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The big move

There are dozens of reasons why people pick up and move -- a better job opportunity, proximity to family, lifestyle changes and retirement being among the most common. But there is one thing everyone who moves needs to do to make their relocation a success: research.

If you're moving across town, you know what to expect. But if your move will take you to another province or territory, you need to do your homework. Otherwise, you may wind up living somewhere that doesn't suit your lifestyle or, even worse, is too expensive for your budget.

Grant Hunter, co-owner of The Home Hunters, in Calgary, is a relocation expert. He says when people move to another city, their new job and salary rank foremost in their minds, when "cost of living in the new location should be a major factor."

Gathering information about your target community is crucial to a smooth transition, he says. You should consider the term for which your new position is guaranteed; travel time between a prospective home and the office; and amenities such as schools, daycare, transit and sports facilities.

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Lastly, you must consider how likely a home in your target community will appreciate in value compared to your current property.

Know what you're looking for
Make a list of neighbourhood amenities you desire. Do you want to live in a rural or an urban community? Are you willing to commute to work, or would you prefer to walk or ride your bike? Are recreational facilities important to you?

If you have school-age children, Hunter suggests calling local school boards directly with questions or concerns. While a chamber of commerce will provide prospective buyers with a wealth of knowledge, don't swallow their information hook, line and sinker.

A small northern community might sound charming, or a seaside urban centre exciting, but ask yourself: can you live in a place where it snows six months of the year or rains for weeks on end? Know what you want and what you can live with.

The local library and Internet are excellent sources of information. Search engines will cough up a load of sites if you look under "relocation." Look for demographics, crime statistics, cost of living comparisons, major employers and school information.

And when you're getting close to a decision, remember that more and more real estate companies offer online tours of the homes they list.

Hunter says you should also be clear on what your company will do for you. For example, some companies will guarantee the sale of your home. Others will specify the number of trips or volume of expenditures they'll underwrite while you visit the new community to search for a new home.

"Will you be able to purchase your new home before your existing property is sold through corporate bridge-financing or personal interim financing?" Hunter asks.

Finding comparable housing
The biggest jolt for relocated employees is usually housing. Most companies offer relocation incentives to employees in the form of lifestyle bonuses or cost-of-living and salary increases to ensure they achieve an equal or better standard of living.

Don't take this for granted, though. Ask if that's how your company operates. Get quotes from reputable moving companies and compare them to the amount of money your company is willing to give you for moving costs.

Before you sign any contracts, investigate the destination housing market yourself. If your salary increase is small, but the city to which you are moving is not as expensive as your current one, your standard of living could improve substantially.

Conversely, if you are offered a much higher income, but are moving from Winnipeg to Vancouver, you might watch your standard of living decrease or remain static due to disproportionate housing costs.

Talk to local experts
Visit a mortgage specialist or real estate agent in the new location, preferably someone who comes with good references. Someone with experience in relocation usually has a system in place to make relocation successful. So, take the time to interview an agent and speak to some of his past clients to ensure he can commit the time and services you need.

Whether you're looking for a better job, the perfect retirement community or just an opportunity to get the heck out of town, it pays to do your homework -- make the phone calls, visit new neighbourhoods, talk to people. It could save you money and heartache.

Pam Withers is a business journalist, business-book editor and author of a best-selling teen novel.

-- Posted: Sept. 20, 2004
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