Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote in one of her classic Little House on the Prairie books: “Home is the nicest word there is”. The beauty of the word ‘home’ to me is that the meaning of home is different to all of us and yet we all know what it is. To some, home is where you grew up and where family lives; to others it’s where you feel a connection to friends and society at large – the list of what makes home ‘home’ is as long and diverse as there are people.
As someone who is moving to a foreign country you are often faced with having to make quick decisions on where and how to live – are you buying or renting, living in a house or a condo? Which neighborhood is appropriate and is there a way to figure out the vibe of said neighborhood without spending time there first? How do you know if you are getting a fair deal and how do you compare prices in a market you are new to? What can you afford? Making sense of all of these can be hard in the best of circumstances, adding a completely foreign country to the mix can make it seem almost impossible. Below are some thoughts on how to go about making the decision, as gleaned from others as well as experienced by my own trials and errors.
Break down the house hunting process into smaller pieces, starting with the budget, because that will dictate how you move forward. You can’t make any other decisions until you have figured out what you can afford. When you know what your housing budget is, you can determine a starting point and focus your search that way. For example, if you are moving with children, perhaps schools become your starting point. If you are single and know you want access to a certain kind of cultural life, maybe that is your starting point.
Once you have a budget and a starting point in place you can weigh other pros and cons, such as proximity to stores, entertainment, parks, freeways, etc., and then fill in the picture of what your preferred living situation is.
Try to connect with others who have gone before you, especially if you are trying to find a place to rent or buy from afar and have not had a chance to visit. Also, consult a local realtor who can help explain the market (whether renting or buying). Realtors are not only experts in the field of housing transactions, but are generally very knowledgeable about the neighborhoods in which they work and can offer insights that can be hard to glean even during an in-person visit. Additionally, realtors are often good sources for references for other services you might need, such as a handyman or a cleaning service.
If there is a local newspaper for the area you are considering, read it to get an idea of what is happening around town. Also, see if there is a community or neighborhood website for additional information. These kinds of sources can help round out the picture of any place you are considering making your home.
I can’t help but think about how it is that you can feel at home in different places for different reasons. When I went to visit family this summer I definitely felt like I was home – there were familiar foods and streets and faces. However, there was also something immensely sweet about coming back here, to my own house, drinking coffee from my favorite cup and taking the dog for a walk around my neighborhood – this is home too, for different reasons perhaps, but still home!
By: Felicia Shermis