Thinking of Moving? Your Guide to Finding the Best Place to Live

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Although the pandemic and changing economy expanded the map of where Americans would consider moving in droves, it didn’t change the fact that moving is one of life’s top stressors. Deciding to put down roots in a new place can be mentally, emotionally, financially and logistically taxing, and at the end of it all the goal is to be happy and settled. One of the most important aspects of moving is deciding on the right place.

With 50 states, five territories and a myriad of cities, the relocation options in the U.S. can be overwhelming. This post will provide expert tips so you can build a solid game plan to guide your decision-making and feel confident when it’s departure time.

Florida real estate agent Jose Calvo, who has worked in the industry for 26 years, has witnessed an unprecedented number of people moving to Palm Beach County during the pandemic, oftentimes from origins he’s never encountered before like Utah, Washington, the UK, Spain and Greece. He said more people working remotely during the pandemic has made it more feasible for those wanting a change of scenery in the Sunshine State.

Overall, about one in five Americans moved during the height of the pandemic in 2020, or know someone who did, and the reshuffling of locales continued well into 2021.

The heightened mobility is accompanied by a greater risk of buyer’s remorse, however, and Calvo advises those seeking a new hometown to carefully weigh the rational and emotional aspects of the decision. In addition to doing your own research about potential destinations, Calvo said one of the most important steps is to connect with an experienced agent for guidance and valuable insights.

“We’re at a high point for relocations everywhere in the country,” Calvo says. “People are itching for change from where they’ve been living. This is where we, as professionals, can provide the most help.”

Moving can entail stress, anxiety, financial expenses and a loss of community that can trigger sadness, so it’s not a decision to make on a whim.

A bike path in a new location where someone lives.
Source: (Gabriella Clare Marino / Unsplash)

Fully vet your reasons for moving

“What brought you here?” This is a common question fielded by nearly everyone who’s ever relocated to a new part of the country. There are a lot of reasons why people decide to move to a new place. These can include:

  • More job opportunities
  • To be closer to (or further from) family or acquaintances
  • Adjustments for financial changes
  • In search of better schools
  • To be near more healthcare options
  • For expanded cultural needs
  • To access more outdoor recreation
  • Personal safety issues
  • For more preferable weather or seasons
  • To live in a more walkable or bike-friendly community
  • For a fresh start on life

The important thing is to clearly identify your own reasons, and then prioritize and contextualize them.

For example, your primary reason for moving may be to break into a new career because there are limited job options in that field in your current city. However, you could also have secondary reasons, like wanting to be in a city with an active nightlife that also has an array of fine independent coffee shops, especially after being cooped up for months during the shutdown.

In such a scenario, it’s important to consider that the move itself may change your priorities. You may find yourself so busy with your new job that you’d rather spend evenings brushing up on professional skills, or you discover that brewing your morning buzz has become a more enticing ritual than venturing out to the nearest espresso bar.

In another scenario, you might decide to move from the icy Northeast to the balmier Southeast only to find that high humidity makes you less comfortable than having chronically cold toes. In other words, Calvo explains, deliberating on the decision involves thinking about potential outcomes and knowing what really matters the most to you in a hometown.

“People are taking advantage of today’s market and moving for personal, business, health and political reasons, or to retire early and work from home in a place with nice weather,” Calvo says. “Also, there are issues with taxation and inflation in other states — taxes are high in California and New York, for example.”

Top moving trends

In addition to upending the world as we knew it more generally, the pandemic led to economic upheaval causing scores of job losses, career changes by necessity, a shift to remote or hybrid work models, a greater desire for outdoor recreational opportunities and sweeping changes in the real estate market.

According to Calvo, a spike in home prices motivated many empty nesters to sell their homes and downsize, maximizing their return on investment. Low interest rates have also enticed first-time homebuyers and those wanting to upgrade from starter homes without having to empty their cash reserves on the purchase.

In many instances, homeowners are taking advantage of the market and selling high-priced homes in places like California for houses with equivalent square footage in lower cost states like Idaho.

People are taking advantage of today’s market and moving for personal, business, health and political reasons, or to retire early and work from home in a place with nice weather. Also, there are issues with taxation and inflation in other states — taxes are high in California and New York, for example.
  • Jose Calvo
    Jose Calvo Real Estate Agent
    Jose Calvo
    Jose Calvo Real Estate Agent at CGI Realty
    • Years of Experience 11
    • Transactions 426
    • Average Price Point $339k
    • Single Family Homes 294

Inbound migration

According to a study by moving company United Van Lines, here are the states with the highest inbound migration during the the pandemic:

  • Idaho
  • South Carolina
  • Oregon
  • South Dakota
  • Arizona
  • North Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Alabama
  • Florida
  • Arkansas
  • Maine
  • New Hampshire
  • District of Columbia
  • New Mexico
  • Nevada
  • Alaska
  • Kentucky

Outbound migration

The National Association of Realtors found these states had the highest outbound migration during the pandemic:

  • New York
  • New Jersey
  • Illinois
  • Connecticut
  • California
  • Kansas
  • North Dakota
  • Massachusetts
  • Ohio
  • Maryland
  • Louisiana
  • West Virginia
  • Nebraska
  • Minnesota
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
A hammock used while camping in a new spot.
Source: (Spring Fed Images / Unsplash)

How to zero in on the right place for you

A better bet than following the latest trends is to do extensive research on potential destinations. But before you even get to the research phase, the first step is to take stock of your current location and know exactly what you want in the next one. Ultimately the benefits of moving should outweigh the costs.

Tom Cafarella, CEO of Ocean City Development based in Massachusetts is a homeowner who’s contemplating moving. Part of what he’s seeking bucks the pandemic trend as he wants to live in an urban environment rather than suburban where he can expand his social circle while also advancing his career. The desire has to be balanced with the need for a short work commute so he can spend more time with his family.

He also hopes that being in a city will provide more schooling options for his children. However, he’s weighing these benefits against the inevitable downsides of incurring moving expenses, having to bid farewell to colleagues and neighbors and knowing his kids will also have to part with their friends too.

Sometimes it’s the seemingly smaller details that may prove troublesome when trying to execute a move.

Alex Mastin, founder and CEO of Home Grounds was apprehensive about the potential complications of moving during the pandemic, but was ready for a more peaceful lifestyle than what was offered by his Los Angeles home. He and his family were anxious about moving during the tough labor market but decided that Austin, Texas, was the right place for them.

What Mastin didn’t consider were the challenges they’d face moving with four cats and actually encountered real estate agents who frowned upon the felines. Although he described his move as “slightly nightmarish,” Mastin and his family are happily settled in Austin with their cats in a newly-built home.

Whether it’s considering the best schools for children or access to doggy daycare, there are innumerable factors (many of them likely unique to your personal circumstances) to weigh before casting your lot with a new community. Once you’ve fully assessed your personal situation, here are some more general things to consider.

  • Property taxes: One major expense that accompanies homeownership is property taxes, but the amount you’ll pay varies from county to county, state to state. Before you hire movers, consider if your destination has a higher property tax rate and crunch the numbers to make sure that paying the higher tab will be worth it. If you discover that you’ll pay less taxes in your new home, think about what you’ll do with the extra funds.
  • Local economy: No matter what your financial picture looks like before your move, the economic health of your new city will eventually impact your own. Do some research on the cost of living, the growth of job opportunities and what industries are doing well. Get a sense of what the long-term trajectory is in terms of economic growth and how city leaders are planning for the future.
  • Community: People are social creatures, which is one reason why moving is so difficult. Settling down in a new place entails meeting new people and replacing a sense of community that was lost. As such, it’s vital to ensure that you find a city with a culture that’s in line with your own tastes and values. Think about how you formed a sense of community in your current place and determine whether you’ll be able to develop similar connections in your new locale. If you’re into sports, research what type of sports leagues are available for your age group. If you’re religious make sure there’s a branch of your particular faith community in the city. Get to know a like-minded person who lives there and get their take on the city’s culture.
  • Weather: Good weather is somewhat subjective and so it’s best to not take someone else’s word for it. While a few rainy days won’t make or break your experience, extremes of hot, cold, wind or precipitation can affect your wellbeing, especially if you’ve never lived in the climate. Do some traveling and find out where you feel the most comfortable. Consider downloading a weather app that tracks statistics for the community.

Some cities to check out during your search

If some of your reasons to move include employment, affordability, outdoor activities, good schools or healthcare options, we’ve done some research to identify current trends in a few communities that might interest you.

Looking for a new job? Consider:

  • Salt Lake City, Utah – ranked the top city for job seekers in terms of both opportunities and wage growth
  • Colorado Springs, Colorado – in addition to being one of the best cities for landing a new job, Colorado Springs is one of the healthiest cities in the U.S.
  • South Burlington, Vermont – a low unemployment rate coupled with a small but burgeoning tech center put this city at the top for job hunters

Want to live somewhere affordable? Consider:

  • Knoxville, Tennessee – a good city to check out for those wanting comprehensive affordability from food to transportation to housing prices, with a cost of living 16.4% below the U.S. average.
  • Wichita, Kansas – a growing economy means a growing population and Wichita also offers a relatively low cost of living, including a median home price of $157K
  • Cedar Park, Texas – located just outside of booming Austin, Cedar Park offers proximity to a thriving tech and cultural scene with a cost of living index 7.2% below the national average

Seeking the great outdoors? Consider:

Looking for the best schools? Consider:

  • Naperville, Illinois – ranked the city with the best public schools in the U.S. located just outside Chicago
  • New York, New York – has 401 high schools that are ranked in the top 25% of schools nationally including the esteemed Townsend Harris High School
  • Boulder, Colorado – ranked the best college town in the country is home to the University of Colorado and Naropa University and offers a livable atmosphere for students and grads

Need strong healthcare access? Consider:

A coffee shop in a place you can move to.
Source: (daan evers / Unsplash)

Follow these tips before finalizing your decision

Plan an in-person visit: Internet search engine research is one great way to learn about places that may seem like a good fit for your next move, but no amount of finger surfing will replace experiencing your prospective new city in the flesh. Before you commit to a place or even start serious planning, plan an in-person visit and get a feel for it. While you’re there, explore different neighborhoods, visit a coffee shop or restaurant, spend some time in a cultural center in line with your interests and talk to the locals. Imagine yourself actually living there versus merely visiting and reflect on its potential to be the right fit.

Connect with current residents: Once you’re back home, continue reaching out to people online who live there, including some recent transplants who can give you some insight into the newcomer experience. Consider creating a list of 5 questions to ask transplants and long-time residents.

Create a pros and cons list: Make a list of the pros and cons of what the city offers and compare it to two or three others on your list in addition to where you currently live. Be sure to include pros and cons from each person who will be making the move with you.

Partner with a local agent: Once you have  narrowed it down to a finalist, get connected with an experienced real estate agent who knows the local market and can steer you in the right direction. HomeLight’s Top Agent Match tool can connect you to one of the most knowledgeable and proven-effective agents in the community. The Agent Match service takes just two minutes, and is 100% free. Agents don’t pay us to be listed, so you get the best match to help guide you through the moving process.

The bottom line

As Calvo says, it’s a unique time in real estate that can serve as a good opportunity for people and families to relocate and make a sound financial investment in a new home. Factors like lower taxes, downsizing, affordability and access to the outdoors are definitely fueling some relocation trends. However, given that deciding to move to a new place is one of the most important decisions anyone can make, it’s essential to know what you’re looking for, weigh all the numerous factors and do your research.

Using the tips and tools provided in this post you can move forward with more confidence and be armed with more than just good luck in your search for the best place to live.

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Header Image Source: (Peter Mizsak / Unsplash)