As a homeowner, how do I move my family across the country?
May 9, 2015 7:59 AM   Subscribe

I want to move to another city across the country, but I don't understand how people do this. If you own a home, have a family, and earn only a modest income, what are the logistics of making this kind of move? More complicating factors in the extended explanation.

My biggest understanding gap is how you can make this move as a homeowner. Do I start looking for places to live in the new city now? Do I put my house up for sale first and start looking for the new place immediately? Do I put my house up for sale and wait for it to sell before looking for a new place? I doubt I can afford to rent a place in the new city and still pay the mortgage here at home.

Here are a few more complicating factors:

* As I said before, we earn a modest income, so I can't throw tons of money at these problems.
* We have three cats
* I live in a city with an extremely low cost of living. Cost of living in the new city will likely be double the current one if not more.
* We have a house-worth of furniture we probably won't take with us.
* We have two cars. We'd like to live in a place where we don't need to own a car, but maybe we need a car to get the cats to their new home. Not sure.
* I do contract work remotely, so my income likely wouldn't suffer much, but my wife might now be able to keep her job after the move.
posted by raddevon to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Put your house on the market and keep a short list of places to rent in the new city, updated frequently as they fall off the market. You don't know if it will take 1 mo or 6 mo to sell the house, so you really can't make any concrete plans until you have a solid offer. The other option is to rent the current house, but that brings about a whole host of problems associated with being a remote landlord.

As far as physically moving, a semi-DYI service like ABF UPack is likely going to be the most cost effective option.

Sell one car before you move, use the other to transport the family and cats, and then sell it in the new city if you decide you can do without it.

Also, really think through this move with your wife. It seems like this is more of a whim than a well thought out plan at this point, and it's only 50/50 that you'll be happier in the new city, so be sure you know what you are doing before you pull the trigger on the move.
posted by COD at 8:13 AM on May 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

A lot of people who move do it for a job that will pay relocation. Not assuming anything about her profession, but maybe your wife can pursue such a job?
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 8:16 AM on May 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've upped sticks and moved many times. Before I'd ever do it again, I'd save up a relocation fund. When you move to a new place (down the street or across the country) you'll have moving expenses, travel expenses, unexpected emergency expenses. You'll need deposit, rent, food, new furniture, etc. And what if your wife can't keep her job? You'll need the equivalent of her income for the intervening time. It makes it so much less stressful to be able to throw money at problems. You might actually enjoy the moving adventure (ha) and be able to be excited about exploring your new home.

And where in the new city will you live? I'd seriously consider renting on a short term lease (unless you know the new city inside and out). Even visiting a city several times is not going to be like living there full time. Maybe a neighborhood that seemed great to visit isn't going to be ideal to live in. You might want to move, it might be too expensive, you neighbors might be noisy and difficult.

-I doubt I can afford to rent a place in the new city and still pay the mortgage here at home.
-Cost of living in the new city will likely be double the current one if not more.
-but my wife might now be able to keep her job after the move

Sit down together and write out a budget. City Data is a great resource. Go see a financial planner/advisor if you think that would help. Then make a decision about whether it is feasible to move right now:
-Current income and expenditures.
-Future income and expenditures. (Is renting our your current house an option for income? Can your wife for sure keep her job? If not, how will she find a new one? How long will that take?)
-Moving expenses.
-Six month emergency fund (don't forget emergency vet money just in case since it sounds like moving can be stressful for cats thank you Metafilter).

Good luck!
posted by Beti at 8:29 AM on May 9, 2015 [5 favorites]

Like many things in life, the answer is money. (Sad.) You plan to pay double rent/mortgage for at least a few months. You ensure that if you're moving to a city with a higher COL, that your income will grow accordingly (not fall, as your post frighteningly suggests). There are so many variables (housing market in current city, housing market in new city, job/income sources) that I don't really think there is a one-size-fits-all order of operations.

And again, like anything in life where the answer is money, there are non-money ways to solve these problems (moving in with family, getting help from friends with a truck who don't mind schlepping your stuff around). However, money is a big reason that people don't uproot; it's really expensive to move.
posted by samthemander at 8:46 AM on May 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

Have done this twice (4 pets, solo, trailer, cross-country) under pressure of having a deadline to start the new job. It worked out, but - do you know anyone in the new city who could put you up temporarily, while your wife deals with the homeplace and sells the one car? Vet can give you sedative for the cats, but make sure they don't get out of new place for at least 30 days. Underprice your old house so that it sells quickly: you wouldn't do that normally, but you've set up these tradeoffs that require concessions. Good luck - it will happen if you plan carefully and for the long term.
posted by mmiddle at 8:56 AM on May 9, 2015

How deep are your roots in your current city? Did you and/or your wife grow up there? Do you have a lot of family and good friends there? If you answered yes to these then you may want to consider renting out your house for a couple of years, and renting one in the new city while you get to know it, make new friends, etc. It may not turn out to be as wonderful as you think it will be.
posted by mareli at 8:58 AM on May 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

Do you have a job offer that pays significantly more in the new city? Will your wife make more money too? Or can either of you work remotely for a while? Can you get a job offer with a relocation package? Do you have significant home equity? If you can't answer yes to at least some of those questions, you may not want to move.

A common process by which this works is:
-one spouse gets a job offer
-that spouse moves out and sublets a modest apartment while scouting out whether the move is a good idea, and where to live
-your spouse sells your current house
-you either find a house to buy, or a house to rent for a year while you figure out a permanent place, and have the rest of your family move out

A good job offer may include a relocation consultant to walk you through this, as well. Or a relocation bonus so you can throw money at the problem.

Note, unfortunately, that most places with good job prospects where it'd be pleasant to live with children and no car have shockingly high housing prices in recent years. I wouldn't try to move a family to an inner neighborhood of NYC/SF/DC/Seattle without a very good job offer indeed. In most other places, even if both spouses commute by transit and the children walk to school, having at least one paid-off old car sitting around is very useful.
posted by akgerber at 8:59 AM on May 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

Send your wife to the new city for a week or two to look for a job and temporary housing. If she finds a job that can support her temporary housing selection without cutting into your current mortgage payments, then she should take the job and stay put. You will then start selling everything as quickly as possible so that you may join her.

If you have friends or family in the new city that could offer her a room, that is even better.

This is how people of modest incomes move.
posted by myselfasme at 10:15 AM on May 9, 2015

Also, is there a stable letting market in your old city? If your house is the sort of property that is appealing to tenants and there is a good letting market you could think about keeping the house, letting it to cover the mortgage (and a bit extra to cover costs for repairs/when it's empty between tenants etc) and get a short term lease in the new city. You could always sell it later or keep letting it. Just another option to consider.
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:26 AM on May 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

I do contract work remotely, so my income likely wouldn't suffer much, but my wife might now be able to keep her job after the move.

One generally moves to a low cost of living area and keeps a high cost of living area's salary by telecommuting, not vice versa. Is your plan to look for local work that pays based on the expensive city's cost of living once you get settled?

The plan, as akgerber said, really needs to be one of you getting a job out there and finding the first rental place. Many landlords won't rent to people without a local job or proof of existing residence in the area.

I doubt I can afford to rent a place in the new city and still pay the mortgage here at home.

Until you have the cash in hand to do so for several months, your move doesn't sound like a great plan. You can start by selling your house now and moving into the cheapest month to month lease you can get by with, so when you do move there's minimum overlap of payments. Selling a house is stressful and can take a surprisingly long time to get everything settled, so you don't want to be dealing with that at the same time as moving across the country.

Unless you have a solid plan to boost both of your incomes, I strongly suggest you reconsider the plan. If you're just barely getting by as it is and plan on effectively taking a 30%+ pay cut in cost of living, it's going to create a lot of financial strain and that's one of the leading causes of divorce. What is drawing you to that specific city? Can you find part of what you want from that city in an area with a much smaller cost of living?

I'm guessing that you might be talking about SF, Seattle, or Portland - if you search Metafilter, you'll find plenty of stories about how life is actually pretty miserable in those cities now if you're not part of the top 20% earners.
posted by Candleman at 11:37 AM on May 9, 2015

Consider renting your house out and selling it later, when it is worth more.

Start now with reducing how much stuff you have. Start going through closets. Have a yard sale. Donate things to charity.

Work on cutting costs now so you can start saving up money to help with the move.

Also: Why do you want to move someplace more expensive when it isn't for a job offer? Is there some means to get what you want elsewhere, without doubling your cost of living? Do more research on cities that might have what you are looking for, but without the nosebleed prices.
posted by Michele in California at 3:14 PM on May 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

A lot of people aim to sell their house first, rent in the new city for a while, and then buy after getting to know the new area. It's certainly the best way to find the right place for you in the new town. When I've done this, the first few months in the new town I radically changed my ideas about which suburbs I'd want to buy in.

Admittedly you have to move twice, which is annoying, but still cheaper than overlapping mortgages. When you sell your current place, you'll have the six weeks or whatever of time between exchange of contracts and settlement to find your new rental and organise the movers, which should be enough time unless the new town has a very tight rental market.

The other way to do it is to sell your current place with a longish settlement period stipulated, like three months, and rely on buying your new house within that time. Your mortgages will probably still overlap by a few weeks though, and it requires you to make a lot of trips to new town, and to buy before you really know the area well. I wouldn't do this.
posted by lollusc at 7:50 PM on May 9, 2015

I'd do some quick math to see where you can pull money to finance your move. For example, if moving to the new city will cost you an extra $1k in expenses every month, and will cut $2k/month from your income from your wife not working, you should be able to easily trim your budget by $3k each month to save up for the move. If you can delay moving for 6 months, it should be pretty easy to save up enough for even an expensive move where you have to pay 2 mortgages for a few months and hire movers. If you can't effortlessly trim $3k (or whatever number you come up with) from your budget now, you're going to be in for a rough time with fewer safety nets once you move.
posted by fermezporte at 4:57 AM on May 10, 2015

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