Moving to Rhode Island: A How To Guide for Families Buying Homes in the Ocean State.


My first job out of college was teaching middle school Science on the northside of Houston. In Texas, it was impossible to drive anywhere without seeing bumper stickers pronouncing love for the state. Messages like “Don’t Mess with Texas” and “I wasn’t born in Texas, but got here as fast as I could.” And while Texas and Rhode Island don’t often get mentioned in the same sentence, this was proof that they share at least one thing: residents who think their state is second to none. Rhode Islanders are a proud people. And when you really think about it, what’s not to like? Miles of beautiful coastline. World class restaurants. Top ranked colleges. Del’s lemonade. And, not least of all, a capital city with more bars per capital than any other municipality in America. Those moving to Rhode Island have a lot to look forward to.

But let’s face it: The moving process can be daunting, even for seasoned travelers. These challenges are even greater when taking into account a move for a family. All at once, a move presents a long list of pressing questions that demand answers: What town or city do we move to? What are the neighborhoods like there? How are the schools? What about taxes? How do we time it with the sale of our current home?


As both a Rhode Island native who has moved five times in fourteen years and a realtor who has helped other families do the same, I write to share a few lessons learned. Each tip, offered here in Cliff Notes form, will be the subject of an upcoming post. 


Tip #1: Buy in neighborhoods likely to appreciate.

A home is the single most significant investment most people ever make. And yet, very little attention is paid to the likely return on that investment.


How crazy is that?


Consider this: the average age of a first time home buyer is 33. While there is no such thing as an “average home buyer” (everyone’s path towards homeownership is unique), let’s assume Joe, a prospective first-time home owner, is a young professional who contributes to a retirement savings account. It's unlikely that Joe's portfolio is made up a few hand-picked stocks, right? Too risky. So, Joe diversifies with a mix of mutual funds, each with built-in management fees. Or maybe he hires a financial advisor. Either way, it would seem reckless and unwise to chose these assets willy-nilly.


According to Zillow, the median house value in Rhode Island is right around $344,000 -- many times greater than the value of Joe’s retirement account. The town or city he buys in will impact the possible return on that investment. While ROI won't be the sole driver in his decision-making process -- at least for his primary residence -- smart home buyers must take this into account when considering a move. 

So, which towns in Rhode Island are likely to provide the most bang for the buck over the next 5, 10, 30 years? We’ll explore this topic in next week’s post. 


Tip #2: Do your homework on the schools.

As a former educator and school leader, it is stunning how often smart, well-intentioned parents base important decisions, like where their children will attend school, on prevailing opinions rather than facts. “Oh, I hear the school system is really good here,” they’ll say. Perception is not always reality in this case. Before narrowing your home search to a particular town, it's worth unpacking some of the assumptions. What’s the college persistence rate? How do the athletic and performing arts program compare to neighboring districts? Or, on a more current note, how effectively has the district supported learning during the pandemic?


In a future post, we’ll dive into the process of vetting school systems and show that there's more than meets the eye than the U.S. News and World Report ranked lists.


Tip #3: Walk the neighborhood (or have your realtor). 

Real estate sites like Zillow and Redfin allow buyers to access and consume lots of data about a property in a short amount of time. Paired with high res photos and now common 3D tours, buyers can get a good understanding for the condition, layout, and flow of a property before setting foot inside it. But for all the technological advancements, there are things a prospective homeowner feels that weigh heavily into the decision-making process. Is the neighborhood walkable? Is it on a quiet side street or a cut through from one part of town to another? What do you hear when you step outside? Cars? Crickets? Neighbor's barking dog? And how do these factors change as you walk a few blocks in either direction?


A realtor with local expertise and tools like Neighborhood Scout and Google Street View can go a long way to providing the whole picture.