Moving can be exciting. New job! New surroundings!
However, if you decide to relocate without investigating whether you can afford your new home and community, you could be in for a very rough surprise.
“Whether you are moving by choice or by necessity, you should evaluate all the costs of relocating because costs vary a lot, even within a metropolitan area,” says Teresa Luetjen-Keeler, a certified relocation and transition specialist in Fanwood, New Jersey.
Before you move, weigh the following costs.
After the mortgage and other costs of the housing itself, transportation is the second biggest expense for most households. Those costs can be high, whether you drive your own car or use public transportation.
While homeowners generally are urged to keep housing costs to no more than 31 percent of income, the combined cost of housing and transportation should not exceed 45 percent of income, says the Center for Neighborhood Technology in Chicago. The CNT developed the “H + T Affordability Index” to address the link between housing and transportation costs in more than 300 metropolitan areas.
Homebuyers often fail to estimate their transportation costs, says Scott Bernstein, president of CNT.
“Many people opt to ‘drive until you qualify,’ driving to neighborhoods where the housing costs are lower, not considering the transportation costs associated with living far from their jobs,” he says.
But transportation costs aren’t purely about commuting.
“For every five miles that the average person drives, only one mile is for commuting,” says John McIlwain, former chair for housing at the Urban Land Institute in Washington, D.C. “People need to think about the compactness of their neighborhood, how far they need to drive to reach places like the grocery store, school and medical offices.”
Taxes are especially important when comparing the overall cost of living in one area to another.
“Property taxes will be estimated on each home listing, but everyone should also review sales taxes and state and local income taxes,” Luetjen-Keeler says. “Some states also have personal property taxes on items such as cars and boats which can add to the cost of living.”
Bankrate has a list of state income and sales tax rates.
Be sure to contact your insurance agent or providers to receive an estimate of the costs of car and home insurance in your new location. People moving to a flood-prone or tornado-prone area may find they need additional coverage.
Car insurance costs depend not only on the car and driver, but also on local theft and accident rates.
Utility costs also vary from region to region.
“Utility costs have a lot to do with the size of the property and the energy efficiency of the design and the systems,” says McIlwain. “The best way to estimate them is to get copies of the utility bills from the owners.”
Even the cost of basic groceries and medicines can vary from place to place. To compare these costs, try Bankrate’s cost of living calculator by entering income, your old location and a new one. This will give you an estimate of the cost-of-living difference.
For example, someone earning $200,000 in Washington, D.C., would need 21 percent more income to maintain a similar lifestyle in Brooklyn, in New York City. By contrast, that same D.C. resident could earn 30 percent less in Dallas and still maintain a similar lifestyle.
Homeowners fees are another variable cost.
“It’s very important for people to know what the fees are and what they cover in terms of amenities and maintenance,” says Luetjen-Keeler, the certified relocation specialist. “You need to look at the association’s finances and ask about the rate of increase in fees.”
It’s important to note that costs are not the only factor in deciding whether or not to relocate.
“I think the primary consideration should be quality of life,” says McIlwain, formerly with the Urban Land Institute. “As long as they can afford to live there and still save for retirement, people should choose where they want to live.”