Now that you've done all the research and background work, it's almost time to look at actual houses (or apartments) and find your new home.
First, determine what is important for your family. Now is the time you establish the wish list of characteristics you desire. Using the House Comparison Worksheet, fill in your goal for each of the wish list items. For example, how many bedrooms and bathrooms do you require? For us, with 3 children, it's important (when possible) to have a second bathroom with 2 sinks, so I'll list that on my worksheet. Another thing we look for is an area where our dog crate will fit. We prefer to have the dog crate in the laundry room. When that isn't possible, we look for another area that will hold it. Fill in your desired commute time for yourself and your spouse. Fill in any other criteria that are important for your family to consider. For example, we always consider the distance to the nearest airport and interstate because we enjoy visiting our families and having them visit us. Other criteria your family may wish to consider are: proximity to medical care; availability of sports or activities that your family enjoys; parks, pools, tennis courts; urban vs. suburban vs. rural; area to park boats or trailers; possibility to add a satellite dish, possibility to paint and personalize the space.
Now you're ready to look at individual houses. I start with on-line research. If you're able to, you'll want to tour the houses you're interested in. By doing internet searches, you'll be able to narrow the entire town down to a manageable number of houses to consider. In some cases, you may find you rent a house sight unseen. That is what happened with the house we're currently in. It wasn't possible for us to visit the area before moving here, but because I'd done hours and hours of research, it worked out very well for us. (And let me tell you, we were stressing out!)
If you're considering living on-base, you should study the different floor plans and options for on-base housing. When I'm considering living off-base, I go to MilitaryByOwner.com to look at houses first. You should also search for real-estate companies in the town you're focused on and look at their websites. Consider looking at homes listed on Craigslist. In some parts of the country, like the Metro DC area, Craigslist is commonly used for listing houses for rent or sale.
As I look at individual houses, I fill out my House ComparisonWorksheet with the appropriate information for each house. It's a great help to be able to compare houses in an objective manner. Chances are that no one house is going to contain all the items on your wish list. Filling out the House Comparison Sheet helps you compare different houses to find the best one for you and your family.
When you find a house that looks promising, fill in each column on your House Comparison Worksheet. You'll have several windows open on your computer desktop as you search different websites for the information you need. Fill in the name of the school that house is zoned for and the GreatSchools.net ranking (we'll look at the schools in more detail later). To determine which school that particular house's residents attend, you often have to go to the district website where you fill in the street address and it will tell you the correct schools. In some area, you call the school , give them the street address and they'll tell you if your children would attend that school. Don't take the homeowner's or real-estate agent's word on which schools your children will attend. Often the home owner or real-estate agent is not aware of the most recent rezoning changes. You'd hate to go through all this work and then find out that you're not in the school you thought.
If the GreatSchools.net ranking is acceptable, then go to Google Maps and Google Earth. You'll calculate commute distances on Google Maps to work, activities and attractions. On Google Earth, look for features that may be desirable or undesirable to you. Two moves ago, I thought I'd found the perfect house for us. It met all our criteria and fit comfortably in our price range. When I looked on Google Earth, I discovered that the house backed up to a large apartment complex. We ruled that house out because of that. Once we lived in the town and learned more about that apartment complex, we found we'd made the correct decision.
If the house is still in the running, it's time to look at FamilyWatchDog.us. You want to know if there are problems in the area that you should know about. I realize that this only provides limited information, but since I don't live in that town and don't know the "good" and "bad" area, I rely on information from Family Watch Dog to help me choose my home. Three moves ago, we were considering a house that I figured out was near a motel where several registered offenders lived. I would not have known this before we bought the house, if I hadn't checked on Family Watch Dog. Be sure to look at registered offenders near the house you're considering and the schools your children will be attending.
If you're still interested in the house, go to the department of education's website for that school district and start looking at more detailed test score information. Again, I recognize that test scores can only tell you one small piece of the puzzle, but that's really all I have access to when I'm moving across country. In a perfect world, I could visit the school, talk with the principal, sit in on classes, and attend a PTA meeting. But since that has never been possible for me in my 20+ moves, I'll utilize the information I can learn from the school's published test scores and reviews on GreatSchools.net.
If the house has passed all these hurdles, I put it on my possibilities list. Checking the first several houses will take time, but after just a short while, you will get to know the areas much better. Eventually, you'll almost be able to look at an address and know where the house falls on your wish list items on your House Comparison Worksheet and know whether you want to consider that house or not.
Working through all these steps will help you make the right decision for you and your family in finding your new home. But know that even when you do all that work, there are so many things you can't know until you live in a house. Surprise: the neighbor now has a school bus yellow beat up old truck that's up on blocks in his yard when you move in. Surprise: none of the street lights work and it takes almost a year to work through the city council to fix them. Surprise: very nice neighborhood, but not very friendly neighbors. These surprises have all happened to us. It just makes me wonder what would have happened if I hadn't done all that work before we moved?
Doing all the research makes it easier for you to find the best home for your family's needs, but always remember that there is not just one perfect house for you to find. There is no perfect house. There are a couple of better choices for you, and those are the ones you're working to find. Good luck with your search. Happy house hunting.
Other Posts in this series include: You're Moving Across the Country (or World)...How Do You Find Your New Home? Part One and You're Moving Across the Country (or World)...How Do You Find Your New Home? Part Two