Relocating to a new city is an exciting experience — you can seize the opportunity to live in a new way if you’re bored with the status quo, and maybe find a place to live that caters to new habits you want to form, or that’s a better fit for a growing household.
But relocating successfully means that you’re going to have to do some research to make sure that your new digs are perfect for you, especially if you’re planning on buying a house. Yes, it’s true that you can always sell if you’re not entirely happy with your new purchase, but to avoid capital gains taxes, you’ll need to live most of the year in your new place for at least two years, and that can feel like a very long time if the property isn’t a good fit for you.
Not sure where to start with your relocation research? Here are 19 avenues to tap and things you’ll want to consider before you make an offer on a home.
Tap any local friends for advice and information
It’s easy to find friends all over the country in the era of social media, so before you start digging into researching your new area, think about anybody you already know who lives there and make things as easy as possible for yourself by talking to them first. They’ll be able to help you understand how long it takes to get from Point A to Point B and which neighborhoods or suburbs you should seriously consider from the start (and which ones to avoid).
Another bonus: Friends often have similar interests and tastes, so talk to your friends about what they like to do on the weekends, their favorite restaurants, and any other recreational or after-work questions that you have about their city or town. Once you’ve got a good idea of what their life looks like, it’ll be much easier for you to determine what you want yours to look like when your move is complete.
Learn about the neighborhoods
Big cities have numerous neighborhoods where you might find happiness, so take some time to learn about which different neighborhoods seem most promising to you, and which ones you might want to avoid. It’s always nice to talk to someone who lives in the area to start working on your lists, but if you don’t have any contacts in the metro or town where you plan to move, then start looking at Google Maps or another internet source to figure out which neighborhoods exist, then do a little bit of light research on each one.
Some neighborhoods or towns even have their own websites, and you can learn a lot about your potential new area by reading over those, or checking out local blogs — tap into the power of the internet to start narrowing your search.
Research the rental and real estate markets
Whether you want to rent or buy, it makes a lot of sense to research the real estate and rental market where you might be moving. If you want to start with renting but plan to buy eventually, then you’ll want to know how prices in the neighborhood line up with market averages — and if you’re planning on buying, you still want to understand the rental market in case you ever want to put your house on Airbnb for the weekend or rent out a room in your house. If you don’t know where to start here, there are a ton of websites — some more reliable than others — where you can find market statistics, but to get the real scoop on what the markets are like, find a trustworthy real estate agent and ask them for help.
Set up alerts for listings
Even if you don’t plan on moving for a few more weeks, you’ll want to start looking at home, apartment, or condo listings — whether for rent or for sale — to get an idea of what you’ll have to pay and what an average place looks like in terms of bedroom/bathroom count, square footage, the age of the property, its condition, and so on. You can get access to these listings through several websites that offer this information, but be aware that the listings you see on Zillow or Trulia might be outdated by the time they make it to your inbox. Still, all you’re doing right now is looking and getting a feel for your options, so that might not be a dealbreaker … but you’ll definitely want to set up a reliable method for finding a place to live when the time comes to actually go shopping.
Examine the cost of living
The real estate market is just one of many factors that will influence your monthly expenses; you’ll also want to look into other cost-of-living factors, like the price of gas, public transportation, utilities (electricity, gas, water, and internet providers), and even the average cost of groceries, which can vary from state to state and city to city. It might seem like moving to a more rural area is a good way to save money, but if the cost of healthcare and groceries is higher than you’re used to paying, then maybe it’s not such a great deal after all — make sure you understand what you’re getting into before you move.
Dig into crime statistics
You might think that the level of crime doesn’t matter, but if your bicycle gets stolen or your house gets burglarized because you neglected to secure one or the other, then you’ll quickly regret your complacency when it comes to crime. High-crime neighborhoods are sometimes where you can find great deals on housing — and if you’re comfortable with the level of crime, then don’t let us talk you out of it! — but you’ll want to be aware that crime exists so that you can take appropriate precautions to be as safe as possible.
There are a number of online sources that document crime on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood and even block-by-block level, and you can also research neighborhood watch groups or the local police department to see how it’s being handled by the community or the authorities.
Understand what the schools are like
Even if you don’t have children, it’s always smart to research schools before you buy a home, especially in a new area. After all, when it comes time to sell your house, many of the potential buyers thinking about putting in an offer may have kids themselves, and you won’t be doing yourself any favors at that future date by ignoring school ratings today. And high-quality schools can also be an indication that the community invests in itself, so you can often expect to find other amenities — like parks and trails and rec centers — where you find good schools.
Investigate the local scene/culture
Every neighborhood has its own unique flavor, and you’ll want to make sure you enjoy the taste before you decide to put down roots there. So after you’ve narrowed down the neighborhoods or towns on your shortlist, spend some time digging into what makes them special. Are there several venues for live music where you can count on seeing well-known bands? Coffeeshops with regular poetry readings? Universities or colleges nearby with a large student presence? Whatever the case, educate yourself about how neighborhoods define themselves — and how they measure up against each other in terms of cultural assets that you think are important.
Consider the job opportunities
If you’re relocating for a job, then you might think this is an unnecessary step — but you always want to think about your own future, and in this day and age, it’s pretty rare for someone to stay in the same job for a decade or longer. Make sure that there are other opportunities for someone with your skill set and your career history in the area so that you know you’ve got room for advancement, even if it doesn’t happen at your current employer. And if those opportunities don’t really exist or your current employer is the biggest, most prominent option in the market, then you might want to seriously think about whether buying or renting is a better choice for you in case you want to pick up and move again in a year or two.
Compare your salary
A lot of areas with a high cost of living also tend to offer pretty high salaries, and the opposite is also true — in places where you don’t have to spend as much money on living expenses, you probably won’t get paid at the very top of the market, either. Spend a little bit of time looking at how the salaries for your job title line up with the local market where you want to move and also nationwide, so that you can get a good sense of whether the companies in the area tend to pay fairly, whether people are generally underpaid, and what you might be able to do about it if you don’t think your salary is going to cover everything you need it to cover.
Research community assets/attributes
You may have already uncovered some of this information in your prior research, but it never hurts to dig a little bit deeper, so think about the assets and attributes you want most in a community and then ask yourself whether the neighborhood or town you’re considering has those qualities. Maybe it’s a top-of-the-line public library, or perhaps you love to trail-run and want to make sure there are plenty of places within easy walking or driving distance where you can do that. Golf? Swimming? Historical sites? Shopping? Restaurants? Those might not all be necessities or dealbreakers, but it’s always good to know if you’re going to have to drive 20 minutes to sit in a sports bar and watch the big game, or if there is likely to be one right down the road from you.
Spend some time on the Chamber of Commerce site
The local Chamber of Commerce website can be an absolute goldmine for learning more about the neighborhood or community where you want to live. Not every business joins the Chamber, but plenty of them do, and you might also be able to find out information about planned developments that are under construction or haven’t yet broken ground, Chamber-hosted events like holiday parties or summer picnics, and even discover sports leagues sponsored by local businesses that you never knew existed. For each neighborhood you’re seriously considering, give yourself some time to look into the Chamber of Commerce website to see what else it has to offer that you haven’t yet considered.
Lurk on the local Facebook page
Nextdoor might be the gold standard for community-based social media, but if you aren’t living in the neighborhood yet, then you likely won’t be able to get a Nextdoor profile to see what’s going on there. Instead, tap into Facebook, which usually has a number of local pages or groups that you can join to learn about the area — some of them are even demographic-specific, like parents with toddlers or business-owners. Unlike Nextdoor, you don’t need to live there to join, and you can use it as a forum to ask your own questions and determine whether or not the area is truly a good fit for you.
Investigate Instagram tags
Instagram might not have neighborhood-specific groups, but the ability to pinpoint your location or add a hashtag to a photo or video on the image-sharing social media platform can be incredibly useful for relocating buyers or renters who want to learn more about the area. You can get a sense of what locals and tourists like to do when they’re out on the town, and acclimate yourself to a new geographic space before you even get there, simply by spending some time exploring the tags on Instagram.
Do some research on Meetup.com
Even if you’re not a Meetup.com member — and even if you don’t like meeting up with people in general — this is a wonderful resource for learning about the different group meetings that are happening in your (potentially) new neighborhood and whether there are any options that appeal to you personally. Whether it’s a book club or kickball or a beer-tasting league, just about any kind of group activity is documented and advertised on Meetup.com, so it’s a good idea to poke around and see whether the adults (or kids) in the area like the same things that you like … and are organized enough to celebrate it together.
Think about climate and natural disasters
You may not like to think about the worst-case scenario, but let’s face it: It’s just not smart to move to New Orleans or Miami without understanding the possible impact of hurricanes, or to head for the mountains without knowing that wildfires are a real possibility, just to name two examples. So before you commit to a move, it’s smart to think about the climate in your new locale in addition to researching any “typical” natural disasters that could occur, whether that’s tornadoes in the Midwest or earthquakes on the West Coast. All things considered, you might decide that you’re fine taking a chance with your new locale’s typical natural disasters … but you definitely don’t want to make any decisions without at least thinking about how they might impact you.
Study traffic patterns and public transportation
If you’re used to a short commute to work, then you really don’t want to move into a new house in a new area only to discover that it’s going to take you 90 minutes each way to get to the office and back again. Before you buy — or rent — take some time to learn about the traffic patterns and public transportation in the neighborhoods or city where you’re moving so that you can be prepared for your trips to work, buy groceries, attend school, go to the gym, or perform any other necessary tasks that help make your life (or health) easier. You can use apps on your phone like Waze to chart how long it usually takes to get from Point A to Point B in a car, and some local public transportation offerings also offer apps or at least websites that will help you understand the train or bus schedule and figure out whether it fits your lifestyle.
Read the local paper
Not every area has one, but if the place where you’re considering relocating does, then there’s almost no asset as useful to a move as the local newspaper. Read it online (you may have to subscribe, but it’s well worth the price if only to take a look at the classified section — yes, it still exists!) or get a print copy if you can, but take the time to look through the paper cover-to-cover as often as you can. Even if you’re not that into sports, learning about how the city or town where you’re moving feels about its major league teams (and whether you can expect heavy traffic on game days) can be really useful, and even if you’re not normally a reader of the lifestyle section, it can also give you important insight into how other citizens and community members in the area spend their time.
Rent an Airbnb in the area
Before you make the move itself, it’s usually a good idea to spend some time in the new locale so that you can decide whether it’s really for you before you invest in moving there. Hotels are great, but to get a true sense of what it’s like to live there, rent an Airbnb or another vacation rental so that you’ll be staying in an actual residence like the one where you might live. This will give you plenty of opportunity to figure out where the local grocery store is, how to get to the park, the best route to work, and more.
Relocating is an adventure, and adventures can be inherently stressful if you don’t entirely know what to expect. So before you relocate, do your research — you’ll be much happier with the home you end up renting or buying if you’re able to sink your teeth into your new locale before you drop hard-earned money on a deposit or down payment.