How to Decide Where to Live

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After working through the two previous steps in How to Find the Best Place to Live, I’ve narrowed our search down to a specific town and a specific area or two. Now it’s time for the tips on how to decide where to live and finding a new home. This part of the process may involve more direct input from your family members. Consider the ages and personalities of your family members to determine their level of involvement.

brick house with black door with title text overlay reading How to Decide Where to Live for your specific needs and preferences from a military mom with experience with 25+ moves

Steps one and two for finding the best place to live are not as emotional for us as finding our actual home. Since we move every 1 – 3 years, I’ve tended not to get too emotionally invested in choosing our homes, but I know that it can be a much more emotional process for some, especially if you’ll be in the home for a long time.

How to Decide Where to Live

Finding A Home

At this point, we’ve narrowed our search down to a town or an area of town that we want to target with the steps in Finding The Best Place to Live. We’ll look for homes in that targeted area.

1.  First we use the What Do I Want in a Home worksheet determine what is important for our family in a home. These important characteristics change as our family and situation changes.

  • What are the characteristics we need?
    • Number of bedrooms
    • Number of bathrooms
    • Handicap access
    • Other unique needs
  • What are the characteristics we want?
    • Fenced yard
    • Place for dog crate
    • Two car garage
    • Guest room

2. If we’re considering living on-base, I study the different floor plans that are available to see if they meet our needs.

3. If we’re considering living off-base, I do extensive online research. The more online research I do, the better I can focus our in-person searches on only homes that are legitimate considerations. In some cases, you may find you end up renting a house sight-unseen. That is what happened with the previous home we lived in.  It wasn’t possible for us to visit the area before moving, 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!  Websites to use in your online research:

  • MilitaryByOwner
  • Local Real Estate Company websites
  • Craigslist – in some parts of the country Craiglist is commonly used for rentals and for home sales.

4. Using the What Do I Want in a Home worksheet, I look at individual homes and fill out the House Comparison worksheet for homes that meet our basic criteria. It’s a great help to be able to compare houses in an objective manner.  No one house is going to contain all the items on our wish list.  Filling out the House Comparison worksheet helps us compare different houses to find the best home for my family out of all the hundreds of possibilities.

Grey traditional house with white porch, green bushes and trees

How to Use the House Comparison worksheet:

  • When I find a house that looks promising, I fill in each column on the House Comparison worksheet.  
  • I keep several windows open on my computer desktop as I search different websites for the information I need.  
  • I fill in the name of the school that a specific house is zoned for and the GreatSchools ranking. I’ll look at the schools in more detail later.   To determine which school a particular house’s residents attend, I often had to go to the school district’s website, fill in the street address and find the the correct schools.  In some areas, I have had to call the school, give them the street address and get the school name.   Don’t take the homeowner’s or real-estate agent’s word on the correct schools. Often the home owner or real-estate agent is not up-to-date on the most recent rezoning changes. 
  • If the GreatSchools’ ranking is acceptable, I then go to Google Maps and Google Earth.
    • I calculate commute times to work, activities and attractions that are important to us.
    • I look on Google Earth for local features that aren’t mentioned in the home listing.  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 the large parking lot of a large apartment complex.  We ruled that house out.  Once we lived in the town and learned more about that apartment complex and the many incidents in that parking lot that involved the police, we knew we’d made the correct decision.
  • If the house is still in the running, it’s time to look at the Family Watch Dog website.  This site gives you information on registered sex offenders near the address entered. I to learn if there are problems in the area that I should know about.  I realize that this only provides limited information, but since I don’t live in that town and don’t have insider information about the area, I do the best I can to search out information.  Three moves ago, we were considering purchasing a house that I figured out was near a motel where several registered offenders lived. I didn’t even realize that the house was near a questionable motel until I looked on Family Watch Dog.  I look at registered offenders near the house we’re considering and the schools my children will be attending. 
  • If I’m still interested in the home, I next check the local department of education’s website. This gives me more detailed information about the school and test score information. 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 to a new region.  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 online and make the best decision we can.

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How to Decide Where to Live When You Move
Simple Checklists to help you decide where you want to live when you're moving to a new city, state or country.
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If the home has passed all these hurdles, I put it on my possibilities list.  Checking the first several homes take time, but after just a short time, I get to know the areas much better and the process goes much more quickly.  Eventually, I’m almost able to look at an address and know where the house falls on my House Comparison worksheet. 

Working through these steps has helped me make the right decision in finding our new home time and time again. But I’m fully aware that there are still so many things you just can’t know until you actually live in the home.

  • Surprise! The neighbor now has a school bus yellow beat up old truck that’s up on blocks in his yard that hadn’t been there all the times we went to the house prior to buying it.  
  • Surprise! None of the street lights work and it takes almost a year to fight work through the city council to fix them.   
  • Surprise! It’s a very nice neighborhood, but doesn’t have very friendly neighbors.  
  • Surprise! The upstairs neighbor has an alarm set to got off at 5 am every day after he has gone to work. This goes on for months.

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 the research on how to decide where to live makes it easier for us 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 several better choices for you, and those are the ones you’re working to find.  Happy house hunting and good luck!

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  1. This is such a great resource for people that are looking for a new home! We’ve had one of those same surprises too. Our homeowner’s association and the city are battling over who is supposed to pay for the street lights. In the meantime, one by one, the city is removing all of the lights in our neighborhoods! It’s so dark at night on our streets! Most of us leave our porch lights on. Several neighbors, especially those with houses whose backyards face the street, have put out lights in their backyards to help light up the streets.

    1. Oh, no, Brenda! I can’t believe your city is taking the lights down. Our town just stopped servicing them so they burned out and weren’t replaced. Good luck with your street light battle. Hope it is resolved quickly for you.

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