Michael Connerly had a happy childhood, except for one thing. Every two to three years, his parents got an itch to move. And every time the family changed houses, he and his three siblings endured the discomfort of being the "new kids" at school.
"For my folks, it was almost like a magnetic force kept drawing them to the next location," says Connerly, author of the new book "How to Win With Real Estate."
Though he spent a couple of decades working as both a therapist and a real estate agent, Connerly has never fully fathomed the reasons why his parents, like a minority of other homeowners, have the zeal to move so often.
How many homeowners are "serial movers"? Tom Early, a real estate broker and twice president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (www.naeba.org), estimates that 10 to 20 percent of the population would like to move every few years. But not all of these "itchers," as he calls them, can afford to move that often.
Connerly isn't critical of those who hanker to move often. But he cautions that frequent transitions can be expensive, both in terms of dollars and psychological costs.
Here are a few pointers for serial movers:
-- Question your reasoning for wanting to change homes often.
Despite their strong wanderlust, Connerly's parents didn't move often to obtain more impressive houses. But some serial movers are motivated by the quest to impress friends and work colleagues, says Sid Davis, the author of "A Survival Guide for Buying a Home."
"Some folks who do well in their careers like to flaunt their success with ever-fancier housing. They're always trying to climb the ladder," Davis says.
Many people have practical reasons for wanting to move after a short tenure in their present home. For instance, young families often need an extra bedroom when they have another child. And many older homeowners seek to downsize to save money for retirement or to reduce upkeep demands.
But real estate specialists say some serial buyers are driven solely by the thrill of finding a different space.
However, his many years as a real estate broker have convinced Early that some people are disappointed when a housing move doesn't yield the satisfaction they'd expected.
"You've got to be sure that compulsion to move is well-grounded, or you might be sorry you did it," he says.
-- Make sure you sync your moving plans with those of your partner or spouse.
Those sharing a household don't always agree on when to make a discretionary move. Not infrequently, one person resists making a move that's being pushed by the other.
But pressuring an unwilling partner to move before he or she is ready can put a lot of pressure on a relationship.
"No house is worth jeopardizing your relationship," Early says.
-- Calculate the true value of your current home before deciding to move.
Some homeowners own their property "free and clear," meaning they have no mortgage. But others, including many who move often, have little or no equity, which makes it tough for them to move and still break even.
Are you unsure how much the sale of your current home would fetch? If so, Early encourages you to gather the opinions of three local real estate agents in your area. Then consider their estimates before deciding whether to attempt a move.
"Anyone relying on the equity in their present property to buy another needs very realistic numbers," he says.
Early recommends that most move-up buyers -- except those with sufficient cash to purchase a home without first selling their current one -- sell first before putting an offer on another place.
"You can lose a lot of bargaining clout if you make your offer contingent on the sale of your present home. Sellers want a bird in the hand, which is why they hate conditional contracts," Early says.
-- Factor your dreams into your moving plans.
Those making a discretionary move to scale back the size of their housing can improve their monthly cash flow in the process. But trade-up buyers may be taking on higher housing expenses and need to make sure they are comfortable with this change.
"If your new mortgage payments would be a heavy lift, make sure that monthly struggle will be worth it. Remember, that becoming 'house poor' has lots of drawbacks," Early says.
That having been said, he says some people place such a premium on owning a better property that they're willing to sacrifice other priorities, like family vacations, to purchase a better home.
"In the end, it doesn't really matter what your friends and relatives think. If moving to a fabulous house is a top priority for you and you can afford it, I say actualize your dream and give yourself full permission to enjoy your new place," Early says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at email@example.com.)