residential real estate

More unemployed managers pull up stakes to find work

August 28, 2013: 11:23 AM ET

Rising real estate values are putting some mobility back in the market for executive talent. Ready to pack up and go? Here's where to look.

Business growth and teamwork concept --- Image by © Laughing Stock/Corbis

FORTUNE -- No doubt about it, moving to a new city or state to look for a job is risky, to the point where John Challenger, CEO of outplacement giant Challenger, Gray & Christmas, calls it "an option of last resort for most job seekers." Even so, his firm's research shows a marked uptick in the number of unemployed managers who are taking the plunge.

In the first half of 2013, 14% of managers surveyed by Challenger relocated to find work. That's the biggest percentage since the start of the recession and more than double the 6.7% of out-of-work managers who moved in the same period last year.

The main reason is a long-awaited resurgence in residential real estate values in many parts of the U.S. To be sure, it's not happening everywhere. If you live in the Baltimore area, for instance, where one in four homeowners owe more than their houses are worth, the median home price is up just 9% over last year.

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Still, a new report from RealtyTrac, which analyzes housing data, says that median home values are now on the upswing in every one of the 100 markets it ranks. Upstate New York, southwest Florida, and Northern California are seeing the biggest gains, with prices up between 44% and 96% since hitting bottom.

"Now that home buying and home values are finally starting to gain some upward momentum, it's much easier for people who want to move to go ahead and do it," says Challenger, adding that "job seekers who are at least open to the possibility can greatly expand potential job opportunities by casting a much wider net."

Sounds good, but where should you start fishing? In 64 metropolitan areas, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, unemployment has fallen below 6% or even 5%. In Minneapolis-St. Paul, for instance, the June jobless rate was 5.1%. The rates for Madison, Wis., Charlottesville, Va., and Austin, Texas were only slightly higher, at 5.2%, 5.5%, and 5.8%, respectively. The lowest unemployment rate in the U.S. is 2.8% in Bismarck, N.D., where an oil boom is fueling demand for new hires in retail, transportation, and other businesses.

"In any area with unemployment below 6%, it's likely that many employers are struggling to fill vacancies with local talent," Challenger observes. "Job seekers shouldn't assume that the industry driving the growth in those areas is the only one hiring. One strong industry can lift demand for talent in all the other local sectors, including health care, education, retail, and business services.

"In other words, don't discount a place like Midland, Texas because you have no experience in the oil industry," he adds. "There could be myriad opportunities in the other businesses that are benefitting from the strong local economy."

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More encouraging news for executive job hunters: ExecuNet, an online career network for $100,000-a-year-plus managers, reports that recruiters are seeing a 21% jump in search assignments so far this year, with the largest amount of growth expected in the Southwest (especially Texas), followed by the Southeast and the Midwest.

That's not all. Apparently in part because better real estate markets have freed up more people to move to where the jobs are, executives are finding new positions faster. The average senior manager in early 2012 took six months to get hired, reports global executive development firm BPI Group. As of February 2013, that had dropped to under 90 days.

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