I’m at the age now where the business of ‘settling down’ by-and-large dominates conversation.
It’s easy enough to shrug off with an affable yet insistent “Ha, that’s enough of all that”, but then I log in to social media and I’m bombarded with 76 pictures of a child eating a banana for the first time and I’m back to square one.
And amongst all this chatter about wedding bells, pension plans and little Tommy’s exceptional bowel movements, the inevitable underpinning dialogue: the housing market – something to which I’d given little thought until people my age started buying their own properties and talking to me about mortgages like I’m actually interested.
But regardless of whether you’re buying or renting, if you’re going to financially shackle yourself to a pile of bricks, where’s best to do so; the city or the countryside?
Bang for your buck
According to online property oracle Rightmove, the average property price in Hereford is £249,743 for a detached house, or £143,999 for a terraced.
In London, the average property price has now merrily sailed past half a million quid to £509,870, a princely sum which will buy you what is essentially a large room near the centre of the city, or a collection of much smaller rooms 700 tube stops out of town.
Do you know what half a million quid would buy in Hereford? A whopping great barn conversion with seven bedrooms, a sarcastic number of bathrooms, a couple acres of garden and maybe a nice shed.
(Photo: Mira 66)
In countryside property adverts they use words like ‘cloakroom’ and ‘boot room’ (yes, a room just for boots!). In city housing adverts the terms ‘has windows’ and ‘cosy interior’ (yeah, we all know what that means) is the best you can realistically hope for.
It’s the same on the rental market. My household pays more than £2,000 a month for our modest London terrace, a sum which, in the countryside, would pay for a considerably more sizeable detached property with a nice view, one of those swish boot rooms and a driveway where I could park my car without having to fork out hundreds of pounds on a permit.
The winner is: the countryside, because of basic mathematics.
Buying versus renting
(Photo: Steph Z)
Buying and renting are both supremely stressful affairs regardless of geography, but each area brings with it its own anxiety-inducing ‘quirks’.
Finding a rental property in London is arguably one of the most fraught endeavours you could ever take on, since the market moves at 500 miles an hour and there are literally thousands of other folk clamouring for a piece of the ‘cosy’ pie (with windows!).
To rent in London, you must be prepared to view, decide and put down a deposit within a one-hour timeframe if you’ve any chance of securing the place, and even then the landlord might take an offer from someone else.
Renting in the countryside is a much more sedate affair, since people tend to own (or inherit) property and there’s much less of a transient population, but this means choice is limited.
(Photo: Les Haines)
The opposite is true for buying property. Since it’s so eye-wateringly expensive to do so in London, the market moves at a more civilised pace. If a decent property comes up for sale in the countryside , be prepared to move fast - you may end up losing out to city folk reluctantly upping sticks since all they can afford in London is a box which about the same size as a boot room.
The winner is: the countryside, because “God damn it I just need a minute to think about this”.
(Photo: Ewan M)
“Oh God, Rachel, if you love the countryside so much why don’t you live there?”
Well, snarky, I probably would, were it not for my penchant of a Big Mac at 2am and the reassurance of knowing that if I choke on that burger I can get to a hospital quick-sharp, without having to wait for an ambulance to navigate its way through 30 miles of country roads and to subsequently get lost.
Plentiful local amenities are the pay-off for cramped living quarters in London, and when I’m being bombarded with seven kinds of ‘ambient noise’ and I can’t get in the shower in the morning and I have to fork out a hundred quid to park my car outside my own house, I take solace in the fact that it’s only a two-minute walk to Superdrug for a bottle of Kalms.
(Photo: Diamond Geezer)
In the countryside, though, the village shop observes some kind of indecipherable Mayan opening schedule, and the pub-cum-bookshop-cum-Post Office is open only if the owner can’t ‘smell a storm coming’.
The winner is: the city, because if you want a pineapple at 4 o’clock in the morning, that’s ok.
The local community
(Photo: Scott Beale)
In my research for this rant I stumbled across an article that claimed city living was great for community spirit, “as there are so many people around you to get to know”. And then I laughed and laughed and laughed, because the writer is clearly living in the 1950s.
Nobody in London knows the people living around them – most don’t even know the people living right next door. Without the occasional massive public event such as the Olympics or a royal wedding, people in the city would never even talk to each other (and even on these occasions it’s only because they’ve been daytime boozing). Simply making eye contact with someone on the bus will get you a strange look.
(Photo: Stepehn Dragall)
The countryside, of course, is positively bursting with community spirit. WI meetings, village fairs, cake sales, neighbourhood watch meetings, garden fetes and barn dances all contribute to such an unsettling level of familiarity that you can’t cross the road without someone asking you in for a spot of flower pressing, or to enquire about the health of your dog since “everyone’s heard he’s not doing so well”.
Everyone knows everyone else’s business in the ‘Shire, which can make for a very insular and seemingly unwelcoming atmosphere for outsiders. And I know – they never really forgave me for leaving, so now I’m classed as one of them.
The winner is: the countryside, because if you’re ‘in’ with the locals you’ll never be without a cup of sugar.
And the winner is... the countryside!
It’s cheaper, it’s better for your health and there’s a lot of warmly proffered cake. Doesn't matter that the Kalms are a half-hour drive away – you won't need them.