California Dreaming A mother's ideal job requires her family to relocate 2,500 miles away.
(MONEY Magazine) – Last December, Ann Doty was offered her dream job. A respected think tank, the League for Innovation in the Community College, invited the 44-year-old Ph.D. to join its staff. Although she was thrilled by the prospect of using her degree in higher education administration to help community colleges reinvent themselves, the job came with a hitch: The League was located in Mission Viejo, Calif., 2,500 miles from the Durham, N.C. home she shared with her husband Lou Tornatzky, 58, and the youngest two of their five kids--Doty's son Nathan, 18, and the couple's son, Joe, 11.
It's not that Doty was worried about moving per se. Only five years before, the family had moved from Michigan to North Carolina when Tornatzky signed on as director of the Southern Technology Council, a 15-state consortium of industry, government and educational organizations. That move was a big success. Doty, still in graduate school, finished her degree at North Carolina State and got a job supervising the work-training programs offered at the state's community colleges. Nathan, Joe, and Doty's daughter Rachel, now a university student, settled into their new schools. And Tornatzky loved the challenge of his new job--attracting high-tech companies to the region.
But this move presented them with a new range of issues to handle: Nathan was finishing up his senior year in high school, and Joe didn't want to leave his friends in the middle of the school year. Most important, Tornatzky would have to give up a job that was the family's primary means of support.
"It's great to take on new challenges," he says, "but I'm concerned about our monthly cash flow and what I'm going to do out there."
Everyone in the family agreed that Doty should take the job--but addressing the pros and cons of moving cross-country turned into a 14-day marathon of midnight huddles. "We used this time to explore the family's long-term goals," says Doty. "As the children grew older, we'd been talking about ways to simplify our life. The job offer forced us to reassess our priorities, such as living close to our kids and moving into a house that was easier to manage."
In Durham, the family lived comfortably on Tornatzky's salary of about $100,000. Doty's $45,000 income was set aside for the children's education. Using Excel spreadsheets, the couple plotted how they could live on the $50,000 Doty would earn at the League until Tornatzky figured out what he would do next. With California's skyrocketing real estate prices, the couple quickly realized that the $300,000 they figured they could afford to spend on a house wouldn't buy the equal of their 3,000-square-foot, five-bedroom home on 11 wooded acres in Durham.
Despite their apprehensions, they decided to go ahead. "The pivotal factor," says Doty, "was that the job offered the ultimate opportunity for me to work with a topnotch organization doing something I really care about."
Moved there, done that
These days, reports the Employee Relocation Council in Washington, D.C., more and more families are moving because of career opportunities for the woman of the house--17% of the approximately 660,000 American families that relocated last year.
Like Doty and Tornatzky, most two-career couples who transplant their families confront at least three major issues, says Jim Anderson, a corporate relocation consultant for Runzheimer International: uprooting children, maintaining living standards and disrupting the trailing spouse's career.
But Doty and Tornatzky were sure they could pull off the move. Since their transfer from Michigan to North Carolina had been a snap, they decided to follow the same game plan, except that this time Doty would lead the way.
A new division of labor
Her goal was to move to Mission Viejo, find a house and hire a moving company. Tornatzky and the two boys would stay in Durham to finish out the school year, pack up their belongings and oversee the $15,000 worth of repairs the house needed before being put up for sale. Since Tornatzky had projects at work that would run through August, Joe and their two dogs would fly to California in July. Nathan decided to stay in North Carolina to work. They'd all keep in touch by e-mail, and an occasional phone call, to save money.
Now, what is it they say about the best-laid plans? Doty started her new job in late January, sharing an apartment with four strangers to cut expenses. She loved the job but hated the living arrangements. "After a certain age, it's really hard to live with people you don't love," she says.
In mid-March she found a four-bedroom house on one acre in Silverado Canyon, an untouched rural pocket on a mountainside 10 miles east of Mission Viejo. Her husband made a quick trip to check the place out. Good schools and a friendly community convinced the couple to buy the house. The tab: $307,000, just $7,000 more than they had budgeted. For the down payment, they used the $108,000 proceeds from the sale of undeveloped property they owned on Lake Superior.
Bumps on the road
Then the complications began. In May, when the United Van Lines trucks with most of the family's belongings arrived in Silverado Canyon, the vehicles couldn't maneuver down the narrow road to their new home. Everything had to be transferred onto a smaller U-Haul truck. At some point, their property sustained substantial damage, which United Van Lines paid to repair.
Back in North Carolina, Tornatzky waited until mid-June to tell his superiors that he was leaving at the end of the summer. "I didn't want to be a lame duck, which would jeopardize several projects I'd spent months working on," he explains. He left on good terms, with consulting contracts that would carry him through the rest of the year.
Unfortunately, things were not going as well on the real estate front. The Durham house went on the market for $375,000, $90,000 more than they had paid for it five years earlier. The first real estate company held an open house, and no one showed up. Realizing they had picked the wrong broker, in July the couple reassigned the listing to a family friend, Gloria Faulk, a RE/MAX agent who understood the urgency of selling property when the owners are relocating. Based on an independent appraisal and local property values, Faulk recommended they drop their price to $349,000. By advertising on television, the Internet and in the newspaper, Faulk drew 22 people to an open house--but still no buyers.
By July, Joe was looking forward to the California beaches, but the plan to fly him and the dogs cross-country fell through. It seems the airlines don't fly animals in the middle of the summer because of the heat in holding areas. So finally, in August, Tornatzky packed the rest of their belongings into the back of a Ryder truck, and he, Joe, Elvis (the "monster Lab") and Laddie (an Australian sheepdog) crammed into the cab for the five-day drive.
By September, the family was under one roof for the first time in almost eight months. Joe has enrolled in a school 10 minutes from home and signed up for a youth soccer program. His mother is enjoying her new professional life.
And his father? He's taking a wait-and-see attitude, which Jean Snyder, a work/family consultant, thinks is great. "We encourage the trailing spouse to assess what he or she wants out of life before making any quick decisions," explains Snyder, who is with the Impact Group, a St. Louis organization that advises relocating families.
Not that Doty and Tornatzky haven't given serious thought to their financial options. Tornatzky could retire early and tap his $577,000 TIAA-CREF pension account, but retirement seems unlikely for the robust former marathoner. Instead, like 20% of adults over 45 surveyed earlier this year in a BusinessWeek/Harris poll, the seasoned administrator may launch his own consulting business.
After three months on the market, the house hadn't sold, so Doty and Tornatzky lowered the price to $329,000 and entertained putting it up for auction if it didn't sell by the end of September. A difficult choice but better than paying mortgages on two houses.