Why Do People Sell Their Homes?

The Top Reasons Homeowners Make a Move

family playing on bed
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American homeowners move, on average, every five to seven years. That may seem a surprising figure to folks who have resided happily in the same place for three decades (though, trust us—their day to relocate will eventually come as well). Why do people sell their homes? Here are the top reasons.

Home is too small. Increased family size is the most common rationale. First-time home buyers often outgrow their "starter" residences, literally: As the kids come and grow, people say they need a larger place.

Moving on up. People outgrow their homes in a more figurative sense: Their careers are flourishing or they've come into money, and they can afford the bigger, grander, more expensive residence they've always longed for. (Sometimes they can't afford it and buy it anyway, but that's a different story.)

Fix purchase error. Maybe they thought they could get by without a front yard, but the noise from the main street is just too much. Or the pool is proving a pain to maintain—and they never use it, anyway. Or they're sick of tripping over the steps to the sunken living room. Whatever the reason, homeowners might believe they made a mistake when purchasing their present place and want out.

New Job or Transfer. Obviously, work-related relocation makes it necessary to pull up roots. And it doesn't have to be a full-fledged move to another town or state. Many people draw the line at a commute that exceeds one hour (one-way), especially if it means driving in heavy traffic.

Changes to Personal Relationships. Moving in with a partner or getting married usually means selling for one or both of the homeowning parties. Conversely, break-ups are also a common reason why people sell homes:

    • One party may need to buy out the other and not have the cash available.
    • The home may not be affordable to sustain on a single income.
    • The home holds bad memories.

Neighborhood declines. The neighborhood might have changed for the worse—economically, socially or in terms of infrastructure. Or it just may have changed in a way not to residents' liking: grown too commercial or too busy, too young or too quiet.

Empty nest. The kids have grown up and moved out, and now the parents want a smaller place. Plus, the older you get, the harder a big house is to maintain, and the better an apartment or townhouse looks. Downsizing a home is a key reason why empty-nesters move.

See family more often—or less. Some people will move to be near relatives, especially as they age. Conversely, some homeowners move to put more distance between themselves and their kin. Dysfunctional and fractured families have been known to get closer after being separated.

Retirement. Active-adult communities are attracting many buyers over the age of 55. These planned communities offer golf courses, clubhouses, workout and recreational facilities, and social gatherings—along with health and medical facilities.

Health problems. Physical ailments make it difficult to climb stairs, walk long distances, negotiate narrow spaces and do yard work. And re-fitting an existing home can be expensive. Often, it's more expedient to move to a place that has a preferable layout or a condo with a staff.

Deferred maintenance. Some people don't want to put on a new roof, replace the siding or buy a new furnace, so it's easier to buy a newer home. When you figure the life of most residential infrastructure is about 15 years, it could make sense to get out before it's time to spend the big bucks.

Home improvement perfection. Some people enjoy fixing up a home, spending time, money and effort on remodeling. But once the work is completed, they become restless, because there is nothing left to do. They like nothing better than selling up and moving on—to the next fixer-upper.

Cash-in equity. Some homeowners can't stand the fact their home is worth all that money and they can't, as the saying goes, "eat the house." They'd prefer to cash in because that money is not in their pocket. Rather than stare at four walls with empty pockets, they'd prefer to sell and use the funds for other things.

Lifestyle change. Some folk are simply tired of owning a home and would prefer to travel, pursue a hobby or be less responsible. So, for these people, homeownership loses its priority status and selling a home turns into the ticket for realizing dreams.

Death in the Family. When one half of a couple dies, the survivor often finds the home too big or too full of sad memories to stay in. Or, grown children find the familial home impractical to keep after their remaining parent goes. Estate planners often recommend that homeowners transfer title to a property into a trust; this allows their heirs to avoid probate proceedings and sell a home more easily. 

At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, CalBRE #00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.