Making the Move for a Job? How Employer Can Smooth the Way

moving boxes carried by man in suit
moving boxes carried by man in suit

Moving to a new place can be one of the most stressful of life's events, and when your employer asks you to pull up stakes and move to parts unknown, or you've started a totally new job, that can add another layer of anxiety. Enter professional corporate relocation services.

In most cases, if your employer is picking up the tab for the move, you may also have access to a relocation specialist who can help smooth the way with everything from finding housing and the best schools for your kids, to helping your spouse get a job.

"Part of a fully supported move is a needs assessment, which evaluates and manages expectations," says Deborah Ann Conlan, a principal with Synaxis, an employee relocation firm based in Alexandria, Va. "There's a soft benefit as well as a hard benefit," she says. "Your expectations are managed and you're given tools to help you adjust to your new environment. The hard benefit is that you can function at your job."

Conlan frequently works with an international clientele, which has very specific needs ranging from possible language skill barriers and visa support to academic matchmaking for families with school-age children. She also inquires about the transferees' future goals to help send them in the right direction when they arrive -- for instance, people planning to expand their families or parents requiring an international school for their children.

"A new move should open up all sort of opportunity if it's done right," Conlan says. "Or it can be harder than it has to be when it starts off with a negative."

A relocation expert might have helped Catherine Pleikhardt avoid some missteps when she moved to the New York City metro area from northern Virginia on an employee transfer 6½ years ago. Though her employer, an international airline, paid for her move, it didn't offer much beyond the bare bones -- and Pleikhardt never asked. So she was left to do the legwork on her own.

Pleikhardt, 37, needed a neighborhood that provided easy access to highways and an apartment that could double as a home office for her job covering a Northeast sales territory. After a few bad experiences with real estate agents, whom she felt were doing a bait-and-switch by taking her to apartments out of her $1,200 price range, she took the recommendation of a new co-worker and checked out a large complex in Flushing Meadows, Queens. She signed a lease for a ground-floor unit with a private entrance and yard.

But instead of happy anticipation, it was the move from hell, she says. Her movers showed up a day and a half late and tried to charge her an extra $500 for handling the two steps leading into her new apartment. And that was just the beginning.

"Problems started the night I moved in," Pleikhardt says. "At night hundreds of cockroaches appeared." She went through several rounds of extermination attempts over weeks -- to no avail.

"I would be surrounded by twitching dead things. It was psychological torture," she said. When the building's management offered no solutions, she brought in a professional exterminator who found the source of the invasion -- a scenario that she describes as "the classic scene in 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom' where they're going through a tunnel of bugs." Six rolls of duct tape sealed off the buggy source, but Pleikhardt said that she never quite got over thinking about what lay on the other side.

The deal-breaker was when the complex turned a vacant plot in her front yard into a playground, without notice. Soon, her at-home office filled with the happy screams of children at play.

Pleikhardt's letters to management went unheeded. "They insinuated 'Maybe you're not right for Fresh Meadows instead of maybe Fresh Meadows isn't right for you.' " She asked to exit her lease, and within a few months she bought a house in Pennsylvania -- still near her sales territory, but away from the horrors of her New York City apartment gone wrong.

Her advice? "It's a good idea to speak to other people in the building or live in the area to see if the building has a reputation," she said.

Pleikhardt's employer might not have agreed to a full suite of relocation services, but could have provided her with some basic tips about renting in the New York area. Though she's now content as a homeowner, her New York experience has left her bitter. "I will never rent again as long as I live," she said. "You put yourself in an environment where anything can be foisted upon you and you have no control. That playground literally gave me 100 new gray hairs."

More advice about moving:
Long-Distance Moves Can Be a Long Haul for Your Sanity
10 Ways to Save on Moving Costs
Avoiding Moving-Day Disaster

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Originally published