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THE RIGORS OF RELOCATING Real estate firms help smooth the way


In the past 15 years, John and Marylou Bintz have packed up their belongings and relocated eight times.

"We've never stayed anywhere long enough to plant roots," Mrs. Bintz said. The family's latest move was from Connecticut to Carroll County, where they bought a home in September with the help of Jim and Joan Brown, husband-and-wife Realtors for Grempler Realty.

"They were extremely helpful," Mrs. Bintz said. "They gave us a detailed tour of the area and showed us where everything was. It was like having someone in your family meet you when you got here. When we were finally on our own, we had a pretty good idea of where everything was."

The agents took them to local restaurants for meals, showed them where to shop and pointed out the local hospital -- which was of particular interest to Mrs. Bintz, who was pregnant with her third child at the time.

They provided the family with detailed school information, including lunch menus, important dates and bus schedules. And they showed Mr. Bintz the location of the closest Metro station -- which he uses to travel to his new job at USF&G; in downtown Baltimore.

Someone to lean on

Relocation specialists like Jim and Joan Brown have been trained to assist families who are making an interstate move. The Browns say they're especially suited to their work because they, too, have relocated -- 10 times in 12 years.

"We have a real empathy for the trials and tribulations, the good and bad moments of relocating," Mr. Brown said. "It's very easy for us to step into their shoes."

Relocating can be such a difficult adjustment that many real estate firms now rely on specially trained employees to help transferees feel at home in a new city.

In the past, their efforts would probably have been focused primarily on the business of selling the transferee's house. Today there is a growing emphasis on counseling people through their move.

Some real estate companies even offer highly structured "destination services" with separate relocation counseling offices

and relocation specialty divisions.

500,000 transfers

All of these services have been developed for the estimated 500,000 workers across the country who uproot themselves and their families from their hometowns each year and move at the behest of their employers.

Some of these transferees may see adventure and an opportunity for advancement. But others may feel pressured to go where the jobs are in a climate chilled by corporate downsizing, internal reorganization and the threat of layoffs. Relocating may seem to be the only way to hold onto a job or to get back into the work force after a period of unemployment.

"Seldom will people make an interstate move because they want to leave and live somewhere else," said Jeannie Pohlhaus, an associate broker specializing in corporate relocation for Prudential Preferred Properties. "In my experience, over 95 percent of relocations are corporate- instigated new hires or transfers."

By most accounts, an interstate move can be personally disruptive and a nightmare of logistical problems under the best of conditions. Corporations often set tight deadlines and there is little time for house-hunting. Decisions must be made quickly about a move that may disrupt a spouse's career, leave behind friends, relatives and a beloved home and perhaps even separate a family for extended periods.

"You're uprooting a family," Ms. Pohlhaus said. "When one person gets a tremendous opportunity, the spouse who also has a career has to find employment at a new location. Children have friends and are involved in activities. And you may be pulling

away from extended-family members."

Realtor turned psychologist

Typically there is no charge for the services of a relocation specialist like Ms. Pohlhaus -- who may be the only person the worker knows in a strange town. This is definitely not your average house sale.

"I have to be part psychologist and provide a lot of emotional support," Ms. Pohlhaus said. "People have to know that you'll take care of all the details for them. I've helped spouses find jobs. And many times families have particular medical problems or special educational needs."

Once, she said, she had to find a training facility for a swimmer who was on his way to the Olympics.

"I just get on the phone and start calling around," she said. "You end up with a tremendous resource file."

At the Long & Foster Realtors' Relocation Counseling Center, clients can get information about education, day care, auto registration and helping children cope with moving.

"We counsel people through the entire process," said Maria Norton, a corporate business development representative for the center.

"It's our job to make their relocation go as smoothly as possible. I think the worst part of coming into an area is leaving behind your network of friends and services, from hairdressers to doctors and dentists. We give people the resources to find out who's available in the community. I've even sent pregnant women to my obstetrician/gynecologist."

Tours of the Baltimore area are often provided so clients can make educated decisions about where they want to live.

"People are so afraid they're going to choose the wrong area," Miss Norton said. "We keep reassuring them that they're going to see everything there is to see. And when the time comes, we introduce them to a Realtor. We depend a lot on our Realtor who lives in Towson, for instance, to orient clients to the area."

Karen Wesley, relocation manager for O'Conor, Piper & Flynn, can empathize with her clients, having relocated five times in 15 years.

"In some places I had to go through the Yellow Pages to find a doctor," Ms. Wesley said. "People who come here usually . . . are hungry for information about their particular family needs."

Sticker shock

Another problem is getting used to the local housing market, including the prices.

"Usually the economic change is the most upsetting," Ms. Wesley said. "People may have to buy less house or pay more taxes and they may find that their raise is all eaten up."

Coral Read-Emerson, vice president of relocation for Grempler Realty, agreed.

"People have expectations based on where they are coming from. If the housing is more expensive in that area, they'll usually have an up feeling. But if the prices are a lot lower, they'll feel disillusioned.

"And if they come from an area where they lost money on property, they may expect to buy a house here for under its value. It's our job to help them understand what the marketplace is."

Workers who become familiar with area housing costs while they are interviewing for a job may have an advantage at the negotiating table. Relocation-benefit packages can vary greatly and are often kept secret. Typically, people in higher-level positions are offered more.

Some companies give mortgage assistance for a specified period to ease the worker into a higher payment. Others may buy a house that an employee can't sell or make up the difference for what has been lost on a sale in a depressed market.

Moving expenses, purchase closing costs and temporary housing rental may be reimbursed, along with the expense of one or two house-hunting trips of several days.

Clients must not only find a new house in a new town but must also coordinate the timing of that purchase with the sale of their old home, Ms. Read-Emerson said.

"The best time to investigate the sale of their property is the minute they find out a transfer might occur," she said. "That's going to be the holdup. They need to get their house on the market as soon as possible."

Still, interim housing needs often arise and the entire family may have to move into temporary quarters. Or they may be separated for a while, with one spouse staying behind to sell the home or to give the children time to finish a school year.

"We have several professionals who deal totally in interim housing," Ms. Read-Emerson said.

Sometimes buyers strike deals with sellers who are willing to rent a house prior to settlement. But even when all the details seem to be working out, relocating can be tricky business.

"Moving is full of trauma to begin with," said Verna Bazzell, a real estate agent and corporate relocation specialist for Coldwell Banker. "It's very difficult to coordinate all of the ifs, whens and maybes of a relocation. You really have to deal gently with these people."

Information and assistance should be provided not just to the transferee but to the entire family, said Denise Reardon, vice president of relocation services for O'Conor, Piper & Flynn -- a firm which works not only with corporate employees but also with the general public.

But while transfers are sometimes turned down because a family is unhappy about relocating or the timing is less than ideal, workers are more reluctant to do so today.

"In the past, men and women were picking and choosing and telling their employer that it wasn't a good time to take a transfer," said Lynn Cortezi, a real estate agent in the Greenspring office of O'Conor, Piper & Flynn.

"With the shakiness of jobs now, if someone is offered a transfer within a company, he's more likely to take it and let the chips fall where they may."

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