Saturday, June 14, 2008

Will the housing bust impact geographic mobility?

(Calculated Risk) The WaPo had a story this morning, Held Back by the House, about a couple who moved from Florida to Washington because of a job change. They have been unable to sell their Florida home, and remarked:

"If we knew then what we know now, we would have stayed where we were."
Of course many homeowners now know they are trapped:
[D]epressed sales and sinking home prices in many parts of the country are complicating relocations and transfers for thousands of workers ... A survey last year by Worldwide ERC, a nonprofit association that represents relocation specialists, found that depressed home values emerged as the No. 1 reason for resisting job transfers for the first time in more than 10 years.

Of the member organizations that reported employee reluctance to move, 71 percent cited the sluggish real estate market as an impediment to a job-related move, up from 16 percent last year.

"This is a dramatic shift," said Cris Collie, the group's chief executive. "The top issue has consistently been family concerns, such as dual-career couples, children at a critical school age or caring for elderly parents who live nearby.
There are probably close to 10 million households currently with zero or negative equity in the U.S. For these homeowners, it will be very difficult to accept a job transfer to a different county or state.

Definition: Negative Equity: a homeowner owes more than their home is worth.

To size the problem: According to the Census Bureau, from 2005 to 2006 (the most recent data), approximately 1.7 million owner-occupied households, moved to a different county or state. If approximately 1 in 8 households (the same proportion as with negative equity) will not accept a transfer now because of depressed home values that would be about 200,000 households per year that will be reluctant to accept job transfers.

This will not only impact the earning potential of these households, but this could also impact the performance of various companies. A significant majority of households that migrate have incomes above the median - and negative equity situations will limit the ability of companies to transfer these senior employees.

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