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With the dramatic increase in the number of people working from home, homeowners have more flexibility on where they live.
Untethered from office commitments, some families can decide where to live based on other factors, such as housing affordability, outdoor space, or better weather.
We caught up with two couples who navigated these choices and had their stories featured on the HGTV show “Happily Wherever.” Eiman Hamza and Michael Scarpellini, as well as Nate Moster and Chuck Kippen. The show follows these families as they decide where to settle down and purchase a home. They both ended up making big moves and shared what they learned from their experience with NextAdvisor.
Here’s where they are now and what we can all consider before making a cross-country move.
Nate Moster and Chuck Kippen’s Story
Knippen and Moster’s episode begins with a debate: Should the couple stay in Cincinnati, Ohio or move to the southeast, choosing between the palmetto-lined cities of Savannah, Georgia or Orlando, Florida?
“The decision to move was “100% pandemic-induced,” Moster says. The couple wanted to avoid having their kids cooped up inside for another Ohio winter and school year. “The kids were the number one priority,” Knippen says.
The move from Ohio to Florida wasn’t originally meant to be a permanent one, an aspect of the couple’s story not featured in the show.
“What if we took a year to go somewhere else and experience it, and then come back to Cincinnati?” Moster says. The temporary sabbatical in Florida turned into a permanent move when they fell in love with Orlando and purchased a home roughly six months into their stay.
Here’s what they learned:
Get to Know the Area First
As the expression goes, it’s OK to try before you buy when moving to a radically new city. Being an Airbnb host gave Moster and Knippen the financial flexibility to do so, since the rental income from their Ohio home helped cover the original mortgage “while also looking at and exploring Orlando,” Knippen says.
They also found a buyer easily. Moster and Knippen ended up selling their Cincinnati home to one of the Airbnb guests, helping them check a major item off their do-to list.
Next came the transition to their new community, a major obstacle for many, especially during quarantine when social life is not what it once was. Fortunately, the couple reconnected with college friends that lived in the area.
“If you’re looking to make a move … and you’re kind of flexible on where you’re looking, go to those places where you might have an extended community,” Knippen says. Meeting up with old friends allowed them to make an easier transition in the Orlando area.
Consider All of the Costs Outside of the Home Purchase Price
The costs of owning or buying a home go beyond just the purchase price, and these extra expenses can vary widely from one state to the next. Closing costs and property taxes will factor into your homebuying budget, and there are cost of living differences to consider.
Florida doesn’t have a state income tax, which was an unplanned surprise for Knippen and Moster. “That ended up being an additional benefit for us, but we’ve also found out there are additional costs,” Knippen says. Even though they don’t spend as much on taxes or heating their home, it costs them much more to register a car in Florida compared to Ohio. There is also additional hurricane insurance to purchase for the home.
As you budget for a move, be sure to factor in potential cost increases (or savings) outside of your mortgage payment.
Eiman Hamza and Michael Scarpellini’s Story
Hamza and Scarpellini were four years into what they thought would be a life long stay in New York City when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and turned those plans upside down.
Driven in part by a desire to increase the opportunities for their child to get outside, Hamza and Scarpellini moved their family to Nashville. They were able to purchase a comparatively affordable home with land where their son could connect with nature. “We grew up in nature … and we wanted the same for him,” Hamza says.
Like life (and the real estate market) over the past two years, the couple’s journey also has some twists and turns.
As the show documented, the couple originally moved their family to Nashville to give their son more opportunities to be outside. But they have since rented out their home in Nashville on Airbnb and now are based in Egypt, where Hamza has extended family.
She wanted to reconnect with her roots while letting her son experience his culture: “I just felt like, oh my gosh, with me my culture is gonna die,” Hamza says.
Even though the couple aren’t in Nashville right now, buying a home in a sought-after area worked out for Hamza and Scarpellini. The value of their home has increased, and they can make a profit by renting it, even while living abroad.
“We decided to just focus on our family priorities, which is diversity and traveling,” Scarpellini says.
Here’s what they learned:
Visit Before You Commit—and Stay Flexible
Hamza and Scarpellini’s story also demonstrates the importance of flexibility. Every place will have its cons and pros, but you just have to see if it works for you, Hamza says.
Hamza and Scarpellini still love Nashville, particularly their house and the chicken coop. However, it was a “fish out of water” experience, Hamza says.
The cross-country move helped them realize how much they value living in a city with a stronger connection to their cultures of origin, and diversity in general. New buyers might want to take a lesson from the couple’s experience and rent a long-term stay for a few months before committing to a new adventure.
Nonetheless, Hamza and Scarpellini’s home worked out for them financially. Being able to rent their home for a profit allowed the family to pivot and shift priorities. “When the finances are working, there’s no problem,” Scarpellini says. So if you’re considering a big move, it’s a good idea to not only thoroughly explore an area before moving, but to give yourself as much financial flexibility as possible with your home purchase.
Keep Your Options Open and Be Prepared to Move Quickly on a Home Purchase
Although Hamza and Scarpellini purchased their Nashville home in 2020, buyers still face stiff competition in many markets. “Be ready with the cash or the approval right there,” Scarpellini says. Being able to make an offer on a home on the spot will give you a leg up on the competition. That means getting preapproved before you homeshop.
Rather than sign an exclusivity agreement with a real estate agent, Scarpellini suggests keeping your options open and contacting listing agents directly. “You can 100% do it yourself,” he says. If you need to move quickly in a new market, you don’t want to commit to working with an agent that might not be an expert in an area you’re interested in. By contacting listing agents directly you have the freedom to choose any area and work on finding a house at whatever pace you prefer.