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6 ways to move temporarily

Thomas Wolfe was wrong: Sometimes you can go home again.

While most people think of moving in terms of buying and selling, sometimes a relocation is just a short-term affair. These days contract employees frequently take positions for a limited period of time. Or you might have the desire and the ability to thoroughly check a place out before making a permanent move.

But in contemplating temporary solutions, don't forget the human factor. If one spouse is commuting back and forth between the old home and the new location, that can put a tremendous strain on the family, says Peter Wayman, an executive vice president for Cendant Mobility, a global relocations company.

"There are hardships," he says. Among them: the remaining spouse has to juggle all of the home and family chores alone, while the other spouse is cut off from home and family while feeling like a stranger in the new location.

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Still, if you need a place to live in the new town but you don't want to lock yourself in, here are some creative solutions to temporary housing needs:

1. Swap houses. When Shari Steiner and her family were moving back to the U.S. from London some years ago, they knew they wanted to scope out San Francisco as a potential home base. So they traded houses with a California professor who was taking a year-long sabbatical in London. "We traded everything -- cars, gardeners," recalls Steiner, co-author of "Steiner's Complete How to Move Handbook". "We took care of their cat, and our daughter even stayed behind for the first couple of months [before school started] and babysat [for them]."

People have been house swapping since the 1950s, she says. It's especially popular among college professors, says Steiner, who has traded homes both to investigate new areas during relocation and to travel the world. Web sites she recommends include Homeexchange.com and her own Movedoc.com. Another good source: college and university offices in the town where you want to go.

Safety caveat: you're opening your home to strangers, and occupying their place as well. So check them out thoroughly. (In this country, with a person's permission you can do criminal background and credit checks. Local police can guide you on the former, while a Realtor can help you with the latter.) In addition, use the Internet to verify the basics of what a person tells you, says Steiner.

Also have someone you know in your destination city check out the property. "You might arrive someplace, and it turns out to be a total dump in a bad neighborhood," she says.

Make sure you have a written agreement that spells out the length and dates of the swap, the money changing hands (if any) and responsibilities on liabilities or damages.

2. Rent a home. For someone who's trying out a new location without cutting old home ties, it provides a nice safety net and an alternative to the all-or-nothing approach.

And if there's a chance you might want to move back to your old home, you could choose to rent it while you're gone.

But with renting (as with house swapping) there are money, safety and liability issues. Get a written agreement that spells out the length of the rental and all of the terms. When in doubt, get professional legal help, says Ron Phipps, principal of Phipps Realty Inc. in Warwick, R. I.

And make sure you've got enough liability insurance to cover any potential problems, he says. You and your renter also need to sort through any potential hazards, such as renting a pre-1978 house with lead paint to a family with small children, Phipps says.

In addition, a background check and credit check are always smart. And get permission to verify the renter's income, says Steiner. "One of the worst things that happens is when someone gets in, can't pay the rent, and you can't get them out," she says.

3. Short-term apartment. Corporate apartments run the gamut in price, depending on the region of the country and what you rent. Prices can range from $800 to $3,000 per month for furnished and unfurnished options, says Dennis Taylor, a senior consultant for Runzheimer International, a management consulting firm.

4. Executive suites. If you have a small family, or if one spouse is commuting back and forth to the new job, consider an executive suite. Many cater to business travelers and provide a lot of the comforts of home (coffee makers, refrigerators) with the benefits of a hotel (maid service, unlimited clean towels). If you're going to be staying frequently or for an extended period, ask if they have a special rate.

And scope out which hotel will suit your on-the-road lifestyle best. Wayman's favorite perk at his executive hotel of choice: a restaurant that's open late to accommodate his schedule.

5. Think vacation. If the area you're moving to is considered a vacation destination, you could also rent a vacation home for a matter of weeks or months. When his home sold but the new one wasn't quite ready yet, Phipps and his family rented a Rhode Island beach house for a month. Coming from land-locked Kansas City, "it was a nice way to start," he recalls fondly. "We hated to leave it."

But it's not an option everywhere. "When you're in a suburban area it's very hard [to find], and you're going to pay a premium for it," Phipps says. "But it makes the transition attractive."

Similarly, if there are time share complexes in your new area, "those are a very good source of short-term rentals," says Phipps. Especially if they are under-occupied or it's the off-season.

6. Camp out. Best lesson: don't be afraid to get creative, says Phipps. One of his favorite solutions to the temporary home dilemma: a man who is having his dream home built on 10 acres rented a mobile home and had it installed on the site. The family enjoys the new experience, while at the same time looking forward to their new house, Phipps says. "His kids think they're camping out."

Dana Dratch is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.

-- Posted: July 7, 2004

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