ELLEN JAMES MARTIN
The insurance company manager had lived in a four-bedroom ranch house just a couple of years before he got the itch to buy a bigger, fancier place. So when he spotted a stately Federal-style house he liked, he grabbed it, negotiating a 10 percent discount off its appraised value. It was his third move in less than a decade.
"Some people just have a strong wanderlust. They possess an urge to move often. This is all the more tempting now because many homes are priced so reasonably," says Sid Davis, the author of "A Survival Guide for Buying a Home," and the real estate broker who represented the buyer.
Davis says the motivation to move often is typically driven by "status seeking."
"People who are doing well in their careers often seek more luxurious quarters," he says.
Tom Early, a broker and former president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (www.naeba.org), estimates that 10 percent to 20 percent of the population would like to make a housing move every five years or so if they could afford to do so. But not all of what he calls "itchers" can move that often.
"Right now lots of folks just don't have the equity to sell and trade up," Early says. "Also, fears about job security are restraining other people."
Obviously, a stable financial situation is a necessary prerequisite for any move-up housing plan. You'll want to know you can meet the monthly hurdle of higher housing payments if you choose to trade houses. Here are pointers for those who can afford to make such a move:
- Ask yourself why you want to change homes.
Many people have practical reasons for seeking to move after a short tenure in their current home. For instance, young families often need an extra bedroom when they have another child. Or older couples may wish to move near their elderly parents.
But others, known in real estate circles as "serial homebuyers," are driven solely by the thrill of finding a better space.
"These repeat homebuyers get the same excitement from buying a different house that other people get from buying a new car - just because it's bright, shiny and smells good," Early says.
But his years as a veteran real estate broker have taught Early that "the grass isn't always greener on the far side of the hill," and some people are disappointed when a housing move doesn't yield the satisfaction they'd expected.
- Make sure your spouse or partner also wants to move soon.
Those sharing a household aren't always in sync on their housing plans. One person may resist making another move, particularly if the couple has lived in their current home for a relatively short period.
"It happens quite often that the wife is gung ho to move and the man just drags his feet. Or vice versa," Early says.
Unfortunately, pressuring an unwilling partner to move before he or she is ready can create serious strife for a couple.
"It's not worth putting your relationship in jeopardy over a house," Early says.
- Determine the true worth of your present home before deciding to move.
A segment of the population owns their homes "free and clear," meaning they have no mortgage. But others, including many who move often, have little or no equity, which makes it tough for them to move.
If you're unclear how much you could obtain in proceeds from the sale of your present property, Early encourages you to garner the opinions of three local real estate agents in your area. Then study their estimates before making a final determination on whether to attempt a move.
He also advocates that most trade-up buyers, except those with sufficient cash to buy another home without first selling their current one, sell first before putting an offer on another place.
"You lose a lot of bargaining power if you make your sales contract for your next house conditional on selling your current one. That's because sellers don't like conditional contracts. They want a bird in the hand," Early says.
- Take your dreams into account when charting your housing plans.
On one level, it's critically important that you approach a trade-up move as a business transaction. Clearly, it's unwise to put yourself in a financial position that could one day force you to surrender your home through foreclosure.
Yet on another level, housing decisions should also be grounded in the subjective because obviously there's no point to buying any house you don't like, Early says.
"When you walk into the right house, you should get those warm, fuzzy feelings of recognition all over. If you don't feel those emotions, just keep looking until you do," he says.