US workers saddled by houses that won't sell
Soft real estate markets hurt worker mobility as relocation gets more costly – financially and emotionally.
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"It just doesn't seem like a good time to take a risky bet," Mr. Marich says.Skip to next paragraph
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Family concerns are No. 1
Despite these challenges, housing is not the top concern in a move. "The No. 1 reason employees turn down an opportunity to move is because of family," says Cris Collie, executive vice president of Worldwide ERC, an employee relocation council in Washington, D.C.
Sometimes family reasons also help to propel a move back. Two years ago, Jeff Sinatra moved from Boston to Detroit to start a new job with a financial services company. Assuming his family would be putting down long-term roots, he and his wife bought a suburban Colonial and settled in.
But before long Mr. Sinatra realized that all was not well with the job. "The owner misrepresented himself and the opportunity," he says. Most of the management team ended up leaving.
Now, as Sinatra considers his next career step, he and his wife want to return to Boston, where their families live. But because of massive layoffs in the auto industry in the past year, the Detroit housing market is flooded with "For Sale" signs. "We'll either rent our house or foreclose, because we can't sell it," Sinatra says.
He remains philosophical and optimistic, saying, "I've learned a lot of good lessons."
For Greenish and his family, their failed attempt to sell their house had a happy ending. They took their house off the market, and he was able to return to his former position at Conceive magazine.
"It was the best decision," he says. "In some ways it was good that we tried to move, because it reaffirmed that we like where we are. We put a foot over the fence, and the grass wasn't entirely greener."
Kim Hahn, CEO of the multimedia company in Orlando that publishes Conceive, was glad to hire Greenish back when he decided not to relocate to Charlotte. But she urges employers to do everything they can to make a move possible.
"Employees are your greatest asset," she says. "I would not let an employee go because of their inability to sell their house. I would get them a laptop and get them set up at home until they could relocate their family. It's not forever that a house won't sell."
David Barlow, senior vice president of Sirva Relocation, sees encouraging signs that businesses, at least those in the Fortune 500, are improving their relocation policies. "More and more companies, in order to get through this real estate downturn, are having to provide a way out for transferees who cannot sell their home," he says.
Marc Freeman, author of "Renegotiate With Integrity," tells those considering a career-related move to weigh all aspects of the deal. If housing is an issue, speak up.
"You have to be completely up front and honest with them, saying, 'I need your help if you want me to relocate. It doesn't make sense for me to make this move if I'm going to lose $30,000 on my house and you're only giving me $20,000 more in salary.' Get the company to say, 'OK, we'll take care of that loss up front.' "
Four questions to ask first
As employees grapple with the pros and cons of moving, Dan Coughlin, an executive coach in St. Louis, emphasizes that the housing market is only one of many variables in the decision. He suggests considering three questions: "What am I changing from, and why? What am I changing to, and why? And how am I going to make that change?"
A final question: "Is the short-term cost of not being able to sell my house worth the longer-term benefit of being able to enhance my career?" He adds, "It's still a risk to change cities to try to enhance your career."
Those who track real estate trends remain optimistic. "The housing market has always come back reasonably strong," says Brian Drum, CEO of Drum Associates, a consulting firm in New York. "In the next couple years it will come back again."
Until then, Mr. Freeman encourages a long-term view: "Sometimes you've just got to take your hit and move on," he says. "If moving on is the best thing to do, then don't look back. Count your blessings for what you have – that you have a job, you're progressing in your career, and somebody wants you enough to move you to a new location. Look at those positive things, grab hold of those, and drop the negatives, because they'll just slow you down."