Workers 'on move' more in better economy

Companies increased employee relocations by 27 percent nationally between 2009 and 2011, which observers say is a signal both of employers’ comfort with the economy and growing confidence that homeowners can sell their properties in order to move.

A 2011 survey of 118 companies conducted by workforce mobility association Worldwide ERC showed that companies transferred an average of 364 current and new employees in 2011, an increase from 287 in 2009. The numbers dropped in previous years because of downsizing, difficulties in the housing market and a contracting economy, but they have increased to match companies’ current needs, experts said.

Employees continued to list selling their home as the biggest concern in accepting a transfer, although companies often give employees options in helping them with mortgages or selling. Especially in employee relocation, the timetable is fast, which doesn’t provide much time to decide on a move or sell a current home.

“I wouldn’t say the housing crisis is over, but things have kind of stabilized,” said Donna Socha, president of the Greater Cincinnati Relocation Council and vice president of client services for Sibcy Cline Relocation Services. “I think there was so much hesitancy, and now people are at the point they’re saying, ‘I’ll just move.’ “

Relocation can be good business because employees who are moving often need much help to complete tasks quickly. Some bigger companies employ internal relocation departments, while many outsource the work at least in part to third-party contractors.

That means increased relocations can affect other companies, especially those that serve moving, storage and housing.

“If you’re moving across town, you’ll pack your own things and your buddies will help you with as much as you can do yourself,” said Dave Lewis, president of moving and storage company Lewis & Michael, Inc., which has offices in Dayton, Cincinanti and Columbus. “In the (corporate relocation) world, it’s full-service.”

Better markets

Corporate relocation reached its recent height in 2006, when companies moved an average of 397 employees each year. As the recession hit, that number dropped to 287 in 2009, including a sharper dip in new hire moves from an average of 141 in 2006 to 75 in 2009.

The southwest Ohio region has matched the uptick nationally. According to research by Sibcy Cline, relocations involving companies based in the region and employees transferring to this area are both expected to be up about 20 percent this year over last year, Socha said.

The statistics aren’t all in the employees’ favor, however. Companies are giving them less time to accept a transfer and then report to a new location, according to the Worldwide ERC survey. In all, that process dropped from 54 days in 2008 to 42 days in 2011.

With employees choosing quicker, officials are working harder to sell them on certain areas, which has worked in southwest Ohio, Socha said.

“Once you get someone here for a house-hunting trip, you open their eyes,” she said. “Number one is the cost of living, because they are often coming from more expensive areas. A lot of movement comes from promotions, so they want to get the most out of their money.”

There are still challenges. Even if employees can sell their old homes, many are choosing to rent in new locations until they learn more about the housing market. Many are also renting out former homes because they can’t sell them or don’t want to suffer a loss with a quick sale, experts said.

“They might want to check out school districts more before they buy, or they might be from bigger cities and are used to renting,” said Tima Sanyal, a past president of the Relocation Council of Central Ohio as well as president of Sanbar City Consultants. “They have to get to their new city quickly, so renting can let them take their time when they get there.”

Relocation needs

Like the number of relocations, the cost of moving employees is increasing. In 2010, companies spent an average of $90,081 to move a current employee who owned a home, according to Worldwide ERC. The cost dropped significantly for a renter, to $23,497.

More expensive areas include assistance with an employee home sale or hosting transferees in corporate housing for longer periods of time as they settle into a new area.

The time frame of the moves also affects the costs. For instance, the average cost of shipping household goods increased from $11,900 to $12,230 between 2009 and 2010, while home-finding trip costs increased 8 percent to $2,227 and travel and lodging at the time of the move went up 9 percent to $1,519, according to the Worldwide ERC survey.

“The calendar is just shortened,” Lewis said. “If you’re a corporate person, they want you in a certain area for a certain reason, and they want it fast.”

The busiest time for transfers is closing this month as a new school year begins, and the future seems optimistic, according to an annual survey by Atlas Van Lines. The national moving company reported that 86 percent of companies expect to spend as much or more in 2012 relocation as they did in 2011.

“When things got tighter a few years ago, companies were downsizing commonly, but there’s a breaking point when you have to maintain a certain level of staff,” Socha said. “After that you have to start hiring and getting people in the right place. We’re hoping that this is the start of more of that.”

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