What’s it like to relocate to another part of the country or to build a new home?
That’s a question we’re being asked more and more lately. Being here in the Shenandoah Valley for almost two years now makes us certainly not “old hands”, but we do have more insight now than before this adventure began. Here’s the skivvy.
Sometimes we wonder if we should have moved earlier, when we were a bit younger. But, change one thing and everything changes. So, it seems that now was the “just right” time for us to move…even if it took us two tries.
Before moving from Connecticut for our first relocation, I had never lived more than 6 miles from the house where I was born. Talk about being a homeboy! But circumstances were what they were and I stayed put. Enter The Redhead and another chapter was started.
First, we decided to move to Florida. We had good friends that lived there and we even spent part of one summer there to test out the weather. The gods must have been laughing because that rather tolerable summer was an anomaly. But, we made connections that will last a lifetime. And, we successfully oversaw the complete renovation of a house. But, four years and four hurricanes were enough though!
So, we explored other areas and set certain criteria for making a move. We had to be near an airport that would fly us directly to NY (the closest to our hometown where family still lived), it also had to be reasonably drivable (under 8 hours), just in case. Weather played a big part, too. No more sweltering heat for most of the year. Yet, we were both attracted to Southern states. Georgia? No. South Carolina? Hmm, no. North Carolina? Hmmm, maybe, but, No. How about Tennessee? Well, it did have a big draw for us and I ain’t talkin’ about Dolly!
But, No. Where to then?
After miles and miles of driving and weeks in hotels and B&B’s, it was Back to the Drawing Board. So, rethinking everything, we refocused our priorities.: Small town, Southern state, close to an airport and a reasonable drive back to family. We also needed good medical facilities, culture, natural beauty and Church. And, it had to be peaceful and safe.
After lots of online research we decided to explore Virginia and that’s how we found Staunton.
We had contacted a Realtor prior to driving up to Staunton the first time. She was wonderful and generous with her time in showing us around the area. Yes, Staunton was the area we wanted to call home. We returned home, thought about it some more and decided to sell our “forever” home and move. We sold our home in 6 hours! Back to Staunton we went to secure a rental so that we could transition more easily and sensibly. This was a bit tricky and we wound up finding a nice apartment on our own.
For some reason, working with Realtors did not work out too well for us. The first Realtor that showed us around when we were exploring needed to take care of some matters so she wasn’t as available as we had hoped. Too bad, because she is a wonderful person that we would have loved to do business with.
We were open to building or remodeling an existing home. It was in finding the right location that proved to be elusive. While we initially thought city living was just right for us – being able to walk to amenities had been a goal – downtown Staunton would be a challenge. We didn’t want to undertake another complete renovation nor were we alpine hikers, something that might come in handy in navigating the hills of Staunton. Realtors showed us homes that needed everything from complete gutting / renovation to mold remediation to needing a herd of goats to keep the acreage under weed and brush control. One memorable agent might have taken us a bit too literally when we said we wanted a quiet, safe neighborhood. His picks were a building lot that was somehow located within an old cemetery and a new home that had an electric fence surrounding it – to keep out the neighbor’s cattle.
Fast forward a bit to where we finally located a building lot in the perfect location for us: just outside of the city limits of Staunton in Augusta County. And this is where our experience may be most helpful to those thinking of doing something similar to us: relocating and building/remodeling in a new area.
First, learn everything you can about the location: tax rates, are public utilities available, zoning (what type of homes are allowed in your area – single family only or mixed use (multiple family), future Planned Development by the town/county/ developer. Don’t forget to explore the area. Is that nice building behind the trees an office building or a prison? Thankfully, we didn’t have that experience.
Research the potential Builder / Re-modeler – Diligently! Ask the County / Town/ Neighbors about any Failed Inspections they may have had with previous jobs. Talk with Homeowners that have worked with them…in private. Don’t have the Realtor or Builder present during the conversation. It’s understandable that some people may be less than candid if there were any problems during / after their home building process if a third party is present. Talk with suppliers, including those in the Big Box stores if the builder uses them. An “eye roll” may be worth a thousand words. Talk to competitors. Most good / ethical builders will be honest in speaking of another builder. They may do things a little differently or prices may be a little more or less than the other guy, but a prolonged, “Welllll”, speaks volumes! Talk with everyone and don’t forget the folks at the local zoning / building departments and the local police / sheriff. Our experience was that they were very helpful and gave us great insight.
Once you decide on a builder, “do a Reagan”: Trust but Verify! Be specific in what you want and what you’ll get. Everything must be in writing, including materials that will be used. Weather affects almost every building process. But, what happens if the builder delays completion for 2, 3, 4 months or even more? It’s going to cost you money to extend a lease or sale of an existing home. Will a deliberate delay cost them anything? Some builders start, stop and move onto another project before finishing the first. Find out, too, who will be doing the actual construction. Does the builder have his own “core crew” for framing and finishing, etc. or is everything sub-contracted out? If a “core crew” is used, how long have they worked for the builder? Be cautious of a builder that has an exceedingly high turnover rate or that constantly flips sub-contractors. There is a reason. Make sure there is an actual blueprint for the job and not an “online rendering” and that you are given a complete copy. Go over everything in the plans with the builder and an attorney / architect before contracts are signed (expect to pay for these beforehand, they do cost money). Changes made after contracts are signed will almost certainly cost you money and time, especially if made during construction. A wall color change probably won’t, unless the builder has already bought the paint. When picking appliances verify when the choices must be made and when they will be bought. Sometimes a buyer can buy the appliances directly and have them held by the store until needed. This can spare you the aggravation of hearing later from the builder that the prices went up or the item is out of stock so you must pick some other model or make. Experience is speaking here!
Finally, find out how a particular builder handles mistakes or problems. Only a previous home buyer can tell you this. Things happen, but how those unforeseen snags are taken care of is important to your sanity and enjoyment of your home.
Building can be a challenge. But, being diligent (and a bit lucky), patient and choosing wisely can turn that empty lot into your Home, Sweet Home!
If you are ever considering moving to Staunton give us a shout!