Trading in a home for one of equal value is costly, but common


You've heard about trading up and trading down. What about trading sideways?

It may not be as crazy an idea as it seems, realty experts say. Although it's expensive, an increasing number of Maryland homeowners are opting for a lateral trade -- voluntarily selling one home in favor of a different one in the same price range.

Without stretching themselves in the way they would through a trade-up deal, lateral traders seek out something in Home B that they couldn't get in Home A. It may be a bigger yard, a shorter commute, a new school district for their children or, increasingly, freedom from home and yard repairs.

"Lateral moves are very commonplace now," says Monte Helme, a vice president with the Century 21 realty chain.

A restless quest for a fresh start is one of the reasons people trade sideways. They're tired of walking up the same driveway, into the same-shaped rooms with the same walls. They feel like they're in a rut and yearn for the excitement that comes with moving to a new home, the feeling that their lives are beginning all over again.

"Sometimes people absolutely need a change in their lifestyle. In that case, the psychological benefit of being able to relocate and get a fresh start is worth whatever it might cost you in dollars and cents," Mr. Helme says.

Of course, Americans have always been restless. But several contemporary trends are causing people of many ages to make lateral housing moves:

* Less time for home repairs means an increasing preference for newer properties.

The increase in two-career families has cut the amount of free time available for home upkeep and repairs. And a large number of baby boomers, the bulge in the population, are still raising their children.

Busy family people would rather spend their Saturdays slumped on the sofa than atop a ladder, scraping paint off the exterior of an old frame house. When they get a chance to slump on the

sofa, more old-house owners daydream about a new home with aluminum siding or some other low-maintenance exterior.

"Maintenance is a terribly important consideration -- especially for two-income families -- because they really don't have a lot of spare time to do everything involved in keeping an older house," Mr. Helme says.

* An aging population means more people are trading an older home for a new one.

Realty specialists say the low-maintenance trend is becoming particularly strong among baby-boomers, who are advancing into middle age.

Most old-home refurbishers are younger people with the energy and will for the work. Realty agents have noticed for years that the older people get, the more likely they are to move to a newer property.

Some older people love the charm of an older house. They'll hold onto a devout preference for older properties, on the belief that they're better built.

But many older people have developed a taste for the features of younger homes, points out Elaine Northrup, who sells real estate through Coldwell Banker in Ellicott City. The luxury of a Jacuzzi bath and the convenience of walk-in closets are valued by many older people, she says.

* Worsening traffic congestion is causing more people to move closer to work.

"Commuting has become a paramount consideration as to where you live," says Mr. Helme, noting that an increasing number of lateral moves are prompted by the desire to reduce commuting time and to be spared the need to sit in traffic jams.

"If you live in an area where there's no mass transit and you're forced to use an automobile, you may be willing to pay the price of moving out of an attractive suburb and giving up some square footage to live closer to your work," he says.

The time involved in commuting within one's own community -- whether to shopping, recreational facilities, or elsewhere -- is also a factor for many people, says Ms. Northrup. Fed up with the congestion in Montgomery County, a number of people are moving to Howard County where the roads are relatively less traveled, she says.

* The quest for a better school for their children is prompting some people to move.

A family living in a two-story colonial in one suburb might chose to move to a home of comparable value in another suburb because the new school system is better, points out Sue Zitzer, sales manager at Century 21-C.C. Rittenhouse Inc. in Catonsville.

Indeed, some families will move to a similar house within the same suburb if that means a better school.

Still, realty specialists caution that making a lateral move can be very expensive. Not only will you have to pay all the costs related to selling your first house, but you'll also have to cover settlement costs on the new property.

Moderate interest rates should help you somewhat to offset the transaction costs, especially if you're switching from a mortgage with a high rate to one with low rate. But you can still assume that the switch won't be worth your while financially unless you stay in the home at least three to five years, Mr. Helme says.

He adds, "Even so, it may all be worth it to get a fresh start."

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