Moving to a new city? Very exciting, but where will you live? The questions just multiply from there: Should I buy or rent? Should I pay more to avoid a commute? Should I live with a roommate or alone?

It takes time to get the feel of a new city, and the house hunting process should not be rushed. A home is the largest asset – or liability – that most people ever have, and real estate is notoriously illiquid and difficult to divest. Besides, maybe you’ll hate your new job and want to leave after three months. Get to know the area before making any long term commitments, possibly by working with a local expert.

As the search for rental housing begins, keep your unique needs firmly in mind. If you have a pet, remember that not all landlords accept pets, and ask about pet policies first when contacting property managers. If you own a car, how available or expensive is nearby parking? If you don’t own a car, start looking at maps of the city’s public transportation and car-share services like Zipcar. Consider a neighborhood’s’ “walkability”, or how accessible by foot amenities like grocery stores, restaurants, entertainment, nightlife, shopping and other conveniences are.

If at all possible, visit the city in person to scout neighborhoods for their feel, vibe, and atmosphere. Do you want a hip urban neighborhood brimming with coffee shops, craft beer-lined bars, and vinyl record stores? Maybe you’ve just graduated college and want to live among preppy young professionals, or maybe your children have just graduated college and you want a quieter neighborhood rife with art galleries and upscale restaurants.

Whatever you’re after, research is key and seeing the city for yourself is the best way to make sure you’re getting exactly what you want. Of course, what you want from a home isn’t the only conern – your commute is going to play a big part as well.

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Image source: Hobvias sudoneighm

I’m not a big fan of math, but a brief home economics lesson is in order when evaluating commutes. In 2014, the IRS allotted 56 cents per mile as the cost of driving an owned vehicle (this figure includes gas, depreciation and maintenance, but not the cost of buying or insuring a car).

Subtracting out the 10 federal holidays, there are 250 work days in a calendar year. If you live 15 miles from your job, that comes to 30 x $.56 = $16.80 per day in commuting costs, or $4,200/year. That annual $4,200 cost does not account for the rush hour traffic stress, the lost time with your family and friends, the environmental impact of emissions or the generally lower quality of life associated with commuting.

Consider living closer to work (in the city), and better yet walking or biking to save those headaches and dollars.

While we’re talking math, let’s address an elephant in the room: what you can afford. All neighborhoods, cities, and even states are not created equal on rents, or housing prices, so in your scouting remember your means. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) considers anyone spending more than 30% of their before-tax income on housing costs to be cost burdened, and most personal finance experts agree that 30% is a prudent cap on housing costs. If you have your heart set on that trendy neighborhood with all the organic vegan restaurants, but your rent accounts for 50% of your income, there is another option: living with others.

If you’re moving alone, roommates offer obvious financial savings on rent, but the benefits don’t stop there. The shared home will likely be partially furnished already, saving money on both furniture and moving costs. Utility accounts are likely already set up, and monthly utility bills will be split rather than all falling on you. Roommates can also be a lot of fun, if chosen wisely. Remember you’re moving to a new city where you don’t know many people if any at all, and roommates can come all-inclusive with a social life, local expertise and even a few jokes you’ve never heard.

There’s another oft-overlooked advantage to moving in with an established roommate: more flexible leasing terms. Whether you sign a sublease agreement with the roommate or sign a new rental agreement with the landlord/manager, there is a better chance you can negotiate for a month-to-month lease or a shorter lease term (e.g. six months instead of a full year).

This flexibility allows for unforeseen hiccups like the job being a bad fit, or disliking the neighborhood, or wanting to buy your own place after getting to know the city better. Either way, it’s always better to see the property, walk around the neighborhood both at day and night, and meet any potential roommates in person before signing a rental contract.

Moving to a new city can be intimidating, but the antidote to fear is knowledge. Research the city and its neighborhoods online, look up recent home sales by neighborhood, rents, crime, and cultural hotspots. Visit in person if at all possible before choosing a home and neighborhood, contact that friend you haven’t talked to in five years who lives there, and check Craigslist homes for rent and shared housing offered by roommates.

Most of all make it fun: start a list of all the restaurants you want to try, the neighborhoods you want to visit, and the irresistibly kitschy things you want to do. The transplant experience can either be scary or exciting, the choice is yours.

[This article was written by Ella Jameson. Learn more about Ella @JamesonElla. If you have something you want to share with our readers, just give us a shout.
Featured Image source: Michelle O’Riordan]

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