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Family Matters Blog: Blogger Heads Out on House Hunt

By Elaine Wilson
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 10, 2010 – A few weeks ago I wrote a blog, "Blogger Gears Up for Move" about how I'm getting ready to move from the D.C. area to Maryland to be closer to work.

I'm now deep into what seems to me like the hardest stage of this process: finding a house.

Not as easy as I thought. Aside from the random driving through neighborhoods and massive gas expenditure, one of the toughest aspects has been trying to juggle work, kids and the house-hunting chore.

I learned quickly that house hunting with three small children is not the best idea. The excitement of a Saturday drive to whip through a dozen houses wanes very quickly. "Do we have to see another house?" my 6-year-old asked with massive exasperation.

It's also tough to examine a house while chasing three children around yelling, "Don’t touch anything!"

So, my husband volunteered to hold down the home front while I trucked on with my neighborhood exploration.

I'm on leave this week and am thrilled to have some dedicated time for my house hunting, and count myself lucky that I live close enough to my new destination to drive there. Now I'm focused on finding that ever-elusive perfect house in the perfect neighborhood in a price range that’s way too high for my lower-cost-of-living mindset. Sigh.

But I'm keeping hope alive, and already have learned some interesting lessons along the way about the house-hunting process. I hope this helps those of you who are going through a similar situation:

-- If you can, spend time in the neighborhood. This can get tough if you're too far to commute to your new location, but if you have some time, drive around the neighborhood you’d potentially like to live in, talk to some residents and get a feel for the community involvement. This is a great way to see if the neighborhood will be a good fit for your family.

-- Research area schools. Several websites rank schools according to test scores, but you also can read parents' comments. I find these even more helpful than the test scores at times. Also, ask to meet with the principal you are interested in, which can help give you an indicator of the school atmosphere.

-- Check the school boundaries. Just because there's a house down the street, it doesn't mean your kids will end up there. Go on the county's website and see if you can plug in your potential address and find out which school your kids will be attending. Or, you can call the school and ask. At the same time, you can ask about school bus routes and walker policies.

-- Check on the surrounding resources. You may want to live near a college or library or have a grocery store nearby for late afternoon milk runs. On my wish list are a community with a park and pool so summer entertainment is close by.

-- Talk to the local police about crime rates. You also can find information on crime rates and the most common crimes in the area online.

-- While you're looking into crime, also do a sex offender search. I'd prefer not to have a registered child sex offender living on my street. The state sites are credible sources, but there are many other sites out there that offer free information on this. Many sites will let you know where the offenders are and how close they are to places such as schools and libraries.

-- Don't always judge a book by its cover. If you find a less-than-perfect house in a great neighborhood, take a harder look. If the house has potential, you might want to consider it to get in the location you want.

-- But don't settle. I've seen some amazing three-bedroom homes, but with three children and a live-in au pair, I feel like we'll have outgrown the house before we ever move in. We want a house we can grow into, so I'm sticking to my four-bedroom goal, even if I have to compromise on some other areas.

-- Ask for help. Between Internet searches to neighborhood browsing, house hunting is a time-consuming process. Don’t hesitate to ask a friend or family member, or find drop-in care, so you can house hunt child free. You'll be a lot less stressed on the journey and can return the favor after you're settled in to your new home.

-- But also keep your kids involved. While house hunting isn't so child-friendly, I plan to include my children once I've narrowed the search down to two or three houses. That way, they'll feel a part of the process and a sense of excitement about their new home.

That's what I’ve discovered so far, but I'm sure I'll find out more along the way. I'll keep you updated and wish me luck this week! And if you have any resources or moving tips to share, don't hesitate to write in.

Military families are seasoned movers, but for information on a new location, don't hesitate to visit Military OneSource or a local housing office or family support center. The military has a plethora of resources to help families with moves, including extensive information about the base and surrounding area.

To comment on this blog, please visit the Family Matters blog.

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