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The Ultimate Mover’s To Do List

Here’s how you can do a great job at the office and manage to find an interesting neighborhood, a nice house and good doctors in a new city.

That’s why moving is so stressful: How do you do a great job at the office and manage to find an interesting neighborhood, a nice house, and good doctors in a new city? The Web is the next best thing to being there.

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Where Should We Live?

If you’re in the market for a house, HomeShark (www.homeshark.com) is the place to start. It’s not the biggest real-estate site on the Web, but it may be the smartest. It offers a collection of online tools to help you evaluate how much a house is worth, calculate how much you can afford to spend, learn how to choose a realtor, compare mortgage rates, and apply for mortgages online. HomeShark also lists more than 800,000 houses. You can search by where you’re moving to and the kind of house you want. HomeShark doesn’t offer rental listings, but it does offer links to rental sites, and includes a calculator to help you decide whether to rent or buy.

Realtor.com (www.realtor.com), the official Web site of the National Association of Realtors, is another resource. It provides information on 1.2 million homes. Unlike HomeShark, Realtor.com organizes its listings only by location, so it takes time to drill down to the kind of house you want. But it still beats paging through the real-estate section of an out-of-town newspaper.

When Maurice Velasquez decided to move from Slaughter, Louisiana, to Baton Rouge, he went house-hunting with three different realtors. Then he moved to the Web. “With a realtor, my wife and I could look at four or five houses a day,” he explains. “Then one Friday night we spent three hours on the Web and looked at 170 houses!” They spent most of their time on Realtor.com: “It gives you 12 listings at a time. When we saw the second page of the site, my wife said, ‘Look at that one!’ We printed out the information, along with information on four other houses. We did a walk-through on that first house, and we loved it. Four weeks later, we moved in.”

For young businesspeople, finding a place to live usually means finding an apartment. The place to start is allapartments (www.allapartments.com). The site lists more than 5 million apartments and rental properties in more than 4,000 cities nationwide. Not every listing includes floor plans and photos, but many do. You navigate the database by entering information on the kind of apartment you want and where you want it to be.

Finally, there’s a Web resource that helps with tactics, rather than strategy. Rental markets are super-tight in cities with super-hot economies. One way for young people to land the apartment of their dreams is to show up with their paperwork in order. Right To Know (www.righttoknow.com) provides access to data such as credit reports and Social Security records, starting at $29.95. Request your data from the site, and impress your broker!

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What About the Family?

The toughest decisions about moving often have less to do with buying a home than with being homesick. “One of the most common reasons that people don’t accept transfers is family considerations,” says Ray Link of CHA Relocation Management Inc., based in San Ramon, California, which works with clients such as Chevron and Disney. “Spouses might not want to leave friends and neighbors. Children might not want to change schools.”

The best way to avoid problems is to anticipate them. Virtual Relocation.com (www.virtualrelocation.com) offers a directory of resources to make moving less traumatic. It organizes material into categories such as Career & Education, Home Building, Travel & Recreation. There’s even a “relocation therapist” who fields questions.

You don’t need the Web to identify the major challenges of moving. For families on the move, nothing is more important than schools. “Eighty percent of the families we assist look at schools first,” Link says. “Once they find a school district that they’re comfortable with, they start looking at houses in that district.”

SchoolMatch (www.schoolmatch.com) is a research-and-database firm that rates primary and secondary schools using government data from a variety of sources. It offers free access to information on all U.S. public-school systems, as well as online order forms for Snapshots – one-page summaries of statistics such as students’ college-entrance-exam scores, expenditures, and system size. Snapshots cost $10 each.

There’s another big challenge: How do you find the right day care in a new city? CareGuide (www.careguide.com) is a Web directory of child-care providers. Its Resource Center offers information on choosing providers, as well as a free online form to help match families with caregivers.

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The third big challenge is health care. Medi-Net (www.askmedi.com) is a Web service that provides background information on every physician in the United States. You can order Medi-Net’s reports, which include information on each doctor’s medical school and year of graduation, residency training, certifications, and disciplinary actions. Reports cost $15 for the first doctor and $5 for each additional doctor.

How About The Little Things?

Even if you get the big things right – home, school, doctors – getting the little things wrong can turn a dream move into a nightmare. We’re talking about packing boxes, finding a mover – ugh! The Web can help with this mundane side of moving.

Many local rental companies offer Web sites with information on truck-rental prices and availability. The big national companies seem strangely halfhearted about doing business online, but some do offer quotes and let you request sales calls over the Web. Ryder Moving Services (www.movingcenter.com/email/ryder.htm) has a rep call you with an estimate – and a 10% discount – if you fill out an online form.

If you want someone else to move you, the Homebuyer’s Fair (www.homefair.com) offers a connection to the Center for Mobility Resources. This site helps you estimate the cost of your move and choose a van line or moving company. It also offers other tools, including cost-of-living indexes for more than 1,000 cities worldwide, and crime indexes for more than 500 U.S. cities.

There are other moving headaches, like registering and insuring your car. MoversNet (www.usps.com/moversnet/motor.html), from the U.S. Postal Service, has compiled a directory of 48 motor-vehicle departments. Some states offer online registration; others provide contact information on fees, hours, and locations of offices.

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Once you’ve registered your car and obtained a new driver’s license, you can also insure your car online. AAA (www.aaa.com) provides regional “offices” on the Web, some of which include directories of insurance agencies that offer discounts to AAA members. If you’re not a member of AAA, check out InsWeb (www.insweb.com). The site’s Auto Quotes section lets you compare prices from brand-name insurance companies without dealing with a salesperson. When you’re finished comparing quotes, you can apply for insurance online with companies such as American Express, CNA Financial Corp., Liberty Mutual, and State Farm.

No long waits at the motor-vehicle office? No long meetings with insurance agents? It’s almost enough to make you want to move!

Heath Row (hrow@fastcompany.com) is an associate editor at Fast Company. Since settling into the Boston area in 1996, he’s moved three times.