So, you’ve been dreaming of moving to South Walton for years, and now you’re finally getting to take that plunge. It’s an exciting time, but packing up your life — boxes, moving trucks — and finding a new home can be daunting, even when you’re making a dream move to the beach.
We sat down with Bryan Whitehead of LAH Real Estate to talk about his recent move from Birmingham, Ala., and get some tips for making the process just a little bit easier.
1. Be Patient
Even though this may be the move you’ve always dreamed of, it’s still a major transition and it will be bumpy at the beginning.
For Bryan, he found out he was moving and had less than a week to get down here. He had to pack up what he could and make the move without his wife at first, so he spent the first few months traveling back and forth. He traded in his truck for a (dreaded) car, though he admits it was a great decision. He went on to put 9,000 miles on it in the next six months.
It was trying at times, but he had to just remind himself it was temporary pain.
“It was hard, but every time I’d come back over that bridge on 331 or that hill on 393 and get a peak at the Gulf down by Ed Walline, I’d think, ‘yeah, I’m ok,’” Bryan said. “My advice is to calm down and understand it will all fall into place.”
2. Even Though It’s a Dream Move, It Will Still Be Hard to Leave
Bryan said the hardest part of the move was leaving behind what he was comfortable with in Birmingham.
“Moving down here was essentially starting over,” he said. “I had a big client base up there and a lot of good friends. I’d lived up there 15 years, longer than anywhere else I’d lived before. It was my adopted home town.”
3. Lean on the People Around You
One of the things that drew Bryan to South Walton in the first place is it’s small-town feel and that comes with a sense of community camaraderie. It’s the town where everybody knows your name.
Bryan moved into an office where he didn’t know anyone, but his co-workers and new-found community were very supportive.
“I moved here in October and November, a quieter time of year when this area really feels like a small town,” Bryan said. “It’s so cool how everybody is there to help if you need it.
“When you’re down here and it’s not the busy, crazy season, it’s kind of like living in the country, but with the beach.”
4. Remember: It’s a Small Town!
Bryan said while he has vacationed here for years, he hadn’t realized exactly how removed the area is from a big-city lifestyle. It can be shocking when you start your day-to-day life.
“It’s a LOT smaller than Birmingham,” Bryan said. “I was raised in a town of 2,500 people so it was going back to that for me, but it’s very different in a way I didn’t expect.
“When you go on vacation here you go to Publix once or twice a week and the rest of the time you go to the beach or party at home or go out for dinner. You don’t really think about the realities of the area for day-to-day life. Going to the grocery store could take 10 to 20 minutes. Going to Best Buy, an afternoon. That’s ok by me, but it takes a bit to shift over.”
5. You May Not Want to Live Exactly Where You Vacation
Bryan suggests planning a trip or two down to meet with someone who already lives here — a realtor or a local who knows the markets and the area well — even if you are going to rent and not buy at first. Get to know the lay of the land before you decide where to live.
“If you’ve vacationed in Watercolor for years, but take a job in Destin, you need to know the benefits and drawback of living there,” he said. “You need somebody that can be honest with you, share the great things about here and the challenges, what you need to know to actually live here. You may not want to live exactly where you vacation.”
He suggests finding someone who knows the area, including traffic patterns, the housing market and where stores and schools are located.
Late last month, Bryan and his wife Jamey sold their house in Birmingham and finally made the full move to South Walton. Along with their dog, they are settling into their new life — but Bryan said he’ll know he has really arrived when he buys his jeep, slaps a beach driving permit sticker on it and heads out to Grayton.
“When you boil it down, living here, it’s not just that you’re sitting on the sand, it’s the feeling you get when you’re sitting on the sand. It’s finding that calm part of your day, every day,” Bryan said.
“It’s that feeling you get when you drive over the bridge and just breathe out. That’s our new life.”