The best way to prepare for a move from outside of an area involves a bit of planning, and can start months or even years prior to moving…the more time you have to research and learn about the different cities and neighborhoods and what they have to offer, the better. I always advise taking time to go through the following steps so that when it comes time to find the right home you are not only prepared, but can feel confident that the neighborhoods you have selected are the right ones for you.
1. Find a great real estate agent. Yes, it is important to find an agent who is familiar with the areas you are considering, and to do so early in the process. If you do not know which cities or neighborhoods may fit your criteria an agent can help you narrow down areas. You may find properties online that look great, but a local agent will know things about areas and neighborhoods that you may not learn online. Use your agent to help narrow down the possibilities by creating a list of “must-haves” and a list of “desires.”
2. Start researching cities and important criteria. When planning a move the initial research will be tedious but should be done online. Before even looking at homes you should research areas – cities, specific neighborhoods. Look at maps and find out the proximity of neighborhoods to important places. If you do not know whether an area has homes that fit your budget it is a good idea to get help from your real estate agent. She or he may also be able to provide you with area maps that highlight different housing developments, so that you can see where they are in relation to important places.
Of course there are important criteria that you will insist upon, like being close to “good” schools, shopping, transportation or to your place of employment. Once you have narrowed down specific areas it is time to investigate these things. You can start online if you are not currently in the area, and when you visit you can of course expand your knowledge by driving around and visiting places that may sway your decision one way or the other. If schools are important to you then visit school websites, check out test scores and parent comments, and when you visit you can meet with school staff and even speak to parents to get feedback on the school.
3. Compare and contrast the differences in the areas that meet your needs. This is where your agent can help as well, especially if you live out of the area. Personally I like to put everything in writing, and I advise my clients make lists of each area they like. The list can be live, meaning that it may constantly change as more information is presented to you or as you visit. Make notes on different neighborhoods and even floorplans – whether you see them online or in person, and keep those lists updated as you move through the process.
4. Visit the areas and spend time driving around, checking out neighborhoods. I always recommend doing so well before you are ready to move, even it it may be far off, because the way you perceive different neighborhoods can of course be different in person. Drive by homes in neighborhoods in the areas you have identified. I suggest visiting neighborhoods that appeal to you several times – in the morning and afternoon – to check things such as noise levels, whether residents are home during the day, etc.
5. Make a list of your favorite neighborhoods and start visiting homes for sale. Even if your move is far off, it is a great idea to start looking at homes once you have narrowed your search down to a few neighborhoods. This way you will see what floorplans appeal to you and fit your needs. This makes it a lot easier when it does come time to purchase – you will be much more prepared and will be able to keep up with sale prices and comparables in the areas – all of which will benefit you when you are ready to purchase.
Buying a home should not be a rash decision, even if you need to move quickly. Use your time wisely to research and use your agent to help you. When it comes time to make an offer you will feel knowledgeable and confident because you did your research.