If your company asks you to relocate, it may pay for the move, but it can't stop the stress. By Fiona Brandhorst
Being asked to relocate by their employer is, for some people, the chance to move house and be paid for the pain and the pleasure. In reality, the strain and stress of moving is still there, bringing with it unexpected problems.

Jeff and Inger Deere left London 10 years ago for Brighton, when Jeff was promoted and the recession was gaining ground. A fairly good relocation package paid for all the moving expenses, and they bought a large house on the edge of the South Downs.

Five years later, when Jeff's company decided to relocate their head office to Leicester, he was given the option to move north. This time the company offered to buy the Deeres' house to enable them to purchase a new property without the potential problems of being caught in a chain. "Two valuations were obtained on the basis of achieving a quick sale," says Jeff.

"The market was poor in 1995. We'd paid pounds 200,000 for our house in 1990 and spent pounds 20,000 on it. After the valuations we were offered just pounds 177,000. While we were given a generous relocation bonus, it only just about matched the amount we'd lost on the house."

And it wasn't only the recession that had an effect on house prices in their area. Jeff's company was a major employer and the number of properties being offered for sale at that time was distorting the market.

According to Jeff and Inger, the worst experience was trying to buy a house within an hour's commuting distance from the new office in Leicester. "We were moving to a completely new area, and having to house hunt for six months at weekends, as we were both working and I was still living in the south," says Inger. This time they were also looking for a suitable school for their daughter.

"We found that property prices in the Midlands hadn't slumped as much as in the South, and we just couldn't afford to buy a similar property," adds Jeff. "We were looking for a house on the edge of a reasonably sized town, and actually bought a new house in a village which we are very happy with."

Jeff admits that the real sting of relocation is the effect it has on family life, having to start again with each move, and the time taken to rebuild your personal network. Inger is in no doubt that the enforced job breaks have ruined her own career as a systems analyst.

Craig Vassie, a partner at The Relocation Bureau, never underestimates the level of support required by his clients, many of whom are coming to work in the UK from overseas. "We'll do whatever it takes to make the trailing spouse, male or female, feel at home, even if it means taking them to the local Tesco." In his experience, Americans are keen to get the right house, whereas the British put their children's schooling first.

Multinational companies like Glaxo Wellcome have detailed relocation packages in place. Carol Moore is their relocation adviser, and deals with up to 250 employee relocations a year, both within the UK and internationally. The majority of these employees have a property to sell, and Glaxo Wellcome cover all the costs involved in the sale, and purchase of a new home. This service is out-sourced to a relocation company who arranges the marketing of the existing property through local estate agents.

In some cases, Glaxo Wellcome will guarantee to buy the property from the employee at an agreed price to enable the sale to proceed quickly. Help is also given to find a new house. "I have a one-to-one briefing with each person and provide them with maps and guides of the area surrounding the relocation zone," says Ms Moore.

Expert education and partner-employment consultants are also made available. "We are very much aware of these relocations being family moves and the need to keep everyone happy," adds Ms Moore. To further cushion expenses, a one-off lump sum of 10 per cent of the employee's salary is paid to meet the costs of redecoration and furnishings in the new home.

David and Caroline Middleton seized the opportunity to relocate from north London to Denver, Colorado, for two years with David's telecommunications employer. The Middletons rented their two-bedroom flat overlooking a London park and moved to an unfurnished four-bedroom modern executive home with a view of the Rocky Mountains. David's employer paid for shipping costs and the services of a relocation agent.

"We had no idea about areas, but she quickly sussed out our tastes and needs," says David. Their arrival with two young children, in the middle of winter, five weeks before their furniture, meant they had to hire a sofa, bed, cots and even linen.

"Getting credit was a huge problem until we got a security number," remembers Caroline. "As far as they were concerned, we had no credit history and even a guarantee from David's employer meant nothing." David and Caroline were also left to discover for themselves the intricacies of car leasing and the private health system.

On their return to England, just over a year ago, they choose to relocate to Harrogate in Yorkshire, spending 12 weeks in two freezing holiday cottages while they looked for a house to buy. An allowance from David's company covered the cottage rentals and the cost of leasing a car, but not the services of a relocation company.

Finding a property proved difficult. "We were told by estate agents that there were hundreds of people looking for the same type of property and many were renting like us, so were in a good position to move," adds Caroline.

They finally settled on a five-bedroom detached Fifties property in need of considerable work, but with a large garden and in the right part of town. "Having lived in America, we were more accepting of a modern house - space is more important to us now than character."

Employers will continue to relocate staff, but the general trend seems to suggest reluctance on both sides, especially where families are involved. The Nationwide Building Society employs just over 12,000 people and has seen the number of its own relocations decrease over the past 10 years to around 70 employees a year. Denise Walker has written the Nationwide's guide for the relocation of its staff. "It's a very costly exercise, and years of moving around the country is no longer necessarily a significant factor in someone's career."

The Relocation Bureau: 01494 816650