Most people compelled to move for a job change are unhappy campers. And fewer than 20 percent get one of those fancy relocation packages paid for by the employer, notes employment expert Dan Lacey.
"Moving from one city to another to take a new job can be miserable for people who have started to put down roots. It's a wise idea to research the new locale to cushion yourself against unpleasant surprises," says Mr. Lacey, editor of the newsletter Workplace Trends, an Ohio-based publication on employment issues.
What most people don't realize is that even though their employers don't buy them a relocation package, workers can still qualify for a substantial amount of free relocation help through one of the nation's large realty chains.
"There are a lot of free services out there and people willing to help you make the transition. You might as well take advantage," says Hilda Quigley, who directs relocation services in the Baltimore-Washington area for the Prudential realty chain.
Realty specialists offer these pointers for those planning a job-related move involving a home purchase:
* Get "pre-qualified" for a mortgage before you travel to the new location to house hunt.
"Going to a new location cold can be a tremendous waste of
time," cautions Patricia Sauter, sales manager for the Prudential chain's Annapolis/Arnold office. "You can spend days and days and get very little accomplished."
Before you embark, your first step should be to contact a mortgage lender in the area where you live to obtain a "pre-qualification letter." Such a letter tells you the boundaries of your borrowing power, based on lending standards now virtually universal in the United States.
(Getting pre-qualified by a Maryland lender won't require you to take a mortgage with that lender, even if the company is national in scope.)
Knowing your limits will greatly streamline your home search, says Dorcas Helfant, president of the National Association of Realtors. "The pre-qualification letter is also a good bargaining tool with the seller to show that you able to go through with a home purchase at a certain price," she says.
* Call ahead for help through a major realty chain that has trained relocation specialists.
Several big realty chains -- among them Prudential, Coldwell Banker, Century 21, ERA and RE/MAX -- operate relocation services designed to assist with out-of-state moves.
Although they handle many company-assisted moves, they also offer more limited help to those moving without a fancy corporate package.
It's easy to tap into the relocation network by calling a local office affiliated with a national chain and asking for the toll-free number of its relocation firm.
(In fact, you can also tap into the network by calling a local independent office, since many are tied in with independent firms elsewhere in the country.)
At a minimum, the relocation network should assign you to a realty agent in the area where you're planning to move -- say Santa Fe, N.M. And the Santa Fe agent chosen for you should be specially trained to handle your relocation needs. At the least, you'll get help locating the right house and neighborhood in Santa Fe.
You may also get more comprehensive "destination counseling," including help finding other resources -- whether it be a day-care center for a child or a nursing home for an elderly parent.
* Contact the agent in the new area in advance of a house-hunting expedition.
Telephone the agent and convey, to the best of your ability, your lifestyle needs and preferences. Also candidly convey your financial constraints.
In addition, tell the agent where you will be working and how long a commute you can tolerate. Tell him what size and style house you'd prefer -- ranking the desired home features in order of priority.
Based on what you've said, the agent should send you (by mail, fax or overnight delivery) representative home listings from the new area. At the least, these should give you a notion of what your money will buy -- whether it be a one-bedroom condo or an eight-bedroom Taj Mahal.
* Travel to the new area for a house-hunting trip.
Since you're likely to be in a rush during this trip, your agent should set aside a concentrated period of time to ferry you about. You'll probably want to spend several hours per day in the agent's car -- or a minimum of one entire day if you have teen-agers in the family.
"If you can't sell teen-agers on the move it's going to be a horrible move for everyone," says Ms. Quigley of Prudential.
L * Don't rule out a move during your youngster's school year.
Conventional wisdom has it that you should restrict your moves to the summer so your child won't have to cope with a school year disruption. But relocation specialists have learned that conventional wisdom doesn't always apply, observes Ms. Quigley.
For example, a child who moves in June may suffer several months of loneliness until he can make new friends through school, Ms. Quigley points out. On the other hand, a child who arrives during the school year could benefit from the extra attention given by peers and teachers at the new school.