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SMART MOVES

Don't Let the School Year Delay Your Big Move

August 18, 1996|ELLEN JAMES MARTIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When newspaper ads start featuring "back-to-school" sales, many parents in the process of buying a new home start to panic. Shouldn't their children be seated in their new classrooms when the opening bell of school rings in the fall?

Not necessarily, moving specialists say.

"The folks who move during the school year find their kids do just fine," said Shari Steiner, co-author of "Steiners' Complete How-to-Move Handbook," a Dell trade paperback published earlier this year.

As freelance writers, Steiner and her husband, Clyde, moved 20 times before their two children reached college age. And to research their new book, they surveyed hundreds of other families that have moved recently. They also interviewed educators and psychologists.

Their surprising conclusion? That many children actually do better when they enter a new school during the academic year, rather than at the outset. It seems that youngsters who enter midstream get more attention--from both classmates and instructors.

"The teachers have more time to focus on the child as a newcomer. They aren't faced with the avalanche of new kids in the classroom," Shari Steiner said.

Most moves occur during the summer months, in large measure because families want to settle in sync with the school calendar. But real estate agents say it could be a mistake to rush the home selection process just to give children a seamless transition between schools.

"You should look at as many houses as you want and make sure you're comfortable with your choice. Buying a house is a big decision," says Phillip K. Houston, a broker-associate with the Re/Max Realty chain.

Selecting a home you can keep for at least three to five years is more important than ever for most purchasers, according to Houston.

Although property values are slowly rising in numerous communities--and falling in some others--it's still a rare neighborhood where you can make money on a home you've owned for just a couple of years, he says.

Why? Because every time you buy and sell a home you pay transaction costs. And those costs are rising in many localities.

It's especially unwise to push a builder to the premature completion of a home just so you can move in before school opens in the fall, Shari Steiner said. Trying to force a builder to close early could result in serious construction errors, she cautioned.

Is your family contemplating a housing move? Then these pointers could help:

* Recognize the potential savings of a year-end move.

As the calendar year progresses toward the holiday season, more would-be buyers drop out of the market to focus on family festivities. Between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, demand plummets.

Still, there are always "must move" sellers in any season, people who have to liquidate because of a job transfer, divorce or financial crisis. Buying from such a "motivated seller" can give you substantial bargaining power, realty experts say.

What's more, a post-summer moving date can save you a bundle on moving costs, Steiner said. That's because demand is highest during the summer months.

Pick a midweek moving date in the middle of October and you can save as much as 40% off the same move scheduled during the last weekend of August, for instance, says Clyde Steiner, whose book research involved interviews with nine big moving companies.

* Select a realty agent who shows patience with your pace.

"You should look at as many houses as it takes to feel comfortable with your choice," said Houston, of Re/Max, who has shown as many as 40 homes to some buyers.

Perhaps you'll be one of the lucky ones to find an ideal home on your initial tour. But if you aren't, you need the latitude to keep searching until you locate an abode that suits your emotional as well as practical needs, without feeling pressured, Houston said.

* Don't hesitate to hurry the home loan process.

Are you moving to a second, third or fourth home but haven't made a housing purchase in several years? Then you'll be surprised at how swiftly housing transactions can be finalized in this new era of computerization.

"Automated underwriting"--as the housing industry refers to its powerful new engine of mortgage processing--means that an entire transaction can be brought to a close in well under a month, says Craig Silvestri, a sales manager for Prudential Realty.

Are you positive you've found the right property or that your new home could be finished properly in time for the opening of school? Then go ahead and ask your lender to meet a short but fair closing date that could spare you a double move, Silvestri said.

"There's a difference between rushing things and doing them expeditiously," he said.

* Consider short-term housing as a better choice than buying wrong.

The traditional 12-month lease is not the only rental option open as a bridge between one homeownership situation and another.

"Residential inns" offer weekly or monthly rates for apartment-like lodging for those on an executive salary. A new breed of less pricey apartment-hotels offers tiny units that are especially suitable for singles and couples.

Another way to find a flexible rental is to ask your real estate agent to poll other agents about renting a vacant home they've listed for sale. The owner of a "for sale" home can sometimes be talked into a short-term rental if you promise to keep the home orderly and grant liberal access to potential customers.

Though far from ideal, the rental of short-term housing is better than the remorse that can accompany a rash home purchase based on some arbitrary deadline, like the opening of the school year.

"You can't make an impulsive decision. You have to have a comfort level with the property you choose," Silvestri said.

Distributed by Universal Press Syndicate.

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