Itching to relocate? Many homeowners eventually get the “grass is always greener on the other side” urge and dream of moving to a more favorable location – perhaps one that is less expensive or brimming with greater educational, social and job opportunities.
Catering to this demographic, many organizations publish “best places to live” lists that crunch the numbers for you and rank cities and states according to desirability factors, such as affordability. Two recent examples are the Council for Community and Economic Research’s second-quarter 2012 list of the least expensive urban areas to live. It indexes the cost of living in 300 cities across the country. Plus, Money magazine released its list of America’s best small cities.
But before you put up that “for sale” sign and start packing your bags for Harlingen, Texas (no. 1 on CCER’s list) or Carmel, Ind. (tops on Money magazine’s list), a greater degree of due diligence is required, the experts say.
“The lists are a great starting point, but knowing why you are moving – not where – is by far the most important factor,” says Brian Coester, CEO of appraisal management company Coester VMS in Rockville, Md.
In fact, the list may make it more difficult to choose, Coester says: “There is actually a danger to over-relying on lists of ‘best places.’ While they provide a valuable resource, these lists don’t tell the entire story, such as whether your style of living will fit with what a particular city has to offer.”
Ted Stimpson, president and CEO of online moving resource MyMove.com, agrees. “Today, people contemplating moving have much better access to information than at any other time in history,” he says. “This is due to the Internet and multiple data aggregation sites. The problem becomes too much data. The key is to whittle down the onslaught of information on your new area into the things that really matter to you.”
Impressive words and numbers only tell part of the story, Coester says. He recommends making several vetting visits to a preferred city before uprooting and suffering mover’s remorse.
“Many places look good on paper or when you’re just driving through town,” he says, “but living there is very different.”
Tanya Marchiol, CEO of real estate investment firm Team Investments in Phoenix, says it’s also crucial to get feedback and guidance from others.
“It is imperative you have a good real estate professional on your side. These [lists] are important for research and educating oneself, but do not use them solely as fact,” Marchiol says.
Stimpson further cautions against interpreting such lists as gospel: “In fact, there are great places within the worst-ranked cities on the national lists, as well as terrible areas on the best-ranked cities lists.”
Especially in today’s economy, choosing a town that offers greater potential for employment is a must, Coester says.