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Make Moving Fun: Reducing Nonfinancial Barriers to Homeownership

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Benjamin Deitchman
February 18, 2022

Buying a house is hard. Attention is rightfully aimed towards the challenge of purchasing property amidst high prices, high demand and a lack of a desirable supply of homes—particularly for first-time homebuyers. Policy tools to revamp zoning laws, encourage construction, manage interest rates and otherwise support lower costs for homeownership deserve ongoing consideration. The finances of housing, however, are not the only barriers to moving into a new residence and, writing as someone who bought his first townhouse last year, policymakers should look to simplify and streamline this phase of our social and economic lifecycle. This is not an exhaustive list of suggestions and there are flaws to all of these ideas, but reducing nonfinancial barriers to homeownership can have permanent benefits for communities and the broader economy.

  • Streamline Processes and Paperwork: A house or apartment is the largest purchase and asset for many people and as such, there are going to be myriad requirements and documents to protect all parties involved in a transaction of this magnitude. There are opportunities, however, to reduce the burden and mitigate potential errors for incoming residents. Real estate agents are certainly helpful, but local governmental agencies can find ways to welcome arrivals in their communities with clear points of contact to avoid pitfalls that may cause unnecessary short-term and long-term costs and problems. Governments should not be asking a new property owner to coordinate between city and county jurisdictions and the different siloed offices within those entities, but rather providing citizen-facing services that ultimately streamline the internal bureaucracy as well.  
  • Improve Regulation of the Moving Industry: The lack of guarantees and protection in hiring a moving company, whether for long-haul service or even just across town, adds obstacles and stress to changing homes. Logistics and staffing in these industries are challenging even at the best of times, and ongoing shortages further compound the problems in planning a move. The complexity of this service will always lead to imperfect outcomes, but the more that regulators can protect customers from poor service and provide financial remedies for delays or other problems will improve the quality of the experience, and ultimately increase trust in these private businesses.
  • Promote and Incentivize Local Companies to Serve New Neighbors: From appliances, to cleaning supplies, to everything in between, buying a new place to live requires buying a slew of additional products and services. It is easy to turn to the Internet, particularly when moving to a new and unfamiliar location. For many large items the costumer may find him or herself at the mercy of the supply chain and transportation logistics industry without someone nearby who can assist in resolving immediate issues when ordering online. Connecting small business, or even larger companies that have a physical presence in the community, can benefit new residents and serve as a pipeline to the local economy. From simply offering information on useful local businesses, to providing direct and indirect discounts to customers, this is an economic development and community growth opportunity that is often missed. 
  • Offer Leave or Workplace Flexibility for Moving: The costs of moving are not just monetary but also temporal. While a mandate for the private sector to offer employees time off or work from home flexibility for a move is not always appropriate, especially if the move is not directly related to a change in employment status, it is a fair benefit to promote. Governments certainly could lead by example and offer this option to their own employees. If homeownership is something policymakers want to continue to encourage, this is a further mechanism to support that goal.
  • Make Moving Fun: Our society continues to suffer from reduced interpersonal relationships and a lack of social cohesion. New and relocated residents can find moving to a new place isolating, but it is a chance to not just reshuffle or grow the numbers in the community, but also the sense of community. Bringing residents together may not be a traditional role for policymakers, but building social capital can influence and improve desirable outcomes. Connecting citizens, not just with the government and economy but also with one another, is a worthwhile role for the talents and competencies of those of us who work in public policy and public administration.

Purchasing a house, townhouse, condominium or an apartment is an economic transaction, but it is also more than that. As we consider the role of government and community in the increasingly online 21st century, this moment of in-person purchase in our individual lifecycles can also become a moment to reimagine our collective spaces and experiences. It is understandable that home affordability is the priority, but desirability and enjoyment of homeownership are also worthwhile objectives. I am lucky to be settled in my new domicile in my new community, but I look forward to better upfront experiences for the next set of homeowners.   


Author: Benjamin Deitchman is a public policy practitioner in Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. Deitchman is on Twitter at Deitchman. His email address is [email protected].

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