Thinking of Moving? Do This First

You’re thinking of picking up sticks… looking to new horizons… you want a new view out the picture window…

In other words, you’re moving house. And whether it’s across the street, state, country, or world, it’s a big decision that you shouldn’t take lightly. You need to ask yourself some tough questions about why you’re moving, who you’re moving for, and what it will cost – both financially and in terms of what you’re giving up.

Then, it helps to do a by-the-numbers analysis of what you (and your spouse, partner, or whomever else is involved) are looking for in a new place to live (see our spreadsheet template here for more).

And once you’ve decided on where you (think you) want to move – or have a small handful of top contenders – it’s time to check it out. And to reduce the risk of making an expensive and time-consuming mistake with a decision you regret, I (Kim Iskyan) want to share three tips to help you cover all the bases as you’re deciding on your move…

1. Go there and live like a local.

You don’t buy a new car without a test drive. You don’t send your kid to college without checking out the campus. You don’t marry without dating. And you don’t move somewhere without living there – or at least an approximation of that – first.

Make time to visit where you think you want to move, whether it’s Florence or Phuket or wherever. But don’t think of it as a “sleeping late, dining out, cocktails at noon on the balcony” kind of vacation. It’s the time for serious due diligence and to experience life more like a local than a tourist.

For starters, don’t stay in a hotel that shields you from the realities of everyday life. If you move there, you won’t have a concierge downstairs to point you to the nearest pharmacy, a la Four Seasons. You’ll have to throw away your own garbage. You’ll need to know who to call if the hot water turns cold. And to properly try a place on for size, you should do all of those sorts of things.

Find an Airbnb – that’s closer to how normal people live than any hotel – ideally in an area or neighborhood that you think you might like. Then, spend at least two weeks living and learning… walking the streets, hearing the neighbors, fiddling with the air conditioning, dealing with the landlord, and finding a cold beer.

While you’re there, you need to answer these questions: What’s the traffic like? Is the weather too hot, or cold, or dusty, or rainy? What are the streets like at night? Can you find your favorite foods at the grocery store? Can you get a taxi in a storm? Do coffee shops have decent Wi-Fi? Can you understand and easily use public transportation? Are there children out and about? Do you like the local cuisine?

Put your language skills to the test. Can you hold up under the glare of bargaining for a kilo of mangoes or asking for directions to the nearest park? If you’re an advanced student of the possible next place to live, really push your limits… Find a dentist and visit for a cleaning – even if you don’t really need one. Is it like home, only better? Or something out of a horror movie?

These sorts of things might seem trivial. But they’re what make up everyday life. And if you move there, that’s what it will be like. So you should find out sooner rather than later if the trials and tribulations of just getting normal things done is more hassle than you’re prepared to stomach… or if it would be a fun challenge.

Of course, some of these questions will be a lot easier to address if you’re moving nearby… or, say, within the U.S. But the objective is the same: What would it be like to actually live there?

2. Talk to people.

While you’re there, talk to people wherever you can: on the bus, at the checkout counter, in the elevator, or at the café down the street. Whether you’re asking for directions, asking for the time, or just saying hello, you want to find out: Is this a friendly place? Are people happy? Or do most people wear a permanent scowl?

Of course, it’s difficult to arrive at a fair conclusion about an entire country, or city, or neighborhood, or population, based on a handful of interactions… but you have to try. If you ask a flower vendor who looks like she has been on the same street corner for a while if she can direct you to a nearby street, and she glares at you and shrugs – happens all the time in, say, Moscow – at least you know what to expect.

As an outsider, do you feel welcome – or like, well, an outsider? If you’re abroad and it’s your kind of thing, find out where the local expats hang out and talk with some fellow foreigners about their experience. They’re a potential fount of knowledge – though if they’ve been there a while, chances are that you’ll hear a lot about what’s wrong and doesn’t work. Again… forewarned is forearmed.

3. Spend a day with a real estate broker.

Even though you’re still shopping and probably not looking for a place to live yet, find a realtor (ideally via a referral or recommendation). Tell her what you’re looking for and have her take you around. Ask about neighborhoods, living options, what kinds of people live where, what’s safe and what’s dangerous, what’s desirable and what’s not… and what you need to look out for.

You’ll also learn the language of real estate. Do people talk about square feet or square meters? What’s usually included and what’s extra? What are payment terms (currency, onshore, or offshore)? The more you know, the better.

After all, your living situation will be a big – if not the single most important – determinant of whether your experience in your new home city or country or state is a positive one. So spend a lot of time on this.

And after you’ve spent a few weeks at your possible future home, ask yourself the big question: Do you want to stay? Or are you looking forward to going back to where you’re living now? If you have the “great place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there” vibe… well, now you know.

But if the answer is yes… then it’s time to get ready to move. More on that next time…

Best regards,

Kim Iskyan