London or Country - head or heart?

Posted on 7 Jul, 2020

Viewber Co-Founder Ed Mead's latest Spectator piece, this one discusses whether it's likely that the post Covid rush to think about moving out of London will materialise.


Why you should think twice about moving out of London...

In Lockdown we’ve read townies want to be country bumpkins and you could be just as productive in West Dorset as you could in West London. For most this is a binary choice so what’s it going to be?

Bucolic imagery is no substitute for real life and despite repeated promises from Whitehall, BTopenworld and a mobile industry criminally unable to deal with roaming, the reality for a significant minority, if not majority, of rural dwellers is that countryside communications are woeful. Last time I checked you got a mobile signal and fibre in W6.

For several decades the demographic shift has been very much to live in conurbations. Particularly relevant has been the seismic shift in thinking of your home as a piggybank. London Property has been a safe repository for many a recession and even black swan events. The 08/09 financial crisis had pundits rushing to tell everyone that London property would plummet, yet within months it had rebounded and bettered previous highs. Over the last ten years UK average house prices have risen 38 per cent but that figure leaps to 73 per cent if you’re in Greater London.

Therein lies the reason most will think twice before rushing to the country, even if they could get in touch by email or mobile to argue with you – overseas buyers. London is affected as much by exchange rates as domestic interest rates and has unique qualities that even a pandemic can’t hide. It’s on the Greenwich Meridian, so markets in Asia and the US are reachable in working hours. It’s an island, so repels borders. It’s politically and legally stable and has been for hundreds of years – even European countries struggle with that last one.

All of these are powerful reasons why the world’s elite come to live and do business in London – despite successive governments milking this golden goose with swingeing SDLT rises and ATEDs. If you want to retain capital value, not yield, you own property in London.

For all the talk of offices collecting cobwebs, the idea that companies will abandon London doesn’t hold water either. For every one of us discovering Zoom there’s another decrying the loss of body language signalling or visiting their optician for a stronger prescription. Physical meetings may be conducted less often, but they’ll still be needed, as will hive learning and career advancement, so how far would you go and still commute occasionally.

Much of the Home Counties is just a huge suburb running from one village to the next town with little open countryside and prices that might make the move seem less appealing. The real dichotomy is that by definition the moment you’re in real countryside with affordable property you’re too far away to commute.

If only I had a fiver for every time a friend moved to the country to get their kids in to the right school, to find that every time the same kids have a weekend break or half-term they disappeared straight back to London to stay with friends. Living the Country life is an age thing. Try this test – drive to any Town at least 90 minutes from London, sit on a street corner and note the ages of the first twenty people. Return to London and do the same thing, the average age in London will be half.

The received wisdom over the last three/four decades has been that older people will move out – but even that’s changing as cool over-55 developments in London appeal to cashed up aging baby boomers wanting a technicolour retirement. They can be closer to their kids and benefit from a lifetime of acquired contacts to still do some business on the side, especially useful as annuity rates have crashed – another change that mitigates against spending the rest of your life in the Country.

Recent events might also mean a Wicker Man welcome in Dorset and anyway, as someone who’s had size 10s in both camps, inveigling yourself into the County Set is a job that takes a generation.

So, to sum up, your money won’t be as safe, you won’t be able to communicate with anyone, you’ll get bored, London will seem a long way away and you’ll miss your mates.

- Written by Ed Mead

(Article originally featured on The Spectator Life)

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