How Flexible Living Is Enabling Prospective Homebuyers to Test New Cities
Where would you live if you could live anywhere? While some may have unbreakable ties to their hometown or feel beholden to a particular radius from their office, remote workers, young professionals, families, and retirees alike have jumped at the chance to fly the coop of their current city in favor of finding their forever home somewhere more aligned with their interests.
Moving anywhere new is always a risky endeavor—and when something as complicated and expensive as homeownership is on the table, such a leap can be intimidating for budding buyers with limited familiarity with their prospective home. In fact, 35% of first-time homebuyers in 2021 wished they had done more research on the area before they purchased their home, according to Opendoor.
To help, many have turned to flexible living arrangements to test the waters of their new city before diving in headfirst. Here’s how having access to flexible leases and furnished apartments has allowed prospective homeowners better navigate the complicated buying process on their terms.
For 10 years, Adam Finley and Roxanna Kroll’s professions in the film industry meant being solidly locked in Los Angeles. But when both of their jobs went remote, they came up with a crazy idea: What if they spent a couple of months each in multiple U.S. cities to test out their “forever home” potential?
“That was the big catalyst,” Roxanna said. “This big door had been opened that we can now live anywhere we want, but we just didn’t know where.”
They started off by each picking one city to try out. But when they discovered Landing’s network of fully furnished, flexible-lease apartments, their bucket list of potential destinations quickly grew to include Austin, Nashville, Boston, Boise, Charlotte, New York City, Seattle, and Portland, along with multiple cities in both California and Arizona.
The pair kept waiting for someone to tell them this was a bad idea, but even Roxanna’s realist father was on board with the adventure.
“In our parents’ generation, you didn’t do this,” Roxanna said. “My grandparents, parents, sister, and her kids all live in one very small town. That’s one path—you buy the house where you grew up and you know. I really was expecting my dad to be like, ‘This is crazy. Don’t do this.’ And we presented the idea to him and he was like ‘No question, this is what you should do.’”
Throughout their travels, Adam and Roxanna have spent their time exploring the city to see whether they could envision themselves living there full-time. Their criteria for their final home includes a big city with small-town vibes, enough nature to explore, and a community of artists.
“If you’re going to buy a house somewhere that’s unknown, there are a lot more questions,” Roxanna said. “The missing piece of the puzzle is to find somewhere I can really confidently and comfortably be for five to 10 years.”
With Austin and Nashville now under their belts, the duo said they’ve been pleasantly surprised by how quickly they can feel at home in a new place and that their unconventional path has not been overwhelmingly difficult so far. These newfound digital nomads plan to keep hunting for their “soul city” for as long as it’s fun before they decide to settle down in their new home.
While Adam and Roxanna cast a wide, cross-country net for their potential home, Dana Buck started his home search in the Pacific Northwest with a smaller—yet still sizable—swath along I-5 between Portland, Oregon, and the Canada-U.S. border. The question was, where exactly was home?
To help with their research, he and his family found a flexible-lease apartment in Bothell, Washington, and used it as a home base for four months to check out different areas in the surrounding 100-mile radius.
“In essence, once we started living with Landing in June of last year, we spent every weekend going around to different neighborhoods,” Dana said. “We started around us, then slowly expanded our search. We wanted to get a feel for the parks and playgrounds for our two little kids and see what we wanted to spend on housing and what we could afford.”
They eventually bought a house 75 miles away in Bellingham, Washington.
This desire to check out potential neighborhoods ahead of a move is not uncommon. According to the National Association of Realtors, 66% of homebuyers in 2022 said the quality of the neighborhood was a major factor in where they bought their home. Plus, the stakes for neighborhood choice are particularly high: According to Bankrate, 15% of young homebuyers regret buying their home due to their property’s location.
Caryn Siegel, who moved from Atlanta to Phoenix last year in search of “something different,” had a similar experience as she figured out whether this city was the place for her.
“I had no idea when I came here where anything was or what area of town I wanted to be centered in. It was a really good place to get acclimated to what was going on,” Caryn said.
Living like a local
One of the major benefits of testing out a city before moving there full-time is the opportunity to graduate from a tourist to a local and gain an in-depth perspective of a place that’s only possible with time and a healthy appetite for adventure.
“We try not to do the things you can easily find on TripAdvisor,” Adam said about their cross-country adventures. “When you’re somewhere for an extended period of time and thinking about living there, we really try to find the more off-the-beaten-path things you only find if you’re a local.”
As part of her city research process, Roxanna said she heads to Instagram to see what locals are up to, get a feel for their lives, and see what makes them love the city, claiming all of her best recommendations have come from locals and create a good snapshot of a city.
“I think the way people normally see cities before they move there is cramming in all the stuff in one weekend. There’s a different perspective for when you’re somewhere for two days, not two months,” she said. “For us, the gift of being here for two to three months is we get to live here and just enjoy being here.”
Moving somewhere temporarily ahead of a move sounds great in theory, but challenges arise for people who have a slew of belongings to haul from one place to another. Because of this, furnished apartments have emerged as a suitable solution for people who are hesitant to bring their stuff along for the ride.
“We didn’t know where exactly we wanted to be and didn’t want to move all of our stuff somewhere and move it again,” Dana said. “The fact that it was a furnished apartment was great. We left 95% of our stuff in a PODS storage unit in Texas until we knew exactly where we were going to go, then once we actually had our house, we just moved our stuff up to the house instead of having to move multiple places.”
Diana, who moved to St. Augustine, Florida, for her husband’s work, said that selling her house and figuring out what she was going to do with all of her family’s stuff was keeping her up at night. However, once they found a furnished apartment in St. Augustine, it meant they only had to bring a small trailer with all of their belongings from New Jersey.
Buying a house requires a hefty dose of timing magic, and today’s competitive housing market isn’t helping things. Low mortgage rates and inventory have led to a frantic, fast-paced market filled with little flexibility and power from the buyers’ side of the deal.
According to a report from Opendoor, nearly three in five first-time homebuyers felt the market was more competitive than they expected in 2021, with 98% losing a home they were interested in. Fifty-six percent made a whopping five or more offers before purchasing their current home. This type of market makes it hard for people to know when their offer will be accepted and when they’ll close on a home, making it difficult to accurately time the end of a traditional long-term lease.
Once Dana’s offer was accepted on their new house in Washington, they put in their notice to leave their apartment—but the next day, they found out there was an issue with the title for their house, delaying their closing.
“We were scrambling,” Dana said. “I called Landing and said, ‘Hey, we have an issue with the title. We need to rescind our leaving.’” And they said, ‘No problem. It’s all good.’”
Flexible living frees homebuyers from the chores of negotiating with a landlord, paying hefty fees to break a lease, and finding a subletter, cutting back on the complexities of the already-difficult process of affording a home, buying it, and moving in.
Low-stakes living before a high-stakes decision
Prospective homebuyers also said they felt more at ease living somewhere with flexible lease terms. Signing a lease sight unseen in an unfamiliar city becomes a far less daunting prospect when renters can leave with only two weeks’ notice.
“Every decision we made to get further down the path of commitment was always balanced with knowing we could cancel our storage unit and move back to Los Angeles if it didn’t work out,” Adam said. “We always had this fallback path, which gave us the confidence to continue moving forward.”
For Diana, the prospect of buying a home in Florida while selling her house in New Jersey was daunting, along with the $10,000 price tag to transport her belongings. She found herself wishing for a temporary place where her family could settle for a while while they figured everything out. She wound up staying in her apartment for six months before buying a house in a brand-new development just down the street from her apartment.
“Living with Landing gave me the feeling of, ‘I’m moving to Florida, but nothing is permanent,’” she said. “My stuff was in storage up north, so if we hated it, I knew we could come back. It gave me a sense of calm. I wasn’t stuck there, and I wasn’t paying a mortgage.”
Getting a head start
One extra benefit homebuyers found when testing out an area before moving there was that they didn’t have to start from scratch if they decided to finally commit. From knowing how to avoid irritating traffic patterns to knowing where the closest Trader Joe’s is, homebuyers felt they had a head start in their new home by the time they signed on the dotted line.
Diana said she found her apartment complex’s dog park to be a great place to meet other people when they got out of work at 5 p.m.—though she did note that her dog “had the best social life out of all of us.” Her family quickly made friends with their neighbors in their complex, who now have a house in the same housing development they’re in.
Plus, her elderly neighbor downstairs “pretty much wanted to adopt my kids as her grandkids,” she said, adding that she stopped by their new home just the day before.
“Not only do you have a place to live, but you also have a sense of community when you move to your new place,” Diana said. “This is especially true someplace like Florida where everyone is from somewhere else and people are looking to make new friends.”
Kick-starting the process of finding a community can help prospective homebuyers feel more at ease with their decision to put down roots, with 51% of young homebuyers valuing community and friendly neighbors when deciding whether or not to pull the trigger on a new home, according to Bank of America.
Roxanna Kroll was able to pack light when moving into her apartment.
Regardless of whether these prospective homebuyers found the home of their dreams or moved on to test another city, it’s clear that flexible living has become a powerful tool in the arsenal of homebuyers, providing them with more control over their future than ever before. When navigating a decision as important as buying a home, people are finding it’s worth taking the time and putting in the research to get it right.
“This concept of using Landing as a way to see a city just makes more sense,” Roxanna said. “It’s almost simpler. It sounds different because I don’t think it’s in our brain as the thing you think of, but once it’s in your brain, it almost makes more sense to try out a new city before you sign a lease or buy a house there.”