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Emotional attachment could be prolonging Gen X and Baby Boomers’ moving timelines

Reading Time — 5 minutes

June 25, 2024

Inside Opendoor's 2024 Emotions in Real Estate Report.

By Kerry Melcher

Opendoor Emotions in Real Estate Report Header Image

Reading Time — 5 minutes

June 25, 2024

When Kathie Zucker, 57, sold her New Jersey home earlier this year to Opendoor to move closer to her daughter in South Carolina, the experience inspired a range of emotions. “It’s bittersweet when you’ve been in one home for so long; it can be hard to let go,” she said. “I was in my house for 27 years, but felt ready for a new chapter. I know someone will love our home as much as we did.” 

Life transitions are often driven by emotion — and selling your home to start your next chapter is no exception. Gen Xers like Kathie and their Baby Boomer counterparts will likely experience a variety of feelings as they enter this transitional time. In the next decade, an estimated $68 trillion in wealth will change hands from older generations to younger ones, with 50-60% of these estates including a home. This is known as the Great Wealth Transfer.

We surveyed home sellers and buyers ages 55+ to learn more about the emotions behind their moving decisions — and how they can shed light on this time of wealth and property transition. 

Want to read the report? Download here.

The emotional spectrum of real estate for 55+

Sentimentality is an oft-ignored consideration in real estate decision-making for those aged 55 and up: The vast majority (66%) said they’re emotionally attached to their homes. Notably, according to the data, around 56% of 55+ home sellers have lived in their homes for 15+ years. Respondents told us they most experience anticipation (42%), excitement (37%), and stress (34%) when home buying and selling.

For some Americans, sentimental value and market value may go hand-in-hand.

This suggests that emotional attachment can delay homeowners’ moving timelines, and potentially keep them on the sidelines longer. I’ve seen that 55+ homeowners prioritize the emotional reckoning before making their next move, even going so far as adding it to their calculus when making a selling decision right next to the financial calculus. I like to call this an emotional return on investment (E-ROI) — and think it’s more at play in home selling and buying than others give it credit for.

These E-ROI considerations can be external, too. For home sellers like Kathie, many are willing to leave behind the emotional comforts of the familiar — from connections to neighbors and community groups to friendly faces at local parks, grocery stores, coffee shops, museums, playgrounds/schools, and libraries to make their next move. In fact, for 36% of 55+ respondents, handing over the keys to a new owner is among the most enjoyable steps in the selling process.

The majority of 55+ home sellers find themselves emotionally tied to their homes – which could explain why they may be on the sidelines right now.

Home selling stressors and sentimental considerations for 55+

Selling a home can be emotional. When it comes to later-in-life celebrations, 55+ Americans often think of real estate, career, travel, and relationship-focused milestones. When presented with a few examples in those categories, a majority of 55+ sellers and buyers said selling a home (65%) was among the most stressful. This selection is tied with starting a new job (65%) and followed by buying a home (62%) next, then planning a wedding (48%). A simplified approach to home selling should be commonplace so that homeowners can move on to their next chapter without unnecessary hassles.

The life event 55+ home sellers and buyers are most enthusiastic about is buying a home.

Only 31% of survey respondents say their state of mind when home buying and selling is calm and collected. That’s in comparison to 42% who felt stressed or anxious, suggesting that home buyers and sellers alike are seeking relief from the external  — and internal — pressures that can come with the process.

What do these emotional ties mean for home sellers? Letting go of a home can be harder than it sounds: 28% cite letting go of a home with sentimental value as a top home selling challenge. In fact, for 33% of sellers, closing the deal means saying goodbye to a place with many memories. And 22% cited emotional ties to the home among the top factors that influenced their home selling decisions.

It’s clear that these attachments are shaping the market, and, as a result, could prolong the flow of real estate to younger generations via the Great Wealth Transfer. 

Whether you’re selling your home to downsize or to move closer to family, understanding the emotional nuances of real estate is crucial. Whatever your next life transition is, Opendoor is here to help you make your next move. Visit Opendoor.com to learn more.

Kerry Melcher is the Head of Real Estate at Opendoor.

Methodology Opendoor’s Emotions in Real Estate Report was conducted by YouGov via online survey on behalf of Opendoor in December 2023. The survey targeted 2,010 U.S. adults who had either bought or sold a home within the last 12 months or were in the process of doing so, including those in the initial stages. The sample was designed to be representative across various demographics. Data has been weighted to facilitate tracking. Although the survey initially targeted a broad demographic, this report specifically focuses on respondents aged 55 and older.