If you feel like Americans are on the move, there's a reason why. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that, on average, Americans move 12 times in their lifetimes. And it's not only that they move more often, but they've been relocating farther away every year since 1998. If you're on your own for a long haul, the stress of relocation is further complicated by not knowing exactly what lies on the other side of the moving van, as Kerry Quinn, a freelance writer, discovered on her cross-country move.
When Quinn (pictured below) moved to Los Angeles from New York City five years ago, the 39-year-old gave herself a couple of months to find an apartment. But her best-laid plans were thwarted as she discovered that the time difference between NYC and L.A. was more than just three hours. "In L.A., people really do find apartments the week before they need them. They're not like New Yorkers who plan 30 days ahead," she said. "So I kept hitting the wall and not seeing places that would be available when I needed it."
An apartment that she was particularly interested in still was occupied, but the management company showed her the unit above it, assuring her that it was the same as the one that she wanted. The company promised that the apartment would be ready when she arrived to take possession in six weeks, she said, but it was a case of what you see is not what you get. When Quinn arrived, she found that the apartment was dirty, didn't have blinds, a bathroom door, ceiling fan or, most surprisingly, a refrigerator. (The apartment building is pictured at top.)
"All those were in the unit I toured and promised as part of the deal," she recalled. "I felt confident because I saw the unit directly above it." It was Labor Day weekend when Quinn arrived -- 107 degrees outside and there were no hotel rooms available. Quinn sucked it up and camped out in her new digs, but not before insisting that the management company clean it up and hang blankets on its windows for privacy. She had to fight for a refrigerator -- California law does not require landlords to provide one -- and the management company, despite her frequent conversations prior to her move, failed to apprise her of that quirk.
In the course of the year that she stayed there, Quinn found other problems with the apartment: The surrounding neighborhood was a little seedy, and her building seemed to attract unsavory tenants. The happy people whom she saw on her initial visit seemed to have disappeared like minor characters in a play. "It was sort of like 'Melrose Place' after the explosion," she said.
Quinn might have benefited from the services of a relocation specialist, a certified professional trained to facilitate moves on both ends of the moving van. Typically, corporations moving employees will engage such a specialist, but large real estate companies in major markets often have such services available at no charge to people using their agency to find housing.
Kimberly Barkoff, a certified relocation manager with Halstead Property LLC in New York City, said that such specialists are savvy in a wide range of areas, including assessing a client's requirements according to budget, available transportation, lifestyle, and family situation, and recommending suitable neighborhoods.
"The client may have only a short time frame," so getting a full picture of a client's needs before they arrive helps use that time efficiently, Barkoff said -- adding that building a profile also helps her choose an agent sensitive to a client's needs and interests. "Making a connection helps: It's like Match.com."
There are practical considerations, too, as markets have different standards. In Manhattan, said Barkoff, an unfavorable credit score may keep a renter from getting a desired apartment -- something a relocation specialist may be able to finesse with a potential management company, or avoid by steering the client toward a building with more flexible policies.
Quinn, who still lives in Los Angeles, has since moved to a better situation, but she says that she regrets not following her intuition about renting an apartment, unseen. "It can be difficult, especially if you're moving from out of state," she said. "A place can seem perfect, but if it doesn't feel good, don't go with it."
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