can taste and see whether the country life is for you without surrendering your London home. Should the experience not be quite all that you hoped it might be, you can return to town and your position is not compromised.
If all the above issues have been thought through and you are still certain that the country life is right for you, then I wish you God’s speed and I have to admit there is a large part of me that will feel rather jealous. If, however, these considerations have caused you to falter, but you just can’t bear the thought of embarking on building work at home, then perhaps moving to a less expensive part of town is the option for you.
Choosing to Stay & Do Up
For those who on reflection have decided the country move is not for them and have the ability and will to significantly enlarge their existing home, staying and doing up may well prove to be a canny option. Capital growth in London is always likely to outperform capital growth in the country. So if one sets aside all the lifestyle arguments, from a purely financial perspective staying in town is going to be a more prudent choice.
Doing a side return and rear extension can make a dramatic improvement to one’s living space; enlarging the house where most of the family time is spent makes a huge practical difference to everyday living. If it is additional bedroom space you are after, doing a loft conversion is a relatively non-contentious and inexpensive exercise. All the above work, as well as expanding the size of the house, will of course have a disproportionate beneficial effect on its value.
Embarking on digging out a basement is another matter, however, and should not be taken on by the faint-hearted. It might well give you the additional space the family desperately need, but it is a costly exercise, both in terms of finance and disruption. Only do it if you feel you are going to really enjoy and benefit from the space. Do not do it for investment reasons, as any up-lift in value is likely to be much the same money you put into it.
At the end of the day these decisions are very much subjective, depending on your own individual tastes and circumstances. There is no right or wrong in this debate. But I hope through mulling through some of the considerations above, it might have, in some small way, helped to find the right answer for you.
Esmond Elliot runs an independent property consultancy acting on behalf of buyers and have over 22 years of experience in both the Prime Central and South West London residential markets.
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