Why Do People Sell Their Homes?

The Top Reasons Homeowners Make a Move

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American homeowners are a restless lot, moving every five to seven years on average. Ranging from personal relationships to physical surroundings, these are the top reasons why people sell their homes.

Home-Related Reasons

The motivation for a move often reflects the residence itself, or the area around it.

  • Home is too small. Increased family size is the most common rationale for selling a home. First-time home buyers often outgrow their starter residences. As the kids come and grow, people say they need a larger place.
  • Made a mistake. 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.
  • There goes the neighborhood. The neighborhood might have changed for the worse—economically, socially, or in terms of infrastructure. Perhaps the overall area has developed in a way not to the residents' liking: grown too commercial or too busy, too young or too quiet.

Financial Reasons

Money matters are another common motivation for moving.

  • Moving on up. People outgrow their homes in a figurative sense as well: 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.)
  • 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.
  • Cash in equity. Some homeowners can't stand the fact their place is worth all that money and they can't, as the saying goes, "eat the house." Rather than stare at four walls with empty pockets, they find it more financially expedient to sell and use the funds for other things. So they cash in, taking advantage of appreciation in property values.

Personal Reasons

People may sell simply because they want to.

  • 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.
  • See family more often—or less. People frequently move to be near relatives, especially as they age. Conversely, some homeowners move to put distance between themselves and their kin. Dysfunctional and fractured families have been known to grow closer after being separated.
  • Need a new challenge. Some people enjoy fixing up a home—spending time, money, and effort on remodeling. But once the work is completed, they become restless, because they have nothing left to do. They like nothing better than selling up and moving on—to the next fixer-upper.
  • Different interests and priorities. Some folks 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.

    Life Cycle Reasons

    As people reach the significant milestones in their lives, their residential preferences and needs often alter.

    • Changes in relationships. Moving in with a partner or getting married usually means selling for one or both of the homeowning parties. Conversely, breakups are also a common reason for people to sell homes. One party may need to buy out the other and not have the cash available; the place may not be affordable to sustain on a single income; or the home simply holds bad memories.
    • Empty nest. Downsizing a home is a key reason why empty-nesters move. 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: Physical ailments make it difficult to climb stairs, walk long distances, negotiate narrow spaces, or do yard work. And since refitting can be expensive, it's often more expedient to move to a place with a preferable layout or a condo complex with a maintenance staff.
    • Retirement. Active-adult communities are attracting many buyers over age 55. These planned communities offer golf courses, clubhouses, workout and recreational facilities, and social gatherings—along with health and medical facilities, making it easier to age in place.
    • Death in the family. When one half of a couple dies, the survivor often finds the home too big or too full of sad reminders to remain there. Maybe 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, which 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.