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If your current job market just isn't cutting it for you, you may be able to change your career outlook by moving to a different city. While a move is a major step, and shouldn't be taken too lightly, it can also help free you from problems like an expensive mortgage, a dead job market or just a chronic case of location-based boredom. Think a move might be right for you? Then read on to find out how to plan yours, and how to avoid common pitfalls along the way.
Timing is everything when you're planning a move - whether it's cross-country or just to another area of your state. Making a move on impulse isn't likely to improve your financial situation. It's important to plan a few months ahead, so you can save up the cash to pay for costs that arise along the way. Professional movers will cost anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars - and even renting a moving truck for a cross-country drive can cost upwards of a thousand bucks, especially once you account for gas fill-ups along the way. What's more, boxing up the contents of even a small apartment is likely to take at least a few days - so make sure you can get that time off work or otherwise fit it into your schedule.
If you're renting your current place, you won't have many worries when vacating the property - although, of course, you should talk to your landlord about getting your move-in deposit back. But if you still owe money on a home mortgage (as most people do), the law prohibits you from simply rolling the balance into a new mortgage. Still, you've got a couple other options. One option is to sell your home - on your own or through a real-estate agent - and use money from the sale to pay off your remaining mortgage balance. Another option is a short sale, in which you prove your inability to make the remaining mortgage payments and the bank finds another buyer for your home. Although a short sale will definitely hurt your credit score, it won't do nearly as much damage as a foreclosure would.
Once you've handled your move-out situation, the next step is to hire a trustworthy moving company. Simply renting a moving truck may be an option for you if you're willing to pack up and transport everything yourself - but if you've got a home full of heavy furniture, you can save yourself and your friends a lot of time and exhaustion by hiring professional movers. Although it's natural to look for the best bargain in moving services, it's important to watch for red flags, as some moving companies will damage your property - or worse, steal it outright.
You'll want to make sure that the company has license numbers from the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) - which you can paste into the form on the FMCSA website to check the company's safety record. Also check that the company is actually bonded and insured, and doesn't just claim to be, as many do. Any company that's proud of its genuine "bonded and insured" status will gladly provide you with proof if you request it - and any company that won't is unlikely to be worth your time. Lastly, don't trust any moving company that demands a cash deposit prior to the move, or that won't provide a cost estimate in writing. As long as these red flags don't pop up, you're probably in good hands with the company you've chosen.
As you plan the specifics of your move, some of the most important factors in your decision will be the cost of living, employment statistics, property availability and population demographics in the area you're aiming to move to. Many other factors hinge on these - for example, an area with a high population of middle-class families is likely to have access to good schools, while a town with a university is likely to offer some cultural stimulation.
In an area where the cost of living is low, you'll free up more of your own resources to take advantage of better education, health care, luxuries and so on. A few handy online tools can help you calculate the cost of living in your target region, as well as find demographic and economic specifics about it. For example, this cost-of-living calculator allows you to compare projected costs across a range of spending categories simply by entering your income, your current city, and another city that interests you. The federal government also provides free regional census data in an extensive variety of categories, including age, gender and national origin - as well as info on local industries and employment.
Searching for your city of interest on Wikipedia and WikiTravel will also help you track down climate info, transportation and lodging tips, and even rundowns on what to expect in various districts of the city - crucial if you're venturing into the unknown. A few Google searches for specific schools, hotels, stores and so on will round out your investigation, giving you a pretty clear overall idea of your new area. While you're at it, you might also try messaging some locals on Couchsurfing.com, a free online community that connects travelers and locals around the world. Even if you've already got your accommodations planned out, many locals are more than happy to offer insider tips on navigating the city and finding interesting things to do.
Whether you're planning to buy or rent, you can find housing results by searching Google for the name of the city you're moving to and the words "real estate listings," "apartments" or "houses." Apartments.com hosts a searchable database of nationwide apartment listings, which you can sort by region, price range, number of beds and baths, and even floor plan. If you're searching for a house to buy in your new location, try sites like Century21 Houses for Sale, ERA.com, Realtor.com, ReMax.com, RealtyDirectory.com and Zillow.com. All these sites include nationwide home listings, as well as contact info for real-estate agents in the region you're moving to.
As with any online business deal, it's important to be wary of scams when arranging an apartment rental or real-estate contract. Never agree to wire money in exchange for the key to an apartment or house, especially if the landlord hasn't personally shown it to you. This is one of the most common scams on Craigslist and similar sites: Scammers look for houses that've been foreclosed on, as well as properties that've sat vacant for a while, and set up too-good-to-be-true ads - sometimes even including photos - on a variety of popular websites. The most obvious sign of a scam like this is a request for you to send money via some non-refundable method, to a person you've never met. No matter how sweet such a deal looks, it's not legitimate.
Settling into a different location means fitting a lot of pieces into place - it'll take time and trial-and-error to find you new favorite grocery stores, parks, movie theaters and so on. Some resources, though, need to be ready when you arrive - and two of the most crucial are schools and health care providers. Although you may decide to change schools or doctors once you've spent some time in your new town, it'll give you peace of mind to know that you've got at least one option ready before you leave.
A variety of online resources can connect you with schools in the area you're moving to. The National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) provides a free public school and school district locator, which allows you to search a database of public schools across the country, as well as filter by district or by grade. If you prefer private education, the NCES also provides a searchable private school database - and the websites of organizations like the American Montessori Society, the Association of Boarding Schools, and the Association of Christian Schools International, for example, include search engines for their member directories. And if you want to check up on teaching standards and other educational stats in your region of interest, the official website of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) provides frequently updated news and reports.
For health care professionals in your new area, the WebMD Physician Directory and the U.S. News Doctor Finder provide some of the most robust search resources on the web. They'll both allow you to search by location and by specialty, and they both work to ensure that their databases only include board-certified physicians. For dental care, the "Find a Dentist" page on MouthHealthy.org is the way to go. This easy-to-search database only includes dentists certified by the American Dental Association, and it allows you to search by dental specialty as well.
How to Choose a Professional Mover -- Tips for checking a moving company's trustworthiness, including red flags to look out for.
Cost of Living Tool -- A quick, easy tool for comparing living expenses between two locations in the U.S.
RealtyDirectory.com -- A searchable nationwide database of real-estate professionals, including contact details.