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Do your homework before accepting that out-of-town job

Cut the costsThere are dozens of reasons why people pick up and move. But there's one thing everyone who's moving needs to do -- research. If you're just moving across town, you know what you're getting into, but if the move will take you across the state or across the country, do your homework. Otherwise, you could wind up living in a place that doesn't suit your lifestyle or, worse, is too expensive for your budget.

Sheila Hensley, president of Executive Relocation Services in Memphis, Tenn., says when people interview for a job, too often all they hear are the perks -- they don't consider the cost of living comparison before taking the job. When they find out how much it will cost to move and that housing, food and utilities cost more, it's too late -- their salary is already set.

"It's not that they don't think of these things," says Hensley, "it's that they don't think of them at the appropriate time."

Finding comparable housing
The biggest jolt for most people will be housing. Hensley is an exclusive buyer's agent, meaning her company only represents buyers. New clients, she says, often start looking for a house by saying, "We live in a $120,000 home now, we want to limit it to that."

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"I say it doesn't work that way," says Hensley. "We need to find the number of rooms, square footage and basic style of the house you're in now. Then we ride around, find one, and see it's listed for $137,000. Now they're armed with information they need. When they talk to their prospective employer they can say, 'Based on my research, I can't replace my housing for that salary, therefore I need this to make a lateral move.' Corporations understand that kind of talk."

Melanie and Mark Beyea of Madison, Miss., spent time with Hensley while they were in Memphis interviewing for a job.

"She showed us different towns and the price ranges are unbelievable," says Melanie Beyea. "The same kind of home as what we have here is $20,000 to $25,000 more. Everyone else told us cost of living would be about the same. We're in a suburb of Jackson, we were looking in a suburb of Memphis -- not even close."

Location of key services
Beyea says Hensley talked to them about everything -- preschools, commute times, medical facilities, water bills, electric and gas.

"We narrowed it down immensely. We picked a town we felt comfortable with, one that looks like what we live in now. I'll wait to find a home in that town or close by," says Beyea.

Now, if the Beyeas decide to take the job, they'll know how much housing and all that goes with it will cost. They won't find themselves living over their means and, perhaps, regretting the decision to move.

Another important thing to do when considering relocation, says Hensley, is to talk to a mortgage specialist in the new town. Talk to them about taxes, homeowners insurance, how loans are made and what the mortgage company requires from borrowers. Don't, she says, talk to a real estate agemt about mortgages.

"Real estate people like to say they qualify people financially," Hensley says. "That's not their job. Am I ever going to lend you a dime? No. Then don't pay attention to what I say about money. You want to know about property value, OK, that I know."

Go in person and use the Internet
Nothing takes the place of visiting the area you're considering moving to and with the advent of the Internet it's easier to find lots of information on just about any town in the good, old U.S.A.

Most search engines will cough up a load of sites if you look under "relocation." Many sites will let you find demographics about any area, including crime statistics, cost of living comparisons, major employers and school information.

A trip to the library also will help you make a smarter move. There's a hefty tome called Moving and Relocation Sourcebook and Directory published by Omnigraphics in Detroit. Editor Nancy Kniskern says they tried to hit the 100 most popular cities people are moving to.

"There's travel information, cost of living index, history of the city, plus we tried to include as much contact information as possible -- city hall, government offices," she says. "We also looked at different communities, type of environment, quality of living, the schools. We tried to get as much information as possible that someone could really use in one place."

Salary isn't everything
Reginald Honychurch says he's seen plenty of intelligent people make major relocation mistakes based on their lifestyle. Sometimes, he says, not moving because you'll have to take a pay cut can be a mistake.

"A guy who lost his job was offered one in North Carolina for $20,000 less. He said he couldn't accept a job for that amount of money. Six months later he's still out of work and looking for a job. What he didn't know was even with a $20,000 pay cut, he could have lived better and had more money in his pocket had he accepted the job."

Also look at Money Magazine's annual "Best Places to Live" issue. It bases its decisions on 37 quality-of-life factors including crime, housing prices, and water and air quality.

When relocating, it also may be important to think out of the box -- in other words, don't just swallow the Chamber of Commerce relocation packet hook, line and sinker.

South Florida? Not always paradise
If you vacation in South Florida during the winter and think it would be a fantastic place to live, here's a book for you: What To Hate About South Florida: The Travel-To, Move-To Guide by Scott Marcus, who has ditched Florida and moved to Boston.

Marcus will give you a laugh while he reminds you about:

  • Summer -- "Hurricanes, tornadoes, thunder, lightning, hailstorms, floods and wildfires."
  • Wildlife -- "Venomous, stinging, biting, slithering, flying, crawling and swimming."
  • Driving -- "One-third of the drivers can't see over the steering wheel, one-third just got their license for the first time, and the other third is stoned."

Marcus says there are plenty of relocation sources that give you the "rosy stuff" about an area -- look, he says, for the truth.

"People live in the northeast and come to Florida in January when it's beautiful and there's three feet of snow up north. They're driving with friends or relatives and don't see the traffic and other negatives. They get a quick impression and say, 'Let's move down here.' They buy something and move on a whim."

So, whether you're looking for the perfect job or the perfect retirement home, or just to get the heck out of town, take time to do your homework. The ideal job won't be so hot if you don't like the new town. The fabulous retirement home in the mountains might make you miserable if you have allergies. Do the research, make the phone calls, visit the place, talk to people. It could save you money and heartache.

 

-- Updated: Jan. 3, 2002

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See Also
Understanding moving insurance options
Your guide to self storage
Calculator: Compare the cost of living
Moving glossary
More moving stories

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