At first glance, Peder and Ingri Lie's house-hunting experience seems typical. The couple spent several weekends looking at homes in Baltimore County over the past year.
But there's a catch: While searching for a house, the Lies lived in Middletown, N.J. Serious house-hunting meant driving for six hours (three to the Baltimore area and three back) and staying overnight in a hotel, a trip they made seven times.
"It was exhausting," said Mrs. Lie, who, like her husband, works at Wilhelmsen Lines USA Inc., a shipping company that recently moved from New York City to Baltimore. After looking at about 50 houses, the couple finally chose a $250,000 three-bedroom rancher in Cockeysville last July.
Selling an old house and buying a new one is never easy. But it's even more troublesome when you're moving to another city and have to deal with unfamiliar territory.
If your corporation pays most of your traveling and moving expenses, or offers to buy your present home if it doesn't sell, you probably won't feel too hassled. But many people don't have that luxury.
"Generally, those kinds of perks are only offered for people who are at the higher levels [of a corporation]," said Karin Batterton, a W.H.C. Wilson & Co. partner who handles a lot of relocation work. "The greatest percentage of people who are moving are not at those levels."
To make the process as painless as possible, plan carefully, real estate specialists say.
One of the most important steps: finding a real estate agent in your new city who can acquaint you with the area quickly, says Timothy Rodgers, owner of Hill & Co. a Baltimore realty firm.
Your local real estate agent is probably the best resource for such referrals. Many brokerages belong to national relocation networks that provide names of brokerages or agents in other cities, Ms. Batterton said.
For example, O'Conor, Piper & Flynn is a member of PHH Home Equity, a subsidiary of the Hunt Valley-based PHH Corp. Wilson & Co. belongs to Chicago-based RELO/Intercity Relocation Services Inc.
Ask your local broker to prescreen a few agents for you, and interview three or four over the phone, Ms. Batterton suggests. Choose a full-time real estate agent who has several years of experience.
Once you've found an agent who meets your specifications, give her as much information about yourself and your tastes as you can, recommends Mr. Rodgers.
Other important information: how many children you have, what you'd like your commute time to be, whether you prefer to live in the city or suburbs, and what type of home you're looking for.
You might also provide a photograph of your home if you're looking for something similar.
Make sure the agent marketing your house understands your time frame and bottom line objectives, Ms. Batterton adds. And make sure the agent will promote your house as much possible.
Ask the agent who's helping you look for a new home to send information about the new area. Many agents provide "relocation orientation packages" containing material about such subjects as tax rates, settlement costs, and schools, said Denise Reardon, director of O'Conor, Piper & Flynn's Corporate Relocation Division.
Often, videotapes that provide an overview of the city and its suburbs are available.
"This is a way to start people off so they feel like they're being educated, and not coming in blind," Ms. Reardon said.
You can also call or write to the new area's chamber of commerce and ask for such information, Ms. Batterton said. Many can provide material about schools, neighborhoods and cultural institutions.
If you're particularly interested in the test scores at a certain school, a local board of education should be able to provide those statistics.
Plan to make at least two trips of two or three days each to find a house, Mr. Rodgers said. Before you start looking at houses, ask the agent for a tour of the new city or county.
"You really want to get a feel for the city, the neighborhoods, the schools, the shopping, the religious facilities," Ms. Batterton said.
Once you've done that, you'll have a better idea of where you want to live.
Even if your time to locate a home is limited, try not to look at more than eight houses per day, Mr. Rodgers said, because after that everything "becomes a total blur."
Once you've found a house, ask your realty agent to check comparable housing prices in the area. You should also be able to obtain that information through the local Board of Realtors.
You may need to wait to purchase a new home until you've sold your current residence, particularly if you can't afford to pay two mortgages, Mr. Rodgers said. You can also work a clause into your contract stating that buying the new home will be contingent on selling your old one. This option was taken by Ingri and Peder Lie when they bid on their present home.
Sometimes, though, there's no way to avoid a double mortgage burden.