London and coronavirus: why a young couple is moving to the country

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They tolerate cramped living spaces, noise and pollution. In return, they get the dynamism that rural towns often lack. The pandemic has broken this contract. And many city dwellers are ready to move.

“All the perks of London are gone now,” said Michael, 29, sitting in the garden of his tiny London apartment. “The pubs, clubs and bars are all closed, or they are open under very strange circumstances. ”

London’s pubs and restaurants have gradually reopened since July, when the coronavirus lockdown that turned one of the world’s busiest urban centers into a virtual ghost town began to fade. But social distancing rules mean many establishments are operating at less than half of their usual capacity, and some have closed permanently. In an attempt to get more Londoners to eat out, the UK government is even subsidizing restaurant meals in August.

Michael and his partner, Agata Olszewska, 28, had long planned to finally leave London. They would follow a well-traveled trajectory: spend their 20s progressing at work, then move to a more comfortable and affordable place. (CNN Business does not use Michael’s full name because he is employed as a public servant and is not authorized to speak to the media.)While the salary in London is generally much better than in other parts of the UK, the cost of living including rent is considerably higher and buying a property can be unaffordable due to the amount of the deposit required. This often causes professionals to move further away from the city when they want to buy a home.

“We probably thought about doing it in about two years, to get the most out of working in London,” said Olszewska, an architect. “The pandemic has kind of accelerated our decision to act now. “

Like many professionals, they have been working from home for months. He’s had his ups and downs. More than anything, they realized that there was little reason for them to stay in the city.

“Now we are in a position not to go back in our careers and to move,” added Olszewska.

Physical distancing was not possible in her small architectural firm, and the advantages of working from home are now outweighed by the disadvantages.

“I think it was a great novelty at the start. And that obviously saves a lot of time on commuting. But I feel like I may not be taking full advantage of being able to talk to colleagues, ”she said. “I feel like I’m definitely missing out on that – the side conversations and the experience of just being in the office with other people. ”

She will be moving to another company, where there will be more office space and more emphasis on fieldwork. Michael expects that even once office work resumes, he will only have to travel – either to London or to a local office – a few days a week.

The UK is reopening its doors.  London may never be the same

As real estate experts believe vacant London office buildings will eventually fill up increase again, they admit that offices can become more decentralized and that companies will need high-quality spaces to attract and retain talent.

For the couple, the decision to leave London was as much financial as anything. The average price of housing in London was £ 478,900 ($ 624,000) in February, according to the government land register, but spacious apartments near the city center can easily fetch at least £ 600,000 ($ 782,000) .

Eight or nine years of savings would be needed before the couple could consider buying in town.

“Michael loves spreadsheets,” Olszewska said.

Instead, the couple move to the Cotswolds, an area of ​​idyllic country towns near Oxford, where Michael estimates rents to be around a third of London levels.

“Working anywhere is the same as working anywhere else now,” he says. “Why not move somewhere where you have a fantastic local community? [and] do you have very nice sites around you? “

The country beckons

London’s suburban towns are teeming with anecdotes of city dwellers rushing to buy rural property, as they plan for a future that allows for more remote work. The fast train from Oxford to Paddington station in London takes less than an hour, and there are around 45 trains a day, according to the digital ticketing platform, Trainline.

“Emigration to London has always been a well-traveled route,” said Aneisha Beveridge, head of research at property firm Hamptons. “Lockdown has meant more people are making these decisions. ”

In general, she says, the trend is what you would expect: after months at home, people are looking for a little more comfort, whether it is an urban apartment with a balcony or an apartment. ‘a suburban house with garden.

The same dynamic seems to be playing out in other major cities around the world, including New York.

Beveridge said there was another major factor at play: closeness to family. In some cases, this encourages people to leave urban environments, while others relocate to cities.

“There will always be people coming to the city,” Olszewska said. “When I was a little younger, I really dreamed of being in London. ”

But Michael is not so sure.

“The big cosmopolitan cities are dying, but not dead,” he said. “People who have workplaces in cities need to think about what they can offer their staff and how they can really retain talent, because there is nothing that attracts people to big cities anymore. “

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