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Smart Moves

Selling to Get a Better Commute

August 06, 2000|ELLEN JAMES MARTIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The young couple's five-bedroom ranch-style home boasts a tennis court and an elegant circular driveway. In addition, the wife has a strong sentimental attachment to the place, which she inherited from her mother.

Yet the pair reluctantly put the house up for sale recently. Why? Because the husband is exasperated with his two-hour daily commute. He yearns for more free time with his wife and infant daughter.

"This couple is also looking at rising gas prices and the wear and tear on their cars," says Liz Greenhouse, the Century 21 agent who recently listed their brick home.

An increasing number of homeowners are put off by long commutes and are seeking a home closer to work, says Jolaine Merrill, a Coldwell Banker broker-associate.

Few parents would trade quality schools for a shorter commute. But as traffic congestion worsens, drive time is becoming a more significant factor in housing choice.

"Unfortunately, there aren't many cities with desirable, affordable neighborhoods close to employment areas," says Merrill, who is affiliated with the Council of Residential Specialists, an education group for real estate professionals. She urges those seeking to reduce a tiring commute to think twice. Telecommuting is one option. Some industries are willing to let employees work part-time at home.

Here are some pointers for those considering a move to shorten their commutes:

* Think seriously about the ties to your present job.

If given a choice between changing neighborhoods or employers, most people will opt for the former. Frequently, positions are hard to replicate elsewhere. Experienced people who have seniority at one company could risk it by switching to another organization, says Merrill, the Coldwell Banker broker-associate.

Yet some occupations, such as nursing, teaching or retail sales management, might have more opportunities elsewhere. Then you might better achieve your goal of a shorter commute by changing jobs rather than forsaking a desirable neighborhood.

* Consider housing decisions in light of child-care arrangements.

A single parent or a family with just one breadwinner needs to factor only one commute into a housing decision. But matters become more complicated if the household includes two careers and small children.

Greenhouse tells of a dual-income family who live in a prize neighborhood. She's assisting them in the search for a home closer to the children's grandmother, who cares for them.

"The mom is exhausted going way out of her way to take the kids to grandma's house and then on to her job," Greenhouse said.

* Be certain to investigate your kids' next school before moving.

Too often, prospective home buyers with school-age kids make assumptions about the quality of a neighborhood's schools based solely on vague references made by friends and acquaintances, says Greenhouse, who has a background in middle-school education.

She urges parents to make a lengthy visit to prospective schools. Moving closer to work could result in an unhappy outcome if your children must attend inferior schools. Check on standardized test scores for individual schools.

Be wary of a school where the staff and teachers are not welcoming to visitors or where little pride is taken in the appearance of classrooms. Also be leery of a school where youngsters "start goofing off or going off task the minute the teacher leaves the classroom," Greenhouse says.

* Make sure you know what your real-life commute would be like.

In addition to distance, there are several other factors that could have an impact on your commute. If you're counting on a particular roadway to reach work, make sure you're familiar with the route and any possible impediments. Must you count on a bridge or tunnel to complete your journey? Will you face routine bottlenecks?

Also important is construction work along your route. Is the government about to embark on a major roadway renovation that could last for months or years, thereby reducing your new commute to a maddeningly slow pace?

Your real estate agent should be willing to help uncover these answers.

In the end, however, you need a dress rehearsal. Attempt the new commute at the actual hours when you would be traveling.

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