Many hold back on major housing decisions because of job fears


November 25, 1990|By ELLEN L. JAMES

The car salesman wanted nothing more than to move his family out of its crowded Rodgers Forge town house into a more spacious three-bedroom brick colonial he found in East Towson. Indeed, he intended to make an offer on the $225,000 property.

But then worries about the economy began rolling around in his brain. Would car sales tumble in coming months? Would his commissions falter? Worse, would he lose his job at the dealership altogether?

Such apprehensions caused him to back out of the market. He, his wife and three children would stay in the Rodgers Forge town house until the economy thawed. No matter about being crowded. They didn't want to risk buying a bigger home until they felt financially safe.

The car salesman is hardly alone. Many are holding back on major housing decisions now because of fears about their jobs, realty specialists say.

And job fears are becoming pervasive, according to a study by the management consulting firm of Brooks International, based in

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Brooks surveyed 11,128 employees from 12 major U.S. companies in telecommunications, insurance, food processing, transportation, heavy manufacturing and utilities. Of those polled, 55 percent expressed uncertainty that their jobs would be there in the future. Another 21 percent weren't sure whether ** their jobs were safe. Just 24 percent said they were confident of their jobs.

To be sure, job fears are not restricted to blue- and pink-collar employees alone. Fully 60 percent of managers surveyed in the Brooks International survey worry whether their jobs will continue in the future.

"There's no doubt that people right now are being more cautious," says John Stevens, manager of the Baltimore office of Right Associates, the outplacement counseling firm.

Whole layers of middle management were cut at a number of large U.S. corporations during the 1980s due primarily to mergers and takeovers, observes Dan Lacey, who edits the Workplace Trends newsletter and has written several books related to work issues.

Furthermore, the trend is continuing, with many companies downsizing because of excessive debt or a desire to improve earnings by cutting expenses.

"The majority of Americans are insecure about their jobs," says Mr. Lacey.

"People are saying they don't know if they'll have a job or the same

job a year from now and consequently they're not willing to speculate on house prices. Take away the speculative element in the real estate market, and the whole game becomes less attractive."

Still, some realty specialists contend that a minority of prospective homebuyers are being excessively cautious -- backing away needlessly from a market that could offer them bargains, a wide array of housing choices and reasonably priced mortgage financing.

In other words, they're missing the boat.

Monte Helme, a vice president with the Century 21 realty chain, says that someone with a secure job and no serious financial worries could do very well for himself in the current market.

"It's a good time to venture forth. The financing is totally affordable right now. There's a lot of selection out there -- which means you don't have to settle for what you can beat the next guy to as you would in a hot market. In addition, there's a leveling -- even a softening in prices, especially in the Northeast," Mr. Helme says.

Of course, it's not always easy to determine whether your job is secure or in jeopardy. Yet while the possibility of job cuts may seem totally unpredictable, outplacement counselors say there

frequently are clear signals when your job is destined for elimination even before the ax falls. That's because it often takes days or even months for the company to get its ducks in a row before telling anemployee his job has been eliminated. That means your boss may know your job is being cut well before he tells you.

Most companies offer some sort of severance package, including pay and some extension of job-related benefits and perks. It can take time for a personnel department to set up the details of such a package -- especially if a number of jobs are being eliminated simultaneously.

In addition, companies are concerned that all the paperwork related to a discharge be handled correctly so that they'll have a strong defense if the employee losing his job files a wrongful-discharge suit. A report from the Bureau of National Affairs says about 25,000 wrongful-discharge suits are pending in state


Here are some signals that outplacement counselors say may indicate your job is in jeopardy:

* You're being left out of meetings that you're normally invited to attend.

* You're left out of the information loop on matters beyond your immediate daily concern.

* Your boss avoids you (because he's feeling too guilty to deal with you directly).

* Your boss has set up an unusual meeting or lunch engagement for a future date and is unwilling to discuss the reason for the appointment.

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