Stages of Relocation

By Rachel Gray September 26, 2023
Older woman enjoys the stunning nature of Grand Haven Rosy Mound Natural Area from a bridge.

Photo by Michigan Economic Development Corporation

Relocating to a new community ranks as one of the top 3 most stressful life situations someone can face. The other two are death of a loved one and divorce, according to Ohio University Hospitals. Relocation is a complicated process, which is only multiplied for couples and families.

In the 16 years Hello West Michigan has existed, we’ve worked with thousands of relocatees, all navigating one of life’s most stressful situations. Sometimes we work with individuals who are just starting the research process and have a relocation in their 3-year plan. Other families call us in transit because their new employer wants them to start on Monday. Throughout our work, we’ve observed some patterns of the relocation process. We call it “the stages of relocation,” and find thinking about it in stages can help relocatees feel a little less overwhelmed.

Stage 1 is the Immediate Needs: Job(s), housing, school(s) for the kid(s).

The job is almost always the first step. If you’re interested in moving to a new town, you’re probably already looking for employment there. Because you probably won’t pull the trigger until employment is confirmed. If you have a dual-income household, that means two concurrent job searches. If get a cold call from a recruiter for a specific job opening and you accept the offer, the first step of Stage 1 is done… unless you have a significant other. Being the “trailing significant other” is especially stressful because you may be engaging in a job search you weren’t ready for. Some dual-income households have a financial cushion and can wait for the partner to find employment until after the physical location.

Finding housing and schools is next. You can do this remotely from your old town or when you’re boots on the ground in your new location. None of the other pieces of the relocation puzzle matter until these pieces are set. Transitional, short-term rentals or the summer school break might give you a longer time-horizon to complete these tasks. In today’s housing market, we’ve seen many transplants buy or rent houses after taking only a virtual tour. Having a good realtor that knows the market can help with this. That’s why we recommend our relocation members, a group realtors, relocation specialists, and living communities who understand the stress of relocation. We also keep a list of school districts in our 13-county region for easy research.

Once a relocatee has found a job, housing, and school (if applicable), other to-do items can be addressed.

Stage 2 is Adjustment and Settling In

The first activity we do at Rapid Roots, our cohort-style community onboarding program, is pulling out a paper map (the large fold-out kind you used to keep in your glovebox). It’s important to have a physical, geographic grounding in your new community. It gets you physically oriented and helps give you the “I live here” feeling. Exploring your new town on foot, bike, or driving without Google maps is a great way to learn what’s around your new home and office.

Finding services is an important part of this phase. While you may keep your long-time accountant or financial advisor because those services can be done remotely, things like a doctor, dentist, dry-cleaner, hair salon, veterinarian, doggy day care, or gym have to be local. Asking co-workers for recommendations is a great way to make progress on this list. It will take trial and error. This stage may take 6 – 18 months depending on your needs.

Stage 3 is Finding Your People

This is the hardest and longest stage of relocation. Who do you hang out with after 5:00 p.m. and on the weekends? There’s a whole science behind making friends as an adult, in fact, we do a special lecture on it as part of our Rapid Roots cohort. As cool as you are as an individual, know that it will take intentional effort to make friends in a new community. And it probably won’t look like Barney and the gang in How I Met Your Mother or the cast of Friends at Central Perk.

Approach your friend-finding like you do your business networking and relationship building. It’s all about the follow up—and since you need the friend, it will mostly be pushed along by you. So buckle up for the emotional labor of finding activities and aligning schedules. The good news is there are TONS of activities in West Michigan (so many, we can’t fit them all into the Community Events section of our newsletter).

  • Go to events you’re interested in. You’ll meet people who are interested in the same thing. Flockx is a great app for finding your people.
  • Strike up conversations. Now is not the time to be a wallflower. Put yourself out there.
  • Exchange information. You don’t want to be the one posting in the Missed Connection section of Craigslist.
  • Follow up with the person you vibed with. Set up a coffee date or follow up activity.
  • Keep the conversation going.

Just like it can be awkward to say “will you be my mentor?” we know it can also be awkward to say “will you be my friend.” Feel it out. Try not to make it weird. But it’s also ok to show some vulnerability and share that you’re new in town and don’t have many social connections.

Just like the other stages of relocation, Stage 3 takes time and it vary by individual. The good news is there are organizations like Hello West Michigan and others that are ready to welcome you here and support you in your relocation journey.



Rachel Gray is the Executive Director of Hello West Michigan. She relocated to West Michigan in 2008 for school and stayed in the area after graduation. As a leader in the state’s talent attraction space, she leads Back To Michigan, the award-winning collaborative of partner organizations working to attract people to Michigan. Rachel was named Grand Rapids Business Journal 40 Under 40 in 2018. In the summer, you’ll find her at the beach and in the winter, on the cross-country ski trails at Pigeon Creek Park in West Olive.