I am an e-changer. The quintessential Aussie uniform of shorts and thongs are my regular work uniform. A far cry from the suits I used to wear as a corporate lawyer in Sydney.

Each weekday I work from my home office – a leisurely 15-metre stroll from my lounge room – and connect via computer and telephone with my colleagues in Sydney, Melbourne and Newcastle as well as clients around the country.

While I rarely have to visit the head office in Sydney, it’s a convenient 1-hour flight from Gold Coast airport. Brisbane is also a mere 90-minute commute.

Demographer Bernard Salt labelled these centres “lifestyle towns” in his February 2016 Super Connected Lifestyle Locations Report (Super Connected Report). “Lifestyle towns” ostensibly allow workers to relocate from the city and telecommute to their jobs with the touted advantages being lifestyle benefits and the ability to scale back on mortgages and other expenses.

Life wasn’t always this way. Rewind to early 2013. My husband and I were living in a rental property on the North Shore of Sydney. Faced with notice that our landlord planned to sell our rental property at the end of our lease, and simultaneously having to adjust to new parenthood, a reduced income and horrendous Sydney child care expenses, life was stressful. We watched with abject horror as the real estate prices in Sydney skyrocketed out of our reach.

We repeatedly heard at dinner parties from other 30 somethings: “how is it that two professional people with decent incomes cannot afford to buy in this city?” We decided to leave Sydney for an e-change – and after reading that property prices had risen 45% since 2012 in Sydney, it was a good thing we did.

E-change is a term coined by the Super Connected Report to describe a combined sea or tree change with a technological flavour. My family is certainly not alone. The Super Connected Report identified that approximately 400,000 Australians have already made an e-change.

For anyone who is considering joining in the e-change revolution, the following are key things to consider before you take the leap.

1. Location, Location, Location

While the “lifestyle towns” identified by the Super Connected Report are not the only locations suitable for an e-change, they are a good start.

The Report identified these towns for the following reasons:

  • Their proximity to capital cities (all are within two hours and are “commutable access” by car); and
  • They have proven fast and reliable access to broadband connections, or access to the national broadband network (NBN).

Additionally, location is a very personal choice. For example, your chosen location should align with your interests and hobbies – if you are into stand-up paddle boarding there is no point moving to the country!

Ready access to family and friends (whether it be via an airport or road) is also something important to consider with a location as it will take a while to build up a support network in your new town.

2. Career Portability

Be honest with yourself as to how you will put money in your pocket during your e-change. Is it really possible to do your job remotely? If the answer is no, you may need to consider other options such as a lateral career move with telecommuting options or even start a new business that you can principally conduct over the internet.

Advances in tech will likely see more industries become receptive to the idea of the remote worker – especially when companies realise they don’t need to provide office space for those employees. The Super Connected Report optimistically estimates that 1 million Australians will have made an e-change within the next decade.

You should also consider whether there may be “Smart Work Hubs” close to your chosen relocation area. “Smart Work Hubs” are shared spaces outside of the home and office allowing employees to work remotely.

In 2014, the NSW Government established pilot program “smart hubs” in select cities including Penrith, Rouse Hill, Oran Park, Gosford and Wyong. The idea was to allow commuters to work from these hubs rather than travel to the Sydney CBD. The overall outcome of this program was positive. Many workers took the option to work from the hub at least a few days of the week. This ‘half-way’ option may also be worth considering.

Fortunately, I can work remotely and firmly advocate that more employers should offer this alternative to workers.

3. Buying v Renting

Now that you have ticked location and career off your list, and before you pack up your laptop and surfboard and leave the city, you need to know where you are going to live. Choosing a place leads you to the perennial question: will you rent or buy?

The Case for Renting

Presently, there are good property deals to be had in regional and coastal Australia if you were considering purchasing a property. However, if you are not familiar with your chosen location or you are not 100% committed to the permanency of your e-change, it may be worth renting for a while until you are sure the change is permanent.

While the regional and coastal property market may have some bargains, conversely, it can also be difficult to sell the property. More importantly, it will be difficult to sell them at a profit in a short space of time. Therefore, buying when you are not sure may lead to buyer’s remorse, not to mention a costly stamp duty bill.

The Case for Buying

On the flip side, if you are committed to your e-change, buying before you leave the city and tenanting the property until you are ready to make your move is another strategy worth considering. This purchase may also be a prudent investment if your move is not imminent.

This particular approach worked well for my family and provided good stability after our relocation. It also limited our move to one move rather than two during the transition from city to the regional area.

4. Keep Your Expectations Low

If there has been one thing we have learnt through this entire process is that it is sometimes better to take the leap of faith and jump. While it might not be what you expected, life will still have its ups and downs whatever your location and the reality might be better than you hoped!

In my experience, life is certainly sweeter in far northern New South Wales than in Sydney. My family has experienced a quieter lifestyle, significantly reduced living expenses and the location is far more child-friendly.

The Super Connected Report echoes our experience with 76% of those who have left cities for sea/tree or e-changes and are happier with their work-life balance as a result.

So, what are you waiting for? Have you made the e-change? Let us know about your experiences on LegalVision’s Twitter page.

Emma Heuston

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