Week of December 6, 1999
  Editor's Choice Web Pick
   of the Week

Virtual Relocation Site Pinpoints a Host of Moving-Related Costs

"You may be high,
You may be low,
You may be rich, child,
You may be poor,
But when the Lord gets ready,
You gotta move."
-- "You Gotta Move," by Mississippi Fred McDowell

Little did late blues great Mississippi Fred know how right he was: The average U.S. resident, for example, moves an average of 12 times in his or her lifetime. Amazingly, roughly 17 percent of the U.S. population moves each year -- more than 40 million people -- according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And 40 percent of each year's mass of moving Americans relocate for business reasons, reports the American Movers Council. You gotta move, indeed.

That's where this site comes in: Billed as "the Internet's first moving & relocation mega-site," Portland, Ore.-based Virtual Relocation (www.virtualrelocation.com) provides valuable aid and assistance to both companies and individuals who're struggling with the myriad stresses of relocation.

And make no mistake about it: No matter where you're headed, you're moving to Stress City -- regardless of how much individual or corporate prosperity relocating may seem to offer. Moving, in fact, ranks No. 3 among the most stressful events in most people's lives, trailing only death and divorce, according to the U.S. Employee Relocation Council.

For individuals and companies alike, this free, three-year-old site offers some major stress-busing support.

'ReloSmart' Software Provides
Exceptionally Detailed Comparisons

As you might expect, links are a lot of what make this site valuable.

But one of the site's most unique features is its own software program called "ReloSmart," which lets users compare two cities in exceptionally broad terms.

Mind you, using the site's ReloSmart software isn't quick. You'll need to input brief answers to two screens worth of data requests. But if you really want to get into depth (and it's your personal and/or corporate life, so you probably should), this feature sets a very high standard.

ReloSmart -- which you access by clicking on "Cost of Living Analysis" -- takes in 25 key categories, such as climate, crime, total sales and income taxes, air quality and home appreciation rates.

Specifically, what you'll get after you hammer in all your data is a report broken down into five sections:

  • "Analysis Results," which shows the net effect in dollars of the proposed move;
  • "Salary Calculation," which shows the gross salary effect, how much more you'd have to make to break even or how much of an effective raise you're getting.
  • "Analysis Detail," which lists selected subjects (e.g., new housing costs and new taxes) that have been computed for the new location.
  • "Quality of Life," which lists quality-of-life factors that, the site says, "cannot directly translate into dollars, but may affect your decision to move."
  • "Future Impact," which shows the estimated impact of the proposed move over the next 50 years.

As we've suggested, the level of detail here is truly voluminous. Here's the short version of what we found if we were living and working in Washington, D.C., and planned to relocate to Atlantic City, N.J., and work in New York City. (This comparison assumed two more things: the same [hypothetical] salary level of $100,000 and a huge tolerance for mind-numbingly long commutes.)

What ReloSmart told us is that our hypothetical transferee would be losing US$21,067 in federal, state local and FICA taxes, which equals $33,700 in gross salary. "So you need a raise of this much in the new city to just break even on this move due solely to the increase in the cost of living," the site explained.

In fact, Virtual Location even performed a distressing calculation on the long-term impact of the move: It calculated that the projected annual loss, had that amount not been available to invest at an interest rate of 6 percent, would, over a 50-year period, equal a jaw-dropping $6,116,456.

'City Comparison' Feature Offers
Simpler Approach, But Far Less Detail

If that's more detail than you think you really need (or if you have a few million bucks on hand that you're ready to blow anyway), you can use the site's "City Comparison" feature. The focus again is on cost-of-living comparisons, which can be a real employee transfer killer. The results here, however, are far more succinct. The site allows users to compare the cost of living in 25 categories for any two of the 300 U.S. cities that are in the Virtual Relocation online database.

Some of those City Comparison results may mildly surprise you. Consider, for example, an individual moving, with the same salary level, from urban, pricey Washington, D.C., to Destin, Fla., a vacation locale with a laid-back ambiance. Such a sojourner might be expecting a substantial rise in his or her quality of life. Not necessarily, says the Virtual Relocation comparison. The two cities are dead even in the cost-of-living (COL) index scores, both coming in with high-side scores of 127. Destin's $37,706 median income is also slightly higher than Washington's, and the average price for a 2,000-sq.-ft. (180 sq. m.) home in Destin is $296,000, roughly 10 percent higher than in Washington.

If you'd picked Delray Beach, Fla., on the other hand, you'd see the COL index drop to 103 and the average home cost drop to $234,000.

Loads of Links

Virtual Relocation also offers tons of relocation-related links -- more than 150,000, in fact. Some of them you could certainly find on your own. But the fact that this much linked information is gathered at one gateway makes for a far more time-efficient way in which to find relocation data. The site's links are arranged (under "National Relocation Directory") in 14 general categories, including the expected suspects like real estate, schools colleges and universities, construction, mortgages, etc.

There's a "Corporate Moving" category under the "Relocation Tools" category, but don't expect a huge amount of help here. You'll find links to a few publications that center on corporate moves, plus a host of companies specializing in temporary corporate housing, moving and storage.

On the other hand, the Relocation Tools section does offer some useful links, including, for example, Money magazine's "Best Places to Live" rankings, FBI crime statistics, U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis regional data, (e.g., state per-capita personal income ranges, etc.). You'll even find links to sites that compare cities' pollen counts.

In addition, the site has added a few "gee-whiz" features to jack up the appeal of relocation, which, after all, is not exactly a cuddly subject.

For example, the site offers a set of full-color, 360-degree "virtual city tours" of more than 50 U.S. cities. Each tour offers some 10 city images, and a location map accompanies each image. This, however, is one case in which cyberspace doesn't replace really being there. Nonetheless, the 360-degree views do give users some feel for what a city looks and feels like. In addition, there's an online "Relocation Therapist" who'll answer users' e-mail questions.

You Gotta Move . . . Globally?

Virtual Relocation navigates exceptionally well, particularly considering how much information is either on-site or linked to the site. Graphically, this is certainly not a snazzy site by any means. (Then again, people who are faced with the stresses of moving are far more interested in substance, not sizzle.)

If there's a bone to pick, it's with Virtual Relocation's U.S.-centric focus. Today's workplace has taken on an undeniably global focus. Simply moving from one U.S. city to another is only a slice of what's happening with global worker mobility. That U.S.-centrism may lie in the lack of comparable global data with which to construct such an internationally focused site. But if the information is there, filling is a golden opp for some enterprising cybernaut.

Virtual Relocation, however, does have a Japanese-language version of its site. So perhaps that's the direction in which this site moving. And like Mississippi Fred said, you gotta move.



©1999 Conway Data, Inc. All rights reserved. Data is from many sources and is not warranted to be accurate or current.