Economists' Outlook

Housing stats and analysis from NAR's research experts.

Why People Move: A Deeper Look at the Data

The share of people moving has declined in recent years. From 2001 to 2002 14.8 percent of the U.S. population moved. The share of the population that moved has steadily decreased over the decade to 12.5% in the period from 2008 to 2009. During the past few years, peoples’ mobility was impacted by the economy, including a troubled housing market and weak employment situation. To better understand this population of movers, it is helpful to analyze the Census Bureau’s mobility statistics which are computed from the March supplement of the Current Population Survey (CPS). Along with many other types of data, the survey gathers information about why people moved. This data can help REALTORS® better understand the population of people who are moving and who ultimately make up the client base of REALTORS®.

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Half of the people who move do so for housing-related reasons including the desire for a new or better home, cheaper housing, to establish a household or to become a homeowner rather than renter. Family related reasons and employment related reasons were other significant factors for movers during that time period.

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Figure 2 summarizes statistics from the Census Bureau for the period from 2008 to 2009. The largest share, 15 percent of respondents, said that they wanted a new or better home or apartment. Other family reasons was the second most popular choice, followed closely by three housing related reasons (cheaper housing, other housing reasons, and to establish their own household).

Economic factors appear to be playing a role in peoples’ mobility as well as their reasons for moving. With the housing market boom-bust cycle this past decade, the share of people reporting that they were looking for a better or new home declined from 21 percent in 2004 to 15 percent in 2009. However, the share of people saying that they wanted cheaper housing increased from 7 percent in 2004 to 11 percent in 2009, as consumers were looking to cut back on expenses. Also, fewer people were moving based on a desire to own rather than rent. In 2004, 9 percent said they moved because they wanted to own and not rent versus only 5 percent in 2009.

Roughly two in three movers stayed in the same county in 2009. Intracounty moves have picked up significantly over the decade. In 2001 to 2002, 58 percent of the moves took place within the same county. That share increased to 67 percent in 2008 to 2009.

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Housing related reasons tend to be more prominent for movers staying in the same county. Among intracounty movers (movers who stayed within their county limits), housing reasons were more prominent, with 19 percent saying that they wanted a new or better home. However, among intercounty movers (movers who moved to a new home in a different county), a new job or transfer was cited most frequently by 22 percent of movers. A noticeably larger share of intercounty movers, 5 percent, moved to look for a job and to attend college, compared with just one percent of those who stayed within the same county when they moved. A better understanding of the reasons people move can be important marketing information for real estate professions looking to better understand their clients.

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