When relocating to D.C. area, it helps to do your homework

April 5, 2013

Last year, after John and Kirsten Hauser learned that he was being transferred to the Washington area, they started looking for ways to replicate much of what they loved about their suburban Chicago community in a place they knew little about.

They first turned to a high school classmate who sold real estate inside the Beltway to help with the transition from Elmhurst, Ill. Their top priorities were “good schools, a good neighborhood, a good commuting distance,” Kirsten Hauser said. Janice Buckley of Long & Foster “helped us narrow down the options” for which communities to consider.

The Hausers wanted commute time to be less than an hour, about the same as John’s travel time to his job at the FBI office in Chicago, Kirsten said.

The couple has three children — 12-year-old twin sons and a 5-year-old daughter. They spent hundreds of hours online looking at schools and properties in Northern Virginia, far more time than they ended up spending going in and out of houses once they visited the area.

On average, about 160,000 workers a year relocate to metropolitan Washington for work, said Lisa A. Sturtevant, deputy director of the George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis. Migration lately has slowed, she said, as job growth has picked up in other places nationwide.

Still, relocation is an important milestone and can cause a lot of anxiety. Buyers often trade up: Homes that cost $220,000 on average in Atlanta or $157,200 in Dallas sold for an average of $353,000 in the District and its environs in the fourth quarter, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Newcomers sometimes ask, “How do I get a good investment? Prices are so high here,” said Peggy Bresler, a real estate agent who specializes in relocation for Weichert’s Bethesda / Chevy Chase office. Many are unsure how long they’ll stay, so they are concerned about resale values. Some are afraid of or nervous about moving their families.

“They need a really good education,” she said, including some cautions that homes are selling quickly here.

The Hausers’ home in suburban Chicago took only about two months to sell, but during that time they missed out on some houses that interested them in Virginia.

“We saw many that we liked that sold so quickly that we never got to see them” in person, Kirsten Hauser said.

They decided they wanted a bigger home — they’d lived in their 1,500-square-foot, three-bedroom ranch in Elmhurst since 1999.

The four-bedroom house they bought in Fairfax caught their eye because its back yard overlooks a forested preserve and it had been remodeled with a new kitchen and bathrooms within the past 10 years. They also liked the screened-in back porch.

So Kirsten Hauser flew to Washington a day earlier than her husband to see it, alerted by their agent that an offer had already come in.

“The Realtor picked me up at the airport and drove me around,” she said. “She cleared her schedule for us.”

Kirsten Hauser saw only about three homes, and after talking it over with her husband, they made an offer.

“It made for a pretty nervous night’s sleep, or no sleep maybe,” she said. By the time her husband arrived the next day, the owner had made a counter offer, and the Hausers agreed it was the house they wanted. It cost about $150,000 more than their Elmhurst house, but gave them an extra bedroom and half bathroom and that beautiful back yard.

They moved in mid-August, just two weeks before school began. Their children seemed to fall right into their new lives, Kirsten Hauser said, adding, “The hardest part is leaving all your friends and your family behind.

“I was very lucky,” she said. “Practically the day that we moved in, some neighbors knocked on my door” and became her first new friends in Washington.

Vickie Elmer is a freelance writer.

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