When HRB-Singer decided last year to move much of its spy-technology operation to Lanham, it had a problem: its employes liked State College, Pa., and weren't terribly anxious to sample the urban offerings awaiting them in Washington.
But even more than that, they were afraid they would lose financially, particularly by having to sell less expensive homes with low-interest-rate mortgages in State College and buying higher-priced houses here at today's interest rates.
HRB-Singer's problem is typical of companies involved in relocations now, and its attack on the issue was, also: the firm hired a company that specializes in planning business moves, Area Consultants Inc. of New York, and developed a broad housing-assistance program for its employes.
High interest rates have frozen mobility for a large percentage of America's homeowners, but there still are people finding ways to make a move.
Transferred employes now usually receive expensive relocation assistance from their companies, the most typical being large subsidies of interest rates on their new homes, relocation experts say.
Those who move on their own tend to be renters--including those who have created a new phenomenon: the homeowner-turned-renter. Many moved families who cannot find a home they can afford in the new location are returning to renting temporarily, relocation experts report. And some of these in turn are renting out their own homes until the market is more favorable to selling, giving life to a strange hybrid of renter-investors.
"Now they are more likely to rent for a year," while they try to find a house they can afford, said Regina Frank, president of the Relocation Information Center in Bethesda, an office that supplies information about neighborhoods for a fee. Renting enables people to go into the neighborhoods they prefer, a priority that hasn't fallen by the boards with the housing slump, Frank said.
John Woolrich, group manager for the Mayflower moving company, reports that his firm's storage business has picked up this year on interstate shipments because of people who are unable to sell their homes and therefore are unable to buy new ones. Interstate moves also are being planned differently now because of the fickle market, he said.
"Bookings for moves are on a day-to-day basis, rather than five to six weeks in advance as in the past, because of so many deals falling through," Woolrich said. "Now they have to wait until the last minute before they know" for sure that their home has sold and they can move, he said.
There also is evidence that people are adjusting to the market by moving farther out from the city to find the kind of home they want at a price they can afford. Growing families that need larger homes appear to be taking this route, for example.
John McClain, a demographic expert with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, said that families with several children are passing Fairfax to move to Loudoun or Prince William counties. Those are the only counties that are recording an overall increase in their school-age population, he said.
But renting has become a more attractive option even for many getting buying- and home-selling assistance from employers such as HRB-Singer, said relocation specialist Mayme Mitcham of Area Consultants Inc. That firm offered to buy each relocating employe's home if they could not find another buyer, but the appraised values often turned out to be far lower than what the employes believed their homes are worth, she said.
"The market is dead, and people are not getting the offers they expected" from prospective buyers or from the company, Mitcham said. "Sometimes people are being offered less than they paid for the home plus improvements they have added."
HRB-Singer decided to change its policy for this reason and extended the mortgage assistance for a year to accommodate those who have decided to delay buying.
Most companies now provide relocated employes with help in buying and selling homes, according to a Merrill Lynch Relocation Management survey of more than 600 large corporations. The greatest change made in 1981 relocation policies was that most companies were providing a mortgage interest differential allowance, the difference between the mortgage rate in the new and old locations, according to MLRM. This was being used by 61 percent of those surveyed.
Another change was in the increased use of relocation firms that for a fee buy and sell employes' homes for the employer. Most employers contract use these firms, while three years ago only 36 percent did, MLRM said.
A related business is the relocation counseler, such as ACI. For a fee, ACI surveys the attitude of employes, their spouses and children; recommends a relocation program to the firm; gets bids from the firms that buy and sell homes for the employer; finds real estate brokers and settlement lawyers in the new locations to help find houses there; assesses job opportunities for spouses; and puts together an orientation program for the employes, including detailed slide shows of different neighborhoods in the new city.
Union Labor Life Insurance Co. is moving its headquarters and 300 employes from New York to Washington and hopes to have its new building on Massachusetts Avenue near Capitol Hill completed in the fall of 1983. This fall it will start sending its employes on home-finding trips, said Mitcham of ACI, which is a consultant on that move. It already had three days of orientation sessions scheduled this week in New York.
In addition to a guaranteed home-sale plan, bridge loans and a mortgage rate differential, Union Life will offer property management services to those who prefer to rent out their current homes rather than sell, Mitcham said.
Even the short moves from one part of a metropolitan area to another may require the employer's help with housing. When AT&T's Long Lines Division moved its headquarters from downtown Washington to Oakton in 1980, for example, it put together an elaborate package of relocation aid for employes whose commute to work had become longer than 45 minutes.
Most employes that moved because of the relocation ended up selling their homes to the company, said relocation director Robert Henry. The package also included a mortgage interest differential, moving company costs and money for miscellaneous expenses, such as new auto tags or drivers licenses or drapery alterations, Henry said.
While this kind of assistance is available for most employes being moved--voluntarily or involuntarily--by their companies, individuals making the move on their own have to make more compromises. Renting has proved to be the short-term answer for many who formerly owned. Regina Frank of the Relocation Information Center points to one woman who made a decision to change her life, her job and her city and did so despite the obstacles.
The 39-year-old woman is divorced with a child and recently moved to the Washington area from Cincinnati, where she owned a large home. She was able to sell that home and now is renting an apartment in Bethesda, near the school she wanted her daughter to attend.
The woman, who did not want her name used, said that once she and her daughter are settled in to their new life here she will start looking around to buy. If Bethesda prices are too high, she plans to go to Gaithersburg.
Even with the difficulties of such a move, the woman said she is satisfied with her decision. She did not have a job when she came to Washington and did not know anyone here but was counting on there being more opportunities here than in Cincinnati.
Mobility has been modified for her and others like her but, for some, the push of a bad situation or the pull of a better one are still enough to get them moving again, despite the adjustments they have to make.
"I couldn't find a really good job in Cincinnati," she explained. "You can sit there and languish, or you can go to a city where there is more opportunity."