The cost of housing is significantly changing the moving pattern of the U.S. family, long noted for its mobility.

The impact of inflation has virtually forced, immobility on those who would normally move in the traditional fashion, every five or six years on the average.

The great majority of homeowners are not moving but are improving their existing homes, making home improvement a $40 billion-a-year industry.

On the corporate level, the high cost of housing is having another material effect, creating major policy changes in procedures governing transfer and relocation of personnel around the countrty. Consequently, fewer of them want transfers.

The net result is that corporations are having to sweeten the money pot, be more selective of transferees and reduce long-established programs giving employes experience in other market sectors of the nation.

Merrill Lynch Relocation Management Inc., a New York executive relocation service firm, sponsors an annual survey of the Fortune 1,000 firms and 50 nonindustrial companies' corporate relocation policies to gauge the movement in the strata.

The newly concluded eighth annual (1979) study conducted by Hagen Marketing Research Inc. for Merrill Lynch shows that the confusing state of the economy, and the outrageously priced costs of real estate have caused a decrease among corporate personnel who might seek or want transfers to other locales -- for a career change or new life style or because of company necessity.

To overcome this unprecedented resistance, companies are having to liberalize their relocation benefits and become more selective about their transferees.

Essentially, 52 percent of the 607 responding firms said employes had trouble selling homes; more than twice as many companies as last year reported transferees experienced difficulties in financing new homes; almost a third of the respondents currently offer aid in arranging mortgage financing, while another 27 percent plan to establish financing assistance programs within the year.

Patricia Matteson, Merrill Lynch director for marketing said companies are now spending more money to transfer fewer highly selected employes.

Such long-standing, short-term programs of transferring personnel to other sections of the country for experience are being cut back, she added. The cost of such plans is being put to use in the pot-sweetening for executives who must be relocated, at any cost.

In many cases, she explained, locale of work ("California, for instance") is coming to mean more to executives than promotions within the company, suggesting that life style, for some high-level corporate figures, is far more important than career advancements and opportunities.

The most significant problems faced by transferring employes, the survey found, were selling their homes and financing new ones. There was a 38 percent increase of those factors compared with the year before.

The average firm transferred 143 employes, down by 9 percent from two consecutive-year transfers of 157 persons annually.

For the first time, companies were asked to estimate the number of employes refusing transfers for any reason; 32 percent could not supply an answer but the other two-thirds were aware of at least one person who refused to be transferred.

While the average acceptance-refusal ratio was 10 to 1, 11 percent of the firms reported that refusals were greater than 1 in 4. In 3 percent of the firms, refusals ran as high as 1 in 2.

Many firms are being forced to increase real estate related reimbursements for their transferred personnel, the study showed, with 27 percent of the 607 responding firms offering a mortgage interest differential allowance program to compensate employes for the mortgage rate differences between their old and new homes.

Of those firms, 33 percent also reimburse employes for the added tax liability on mortgage differential payments and of firms currently without a differential program, 27 percent plan to establish one this year.

"Mortgage rate differential programs can cost a corporation an additional $2,000 to $20,000 for each employe transferred," said to George H. Rathman, Merrill Lunch Relocation president.

Among respondents, 95 percent offered some type of aid to help relocating employes sell their homes; 41 percent retained an outside relocation service firm or bank to buy the home and 43 percent said the employe arranged for the home sale but was reimbursed for some or all of the expenses, such as brokerage fees, normal closing costs and duplicate house carrying expenses.

Eleven percent of the firms offered to buy the employes' homes and only 5 percent offered no aid to their transferees.