What Makes a Good Move-Up Home?

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Everyone has different needs, but here’s what makes for a good move-up home for many people searching for their next move.

Kritsada Panichgul
Kritsada Panichgul

Ready for your next home? Current homeowners looking to buy their dream home or forever home are often called move-up buyers. These homeowners have reached a point where they can afford a larger space, and the time has come to upgrade to accommodate a growing family or changing needs.

"A move-up buyer is someone who is planning to buy as a means of increasing their quality of life," says Shay Stein, Redfin Premier Agent. "This can be due to a promotion, circumstantial life changes, or any number of reasons that causes them to leave one home in search of a bigger or better home."

In many cases, move-up buyers are buying their second home after outgrowing their starter home.

"The journey from a starter home to a move-up home marks a significant milestone for many homeowners," says Courtney Poulos, CEO+Founder of ACME Real Estate. "It symbolizes progress, growth, and the pursuit of an elevated lifestyle."

While a move-up home will look different for everyone, experts have noticed some commonalities. We'll take a look at what makes for a great move-up home as you begin your search.

Related: Ready to Move on to Your Next Home? Here’s What Experts Want All Move-Up Buyers to Know

What Is a Move-Up Home?

A good move-up home is any home that meets your new needs or somehow upgrades your lifestyle while remaining within your budget. How you define that is up to you.

"Move-up buyers are not always looking for a more expensive property, but rather a home that can better accommodate a new or different quality of life," says Dave Liniger, founder of RE/MAX.

In many cases, these homes are not just bigger or more expensive but often turnkey.

"These buyers are often at a stage in their lives where they are occupied by work and may have already renovated their first home and are more likely to seek a seamless transition into their next home," says Julie Goodyear, a broker at Baird & Warner's Fox Valley office, located west of Chicago. "To attract move-up buyers, sellers should professionally stage, update, and repair their properties prior to putting them on the market."

Dana Hall Bradley of BHGRE Fine Living says many move-up buyers don't want to take on massive projects for their next purchase.

"Most buyers are looking for a home that is move-in ready or requires minimal work, so they can avoid the added costs and time commitment of major renovations," she says.

That usually means that a move-up home must have the necessary systems and core basics in good working order.

"When assisting move-up buyers in purchasing a new home, I first find out their tolerance level for improvements, which is normally low. Then I search for homes that are in the appropriate condition and updated—with particular attention given to new roofs, HVAC systems, and remodeled kitchens and baths," Goodyear adds. "Additionally, move-up buyers usually prioritize a well-appointed primary bedroom suite with a full bath, a basement (preferably finished), and at least a two-car garage, with a three-car garage being their preference."

Like the homes they're after, move-up buyers come in all shapes and sizes, but typically they're looking to somehow upgrade with their next home.

"A move-up buyer is someone who already owns an existing property and seeks to purchase an upgrade to their current home," says Liniger. "This does not necessarily mean an increase in price, although that can often happen when someone is looking to move up from a starter home and has been settled down for a few years."

One good thing is that many move-up buyers have increased their income and home equity since purchasing their first home and are ready to purchase a property on a higher budget, he adds. That means they have a competitive advantage over first-time home buyers in a tight market.

"First-time home buyers typically have smaller budgets and less savings for a downpayment than the move-up buyer," says Krissy Many, a BHGRE Green Team Broker Manager. "This makes them more sensitive to the sticker price and less competitive in higher-priced homes. Move-up buyers often have more equity and a larger budget allowing them to bid more competitively than the first-time buyer."

Getting Clear on Your Priorities

Once you've decided it's time to purchase a new home, you'll want to hone in on the features you want and need in your next property. 

That might mean coming up with a number of bedrooms and bathrooms, or you might want a home with a larger kitchen for entertaining, a bigger lot for your pets, a pool, or a garage that you can tinker in.

Whatever the case, it's a chance to dream big. After all, this isn't your starter home.

"Some may want a brand-new home with a warranty and seek state-of-the-art appliances, a larger yard as well as many other unique home features," Liniger says. "There are other move-up buyers who do not want to buy a brand-new house where they will have to invest in tasks such as landscaping that will add onto the purchase price and put the buyer out of thousands by the time the deal closes."

Aside from features in the home, you'll want an idea of the kind of neighborhood or area you're looking to buy in.

"Move-up buyers may seek a bigger place but also a more valued location like a gated community, suburban area, more desired school districts, and areas with less crime," Liniger adds.

Maybe you want to change school districts for your kids or move to a better district. Perhaps being close to a city center is important to you.

"Locations vary. If younger people are in a condo, they most likely want a house with space and a yard. If they're in a little starter house, they usually want a bigger, nicer house in a more upscale neighborhood," says Stefanie Novik, an agent at Avenue 8. "The folks who are looking for bigger, nicer houses in pricier neighborhoods sometimes love new construction homes—brand new with every conceivable bell and whistle—but sometimes prefer stately older homes that convey old-time glamor."

Related: A Real Estate Investor Shares His Secrets for Buying Wisely

Novik points out that not everyone who is a move-up buyer is looking for a bigger home. Some are downsizing even as they look to spend more on their next home.

"There are older folks who've had huge homes, and now want to downsize to full-service condos where the building staff does everything for them but brush their teeth!" she says.

You'll also want to get clear on your budget. You might be able to afford more home, and you'll likely walk into your purchase with some equity on the sale of your current home, but you'll need to understand where the top of your budget is nonetheless.

Related: Homeowners Pay Nearly $15,000 a Year In Hidden Costs, New Report Finds

"Qualifying for a move-up home may be more challenging as factors such as a higher loan amount, equity and down payment, existing mortgage, credit score, and debt-to-income ratios will all be considered by the lender," says Many. "There may be more requirements for a larger loan in regards to higher credit or lower debt-to-income ratios."

Because criteria can vary from lender to lender, Many suggest talking to a few lenders to see what kinds of competitive terms and rates they can offer you.

More Isn't Always Better

As you search for your move-up home, keep in mind that just because you're looking at more expensive homes doesn't mean you're getting the best value. It's essential to remain vigilant in assessing these homes to ensure they meet your needs.

"A more expensive house doesn't always translate into a better value," says Hal Bennett, Redfin Principal Agent. "Make sure you are getting what you are paying for."

While you might have a list of wants and needs in terms of your home's features, Bennett suggests looking at the following factors to ensure you're getting a good deal, including resale value, equity, taxes, and utilities to start.

You'll also want to consider whether an HOA is something you'd like to be part of and inquire about any county restrictions regarding land use. One feature many buyers overlook is the availability of good cell phone coverage or emergency services to your location, for example.

"Make sure you are not moving into an area that has much higher yearly taxes or lots of potential Local Improvement Districts," Bennett adds. "This could be fixing the sidewalks, street lights, potholes, etc. LIDs can be expensive when you aren't expecting them."

Related: When Is It Time to Buy Your Forever Home?

Finding the One

Once you have your list of wants and needs, it's time to get shopping. Like all homebuyers, you'll want to be mindful of your budget to begin with.

Next, keep in mind that while you have more money to throw around, you still likely want to buy a home that will appreciate in value and give you a return on investment should you sell down the line.

"If the buyers are on a budget—most people are—the biggest challenge is probably managing their expectations," Novik says. "With so few homes hitting the market today, buyers may have to modify whatever their notion was of the 'dream house' they were hoping to get."

In some cases, that might mean buying a home that needs some work.

"The house that makes the most sense for a buyer in terms of size, style, price, and location may have bathrooms and a kitchen that haven't been updated since the Nixon administration! That's likely going to mean possibly doing work that could take many months and cost many dollars," Novik says.

Finally, you'll want to do your due diligence when assessing your home during the inspection process.

"Focus on assessing major systems such as electrical, plumbing, and HVAC, as well as the overall structural integrity," Poulos says. "Consider the quality of construction, potential maintenance requirements, and the property's potential for future renovations or expansions. A thorough inspection empowers buyers to make informed decisions and avoid unexpected surprises down the line."

Related: What Does It Mean to Buy or Sell a House As-Is?

Keep in mind that even homes in established and high-end neighborhoods could still be hiding some red flags that you'll be on the hook for. 

"Some move-up homes can be in older neighborhoods and have things like galvanized plumbing, knob and tube wiring, asbestos, lead paint, or oil tanks, or they might be built from materials most homeowners are not familiar with," Bennett says.

Facing Challenges

Home buying is a stressful endeavor no matter your stage in life, but buying while selling has its own unique challenges. For move-up buyers, one of the biggest challenges is a lack of inventory, Liniger says.

"People are often afraid to put their house on the market and sell it before finding their move-up home," he says. "Move-up buyers are caught in a situation where they are pressed to find something that accommodates their needs and may run into a lengthier closing period of three or four months. They are also pressured with an additional timeline to immediately put their current home on the market and close earlier in order to move into their newly purchased property."

Related: The Features that Can Help Your Home Sell for More Money (and Faster)

If this is your situation, ask for advice and direction from your real estate agent, who can help this transaction go smoothly.

"Having a great agent who has several lending partners familiar with loan programs that can assist with the transition from one home to the next is key," says Shay Stein, Redfin Premier Agent. "Products like Bridge Loans and other creative financing options are available and a great lender can help find the perfect product for the move-up buyer's specific situation."

Related: The Ultimate To-Do List for Moving into a New House

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