And then came the recession. Companies today have all but eliminated their once-generous relocation packages. In fact, the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction: Now companies give an edge to job applicants who already live where the job is located. And hiring managers may think twice about offering a position to someone with a house to sell.
Relocating people doesn't come cheap for a company, especially when there's a house to unload. Since 2007, the average cost to relocate a new hire with a home to sell has increased from $61,900 to $69,000, according to Worldwide ERC, a workforce mobility association. The cost to relocate a renter has increased from $18,400 to $20,200.
The result is that what was once considered to be our single greatest financial asset-- our homes -- has, in some cases, become the biggest obstacle to getting a job. Houses that can't be sold quickly -- or for enough to cover what's owed on the mortgage (25 percent of mortgages nationwide are upside down) -- become liabilities, making the move to even a better-paying job next to impossible.
Taking a job in another city and leaving behind an unsold home can be a recipe for serious financial disaster. One of the top two reasons given for not accepting a job is that relocation isn't financially viable, says Lauryn Franzoni, vice president of Execunet.com.
The downside of this trend for job seekers is that they are forced to play a recessionary version of the popular children's game of "Musical Chairs." Wherever you were when the recession hit (or the music stopped) is likely where you are going to live and work for a while -- even if there is a higher-paying job elsewhere.
Further clouding the employment picture is that more top executives are opting to stay put, causing a bottleneck in the advancement ladder. The housing market is a big chunk of the reason they don't move on, according to Franzoni.
All of which raises the question: How do prospective employers even know the details of your housing situation? Well, chances are you've told them. Companies today spend more time getting to know job prospects up front, both through interviews and through background and credit checks. Whether you have a house you'll need to sell in order to accept an offer of employment is a question that you can expect to be asked these days.
It's no surprise, then, that the fastest-growing segment of the relocation/real estate industry is property management, said Linda Howard, president of network services for Better Homes & Gardens Mason-McDuffie Real Estate in Roseville, Calif. "The need arises from job candidates who are asked to move to a new location and cannot sell their current residence because they are underwater," she said. "By renting their current residence they are free to move to a new location and they are treated equally as a candidate who does not have a home to sell."
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