Some real estate agents in southwestern Connecticut must feel like those brokers on "House Hunters," the popular HGTV television series, as they help job transferees find a home in a new city, state or country.
Employees relocating to a new market know which amenities they want in their next home and have strong opinions about location.
Beyond that, according to a February survey by Cartus, a Danbury-based provider of relocation services for corporate clients, they want: a bigger home, an upgraded kitchen and to live in a good school district not too far from the office.
Results of the survey, Cartus' first, are based on responses from 267 real estate agents in its broker network -- some of whom assist people who moved to Fairfield County.
Breunich and his firm have served hundreds of Cartus client transferees, and he said that for many, finding a house in the region can be an eye opener.
"Sticker shock is almost always there, but if you're coming from Silicon Valley there's no sticker shock," he said, adding a 4,000-square-foot house in some sections of the country could cost $500,000, while a house of that size might cost more than $2 million here. "The land is so valuable here due to the proximity to New York City. But the beauty of Fairfield County is that they can migrate to another area that they can afford."
Most transferees come equipped with some knowledge of the real estate market through their online self-education, said Breunich, plus all the information he sends to clients about the county's communities.
"It's up to the Realtor to educate them and help them know what they can afford. The customer is always right. There's never a too-demanding customer," said Breunich, who says he has seen inbound relocations increase.
Cartus asked network agents to comment about house size in its survey to determine what is important to relocated employees and their families.
A majority of agents, 70 percent, said transferees want a home larger than their former residence, along with an upgraded kitchen. Agents said their clients prefer new homes. Only 17 percent of agents said their clients wanted a smaller home.
`Major life change'
"A job transfer is a major life change for employees and their families, and finding a home that fulfills their needs is important," said Gerry Pearce, executive vice president, broker and affinity services for Cartus. "It enables the employee to transition to the new job efficiently and with little disruption to family lifestyles and routines. What we found most interesting was not only what is on their dream home wish lists, but also what isn't."
For transferees, an upgraded kitchen ranked highest on the list of desired amenities at 91 percent, according to Cartus, and a fitness room finished at the bottom at 4 percent.
When it comes to dream home locations, transferees' two top choices included location within a specific school district, 91 percent, and less than a 30-minute commute to work, 84 percent. Rounding out the top five are: in-town location, close to shopping and dining, proximity to mass transit and proximity to parks and recreational facilities.
Fifty-five percent of agents surveyed said they believe employees being transferred into their respective markets will increase in 2014.
Cathleen Smith, president of Ridgefield-based Coldwell Banker, credited Cartus for making the transition easier for job transferees.
"It's not like they're flying blind into an area," said Smith, whose company is a member of the Cartus network. "Our agents are specifically trained to do this (counsel transferees). They depend on us to meet their expectations."
Commenting that her company covers Connecticut and Westchester County, N.Y., Smith said her business serves "hundreds of transferees a year."
"It's a significant part of our business," she said, and some of them are surprised when they see that their budget may limit them from getting the house they want. "If they come from a California market, there may not be that sticker shock, but Kansas or Ohio -- maybe."
Katherine Pancak, assistant director of the Real Estate Center at the University of Connecticut and professor of finance and real estate at UConn's Stamford branch, said some transferees to the region are disappointed when they learn that they cannot get all they want in a house in a location they like and for the price they are able to pay.
"I've heard many stories of relocating employees having sticker shock when they move into Fairfield County," she said, "and also the opposite -- of employees moving out of expensive real estate areas in Connecticut and being pleasantly surprised about how much house they can buy for a much lower price than Connecticut."
Help with assimilation
Cartus, which serves half of the top 50 companies in the Fortune 500, uses the services of 43,000 certified agents to aid transferees in their search for a new home in an unfamiliar region. In 2013, Cartus, a subsidiary of Realogy Holdings, assisted 165,000 transferees, expatriate assignees and affinity members around the globe.
"Our clients are assigned to a Cartus consultant who facilitates every aspect of the relocation," said Denise Porter, vice president of Cartus Broker Services, adding clients are assigned a real estate agent who must act quickly because transferees typically do not have much time before their new jobs start. "They often have to help assimilate an entire family into a community."
Agents who are members of the Cartus Broker Network receive referrals from the relocation services business in exchange for a referral fee.
This model "works well if agents understand the needs of relocating employees and realize up front that they will be receiving less pay because of the referral fee," Pancak said.
Susan Coyle, owner of Real Estate Two in Shelton, is not a member of Cartus' network, but she has worked with its clients and the agencies that represent them and has been impressed by its services.
"Lots of times we get Cartus people at an open house -- either by themselves or with their agent," she said, adding she counsels transferees or people considering taking a new job in the region.
`They don't want
to move here'
Transferees, many of whom see the move as a way to get ahead in their company, are willing to deal with higher home prices, according to Coyle, but it often is different with people pondering a job offer.
"Sometimes they don't want to move here -- especially from the Midwest -- because it's so expensive," she said. "That happens a lot."
The national real estate market is being affected as more job-seekers are willing to move to find employment. Challenger, Gray & Christmas reported an average of 13.3 percent of job seekers moved for new jobs in 2013, compared with 9.8 percent relocation rate in 2012 and a 7.6 percent rate in 2011.
The National Association of Realtors reported that most metropolitan areas saw strong annual gains in home prices in the 2013 fourth quarter, and the national median price for single-family homes rose 10 percent to $196,900 in the fourth quarter, compared with $178,900 in the same period in 2012.
Porter said she is cautiously optimistic about the slowly improving economy, saying that closings involving Cartus clients increased in January.
"Many markets are in a growth mode. The majority of our clients are coming from and going to a major metropolitan area," she said.