Moving Out Before Selling Myth

Aalto Insights Team
Nov 24, 2021

Does moving out before selling impact home sales price and speed of sale?

There is a commonly held belief in real estate that virtually everyone has heard if they’ve sold before: “You should move out of your house if you want to sell fast and for the most money.”

But is this really true? Do we really have to turn our lives upside down to maximize the proceeds from our sale? Could we just stay put and save all the time, stress, and money of “getting out” before we sell? To answer these questions, we examined the impact different decisions have on the two big metrics that matter when you sell: days on market and price per square foot. 

  • Days on market - the “count” of days a home is actively for sale before going into contract with a buyer
  • Price per square foot - Final home sale price / square footage of the house

Myth: Moving out before selling means you’ll sell your home for more money. 

  • Verdict: Moving out in the Bay Area does not correlate with more money in most situations. 
  • Double click: Across our analysis, homes that were occupied either sell for roughly the same amount per sq. ft OR actually sell for more. Moving out doesn’t seem to lead to a higher sales price, not to mention the costs you’ll incur across rent, staging, and more.

Read our deep dive on each county: Marin County, Contra Costa County, San Mateo County

Myth: Moving out before selling means you’ll sell your home more quickly. 

  • Verdict: In the Bay Area, moving out of your home first does not correlate with a faster sale. 
  • Double click: Across our analysis, homes that were occupied either sold at the same rate as unoccupied homes, or faster. Moving out doesn’t seem to lead to a faster sale, so you might as well stay put until you find your next home. 

Bottom line: moving out is rarely the best decision, and, if you have a choice, you should think strategically about whether to stay or go. Finding a marketplace like Aalto where you can test the waters without moving out is highly advantageous. 

Excited to find out more about our analysis? Want to learn more about the data in your specific city? Read on. 

Setting the Scene

For years, traditional real estate has encouraged people to move out of their house. The theory behind this conventional wisdom was simple, and in the absence of data to the contrary, logical:

  • If you’re out of the house, it will be easier to schedule showings. Providing 24/7 access to your home equates to selling faster and for more money.
  • You have to create a neutral palette for the buyers by removing your personal belongings and/or staging. Staging will provide more "vision" for the buyers, both on-line and in person, to see themselves in the home. Thus, leading to a faster sale @ a higher price.

But how does this theory measure up to reality? Not well.

In at least some of the most desirable parts of the greater Bay Area, rushing to move out might be a mistake.

According to our analysis of tens of thousands of home sales over 15+ years across Marin County, the 680/24 Corridor of Contra Costa County, and San Mateo County, the anticipated result of a quicker sale and higher sales price frequently fail to materialize.

Topic 1: Analysis of time on market for occupied vs. unoccupied homes

The question: “If I move out, will my home sell faster?”

Let’s get a base level of understanding first. To start, homes sold faster in 2021 than they did in 2009. Time on market was dramatically higher during the recession of 2007-2009, recovered throughout the twenty-teens, and has accelerated further over the last two to three years.

Aside from the depths of the housing market collapse of the late 2000s - and the increase in foreclosure sales - there is little evidence of homes selling faster when unoccupied than while owner-occupied.

In the chart below, the dotted lines represent vacant home sales compared to the owner-occupied solid lines:

As you can see, the lines hold very closely together - and that’s a good thing! This shows there is no big discrepancy between moving out/staying put when it comes to days on market. This helps us feel confident in saying that staying put should be your first line of defense when selling your home.

Topic 2: Analysis of sale price of occupied vs. unoccupied homes

The question: “If I move out, will I get more money for my home?”

As we’re sure you are aware, home prices are way up across the Bay Area. 

In our analysis of occupied vs. unoccupied, we used price per square foot as our consistent measure of sales price. This means that regardless of home type/bedroom count, we could look at historical correlation between moving out and what a home sold for. 

Across all our counties, it was clear that moving out doesn’t garner you a higher sales price.

  • In Marin County and the portion of Contra Costa County pertinent to this analysis, the typical owner-occupied home sells for between $30 and $70 more per square foot than an unoccupied property.
  • In San Mateo County, the gap has been somewhat smaller. 

While the price difference during the worst of the post-2008 recession is likely inflated by the higher number of foreclosure and short sales during that period, this gap has been persistent over time and reasonably consistent across house size and price ranges within each region.

As you can see, even with market swings, it has been pretty consistent across all three regions analyzed. In short, moving out has actually grossed LESS money on average when compared to staying put. 

There is even more to consider when thinking about the net earnings of moving out because typically moving out also requires you to spend more money upfront on things like the below.

These extra costs can make the difference even more apparent:

  • Moving: [$2,500 average in bay area for 2,000 square foot home]
  • Rent new place for 90 days: [$6,000/month average of short term rental]
  • Stage: [$12,000 average for 2,000 square foot home]

Again, we’ve broken it down by region to make this even more specific to your sale. Find Marin here, Contra Costa County here, and San Mateo County here

Final takeaway: Think twice about moving out.

When we first ran these numbers, we took a step back. We’ve been told for years that moving out is the smart move, but the data doesn’t support it. 

Important to Note: Every Home is Different

The challenge in applying data and analytics to residential real estate is that every home is different. Any number of variables from the predictable such as number of bedrooms or the presence of a covered garage to the vagaries of timing can influence the final disposition of a property. At the end of the day, your decision should balance our data with your own home’s unique situation.

How Aalto fits in

When we look at this real estate myth, one thing jumps to the front of our minds: flexibility. When selling your home, you should be able to sell without moving out or staging. But the current real estate market doesn’t really allow that flexibility. With days on market ticking, the last thing you feel like you have with your home sale is time to explore.

That’s why we built Aalto. With our direct real estate marketplace, you can put your home up with no days on market and you only share your address with those qualified. Then, you can see if buyers are interested in your home the way it is. You get interest without doing renovations, staging, or moving out. You can also leverage our virtual staging/decluttering which is even more appreciated from buyers post-COVID. And with all that insight you glean without moving out, you can make the best decision for your family. 

The data above is clear - moving out isn’t always the right move - and you need a flexible platform for your home sale that can help you decide your best course of action. 

For now though, we hope you’ve found the first in our series helpful and interesting. If you want to explore the Aalto marketplace for your sale, you can get started right here

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more myth busting articles,
Aalto Insights Team

Here is a high level overview of our research.

  • Dates analyzed: Jan 2006 - August 2021
  • Regions analyzed: San Francisco Bay Area suburbs: San Mateo County, Marin County, 680/24 Corridor of Contra Costa County
  • Home types: single family homes, 232,854 sold homes in total
  • Occupied vs. unoccupied: determined by whether a property was listed as owner occupied or vacant in MLS. Properties listed as renter occupied were not included in this analysis.

*All data as reported to regional MLS and tax authorities from Aaltos Research, Estated and supplemented from other sources. Date ranges from January 2006 to August 2021.

Aalto is a real estate broker licensed by the State of California, License #02062727 and abides by Equal Housing Opportunity laws. This article has been prepared solely for information purposes only. The information herein is based on information generally available to the public and/or from sources believed to be reliable. No representation or warranty can be given with respect to the accuracy of the information. Aalto disclaims any and all liability relating to this article.

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