The U.S. Census Bureau reported in November that the rate of Americans moving hit an all-time low in 2016, with 11.2 percent moving to a new home and just under 2 percent making a significant move to a different state, region or country.
Fewer people may be choosing to relocate to avoid escalating home prices and rental rates or because they have stronger job stability than previous years. But that doesn’t have to stifle your ability to move to a new city – whether it’s for work, school, to be closer to family or to embark on a new adventure.
And when you decide to move, every market throughout the country has real estate agents trained to assist clients who are relocating to the area and can help you find your next home from a distance.
“A month to three months gives us enough time to work with them,” says Michelle Chicago, a Realtor for Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices KoenigRubloff in Chicago.
You should also plan ahead when it comes time to physically move. It's best to book a moving company with a minimum of a month’s notice during summer, says Angela Gonzalez, operations and quality manager for Unpakt, an online marketplace that connects consumers with vetted moving companies. You can allow for less time the rest of the year – two to three weeks – as moving companies are less busy and costs will be lower, she says.
“The more prepared you are, the smoother your move will be,” Gonzalez says.
Aim for the Off-Season
If you’re looking for the best time to find a home on the market – whether it’s to buy or rent – and save on moving costs, your best bet is to avoid the peak moving period during spring and summer.
By avoiding the time of year when most other buyers are looking, you’ll have more bargaining power, says Tim Burrell, a Realtor with Re/Max United in Raleigh, North Carolina, and author of “Create a Great Deal: The Art of Real Estate Negotiating.”
“If you’re competing against a whole lot of other people, it’s going to be difficult to get that house you love,” Burrell says.
He adds that Raleigh’s slowest months tend to be in November and December. In Chicago, the colder winters extend the slower moving season from November through February, Chicago says.
Those off-peak months for homebuying are great for getting a deal, but they can be tricky if you have school-age children. Burrell notes that many parents prefer to transition their kids to a new home once school is out for the summer, but there are alternatives if your employer expects you to be in your new city before school lets out.
For a smoother transition during the school year, he suggests early research on the schools in your next city that not only offer the right academic programs, but also extracurricular activities your kids enjoy, which can help them make friends with similar interests quickly.
“You can make the hardship less on the kids by keeping them at their school and separating the family or … you can find the best possible school and try to negotiate for a house in that school district,” Burrell says.
When Your Schedule Won’t Budge
A move to a different part of the country or state often involves employment, so you may not have much of a choice about relocating on your own schedule. Here are five things you can do to make relocating as seamless as possible.
Consider a staggered moving schedule. If you prefer to wait until your children have finished the school year but one spouse must relocate immediately, consider staggering the move. For example: Mom makes the move for her new job, while dad and the kids wait until June to move out of the old house.
While it may be the best choice if you’re worried about your kids picking up in the middle of the year, “it’s a hard way to live,” Burrell says, noting the added stress the separation puts on everyone. It also might not be feasible to pay two mortgages or additional rent for temporary housing all at once.
Look online. Almost all home searches start online these days, but if you’re moving long-distance, make the internet your friend.
Especially if you’re moving to a city where properties receive offers their first day on the market, catching listings as they go online can help you and your agent express interest as quickly as possible. Chicago recommends sending your agent to a newly listed home you like, even if you can’t see it in person. That way, she can take photos and videos and let you know if it meets your needs.
Take a virtual tour. Some listings even incorporate 3D virtual tours online to allow house hunters to see the entire home without having to schedule a showing time. These virtual tours, plus the photos and videos from the listing and your agent, may even be enough to make an offer – and in a market prone to bidding wars, that may have to be how you find your next home.
“Some of my relocation clients are buying sight unseen, and most of the time that works out. They trust me enough to know that I’m out for their best [interests],” Chicago says.
Have your money ready. The ability to pounce on an attractive listing is important, but so is how appealing you can make your offer. In bidding wars, Burrell stresses it’s not just the price that’s important, but also how easy the buyer can make the closing process.
He says some lenders go through the underwriting process before the borrower finds a home. The seller will like knowing the buyer’s financial background has been vetted, and all that’s needed is an appraisal and final approval of the loan.
“That offer is going to rise to the top of the stack,” Burrell says.
Take advantage of relocation subsidies. Many companies that frequently transfer employees to different parts of the country (and world) include relocation subsidies to ease the process. This often covers the cost to move furniture, travel while finding a home or even the closing costs on a new house. Check with your employer's human resources or relocation department for information on moving benefits.
Particularly for homebuying-related perks, be sure to let your agent know, as it’s another bargaining tool that can put you ahead of other buyers in a bidding war. “It gives a savvy Realtor a tool to negotiate a better deal,” Burrell says.
She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.
Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.