Guest Author - Reshma Vyas
Despite the recent unraveling of the housing bubble, home prices in many major metropolitan regions of the United States remain unaffordable when compared to median household income and as a result a significant number of first-time buyers find themselves still waiting on the sidelines; a decade or more in many cases. As the cost of housing and living soar in major metropolitan regions of the United States, more and more people are abandoning these expensive, congested cities (as well as the outlying suburbs) and flocking to smaller cities and towns in search of more affordable housing and hopefully, a better quality of life.
Before taking a headlong plunge into relocation for the specific purpose of purchasing a more affordable home, it is critical to draw up a “relocation” strategy.
Creating a Plan:
1. Formulate a clear purpose for the relocation, other than achieving the stated objective of purchasing an affordable home. The goal by itself is too vague. A home, at the most basic level, is shelter, but it is the life that you build in it and around it that provides the emotional sustenance. Make a list of the advantages and disadvantages of where you currently reside. What is your optimum price range in terms of housing? What are you looking for in your “dream” home? Is it a house with more yard space or sizable acreage? Do you want to indulge your long-standing wish to keep horses or live near riding trails? What else are you looking for at this stage? Is it a change in lifestyle, a desire to experience something new in terms of climate or outdoor recreation? Do you want a slower-paced lifestyle? “Quality of life” can be measured in almost countless ways.
2. Narrow your interests to a specific region of the country that offers housing in your price range and appeals to your interests. Try to come up with at least 3-4 areas ranked in terms of preference.
3. For each area, list features of specific interest (e.g., transportation, tax rate, median home and land prices, employment prospects, average salaries in your field, parks and recreational opportunities). For families with children, it is absolutely vital to make this a team project for a successful and fulfilling outcome. Have your children make a list of features that are of interest to them in their new place. Compare your lists. It is important for parents and children to discuss everything about relocation openly and it is a great way to obtain feedback.
Taking The Steps:
The internet is a great source when it comes to obtaining information on virtually any city or town in the U.S. Many municipalities have a website and that is probably one of the best places to start in gathering information. You can also peruse the Chamber of Commerce website for a quick overview. Familiarize yourself with hospitals, schools, parks, clubs and organizations, social services and utility companies in the area. Read the city or town’s online newspaper as well as any other local, online publications so you can become acquainted with the news, issues and events in the area. Assess the “real” cost of living by researching the property taxes, home association dues (if applicable) and other taxation levied on clothing, food and retirement income. What is the average price per square footage for residential real estate in your prospective city or town? A condo is not necessarily cheaper than a single family home. A single family home can cost less than a luxurious townhouse or condo in a gated golf course community with high association fees. Shop around for an experienced and knowledgeable realtor; not someone who just wants to make a “quick sale.” Prepare a checklist before visiting your new locale. As you make your list, consider everything from employment prospects, the type of housing you need, local taxes, the range of healthcare services, public and private schools to community and neighborhood amenities.
When you feel adequately prepared, plan for at least a 6 week “trial run” for experiencing life in your prospective locale. Why 6 weeks? Aside from the fact that you will need a lengthy period of time to survey homes, restricting your visit to the area for only 3-5 days merely makes you a tourist. It simply does not provide you with enough time to experience life in the area as a resident. Renting a short-term suite or apartment (corporate housing is one option) enables you to experience life in the new area more realistically as a resident (e.g., shopping for groceries, utilizing public transportation, attending local events, pursuing social and recreational opportunities). You will also need time to visit schools, contact employment agencies and in general, absorb the ambience of the city or town. As you become familiar with the area, survey neighborhoods and homes, make a concentrated effort to review your checklist weekly or even daily. Does the area meet most of the criteria on your list? You may, towards the end of your visit, realize that the neighborhoods that looked so wonderful on the internet failed to live up to your expectations once you saw them up close in person. Or, perhaps, you thoroughly enjoyed visiting the area, loved the social and cultural amenities, found your “dream” home and cannot wait to move.