Recently in Moving Category

June 6, 2011

Houses With No Fix-Up Responsibilities Don't Exist!

The decision of where to live in retirement is tough enough by itself. But when you've got two spouses who disagree on priorities, the stress levels can shoot through the roof.

This was exemplified by a conversation I recently overheard (couldn't help but overhear, really) in which a man was describing how his wife not only wants to downsize for retirement, but dreams of finding a home that doesn't need any more fix-ups -- a newly built home, perhaps.

What's more, she has apparently been protesting whenever her husband fixes up their current home, on grounds that they'll soon be selling it and moving to that mythical "house that won't need fixing." The man doesn't agree with any of her arguments, but felt like protesting would risk their marriage.

I had to bite my tongue -- though it's the wife I'd really like to give some commonsense advice to (assuming hubby is telling the straight story).

d9b.JPGFirst off, a house that doesn't need fixing? It doesn't exist. Older houses, though in many cases well built at the time, will inevitably need attention to combat the effects of aging. A new roof, new foundation, structural changes if you want to remodel and need to bring other aspects of the place up to code in order to get a permit, are all on the list of likely fix-ups.

Newer houses, meanwhile, though fresh and up to code, can be a nightmare. Hurried and often shoddy construction -- basic stuff, like windows installed wrong way out -- by developers trying to make a buck in a tough economy are typical complaints . (For more on that, see Nolo's article, "Newly Built Houses: Pros and Cons of Buying.")

As for putting off maintenance because you think you're about to sell? Bad idea, unless you want to sell for far less than you could have. Deferred maintenance leads potential buyers to wonder what deeper problems you've also been ignoring, and to lower their offer price accordingly -- or just pass on the house altogether. Just what shape the house should be in is covered in Nolo's FAQ, "How much should I fix up the house before selling it?"

Sad to say, I'll probably never find out the end of this story. But I imagine it's playing out among numerous couples around this country, with numerous endings.     
February 28, 2011

In a Divorce, Is It Best to Sell the House?

Given that January was the month in which the most divorces were (according to the averages) filed, the question on a lot of former couples' minds right now is probably, "Who gets the house -- or do we sell it?"

The issue has only gotten thornier since the recession, with both house values and earning power down. As explained in the article, "Divorce Wannabees in the Age of Recession: How Trapped Couples Are Coping," by Roslyn Zinner of the Huffington Post, couples who are underwater on their mortgage or have significant other debts simply can't, in some cases, afford to split up the household -- leading to situations where, for example, one spouse "moves" to the basement.

Hmm, could there be a silver lining in Zinner's description of how couples don't fight over the house so much anymore, since neither wants to deal with the costs of homeownership? Okay, never mind.

Interestingly, one solution she describes -- in which the couple agrees to continue jointly owning the home, while one moves to an apartment, and they sell when the economy is better -- was exactly that arrived at (after much negotiation) by a Los Angeles couple described in the Financial Adviser blog titled "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do," by Zack Anchors, in the Wall Street Journal.

So, if and when the market turns around (whenever that might be, which no one can safely predict), we may see a flood of homes being sold by long-divorced couples!

November 20, 2010

Moving With Pets? Here's a Laugh (and Some Useful Warnings)

This blog artist at has created some seriously funny and insightful drawings and anecdotes of her two dogs as they suffered -- and I do mean suffered -- through a move. Here's the actual entry, called "Dogs Don't Understand Basic Concepts Like Moving."

And be sure to pack a squeaky toy.
October 26, 2010

Where to Buy That Home for Retirement?

Money Magazine recently came out with its list of the 25 best places to retire (within the United States.) Spoiler alert: Durham, North Carolina came out on top.

For those of us who can't even think about retirement yet, it's fun to read the list and fantasize. Yes, I'd love to sign up for senior learning programs at the local university, even now . . . .

But I suspect that, just as many Americans are planning staycations, many will eventually try to stay put for retirement. That means that, if you're a homebuyer who thinks you'll stay in your house for a good long time, it's worth considering whether it will suit you even into retirement.

Does it have easy access via public transport to activities that are important to you (for when you can no longer safely drive)? Will the stairs be manageable with bad knees? It can feel weird to think about these things when you're young, but why not save yourself a move later? 
August 22, 2010

Home Repairs: Deal With Before You Move In, or After?

Like many homebuyers, we discovered during the course of the inspections that our new home-to-be wasn't entirely perfect -- in fact, it really needed a whole new foundation if we wanted a decent chance of surviving the next earthquake. (Not too surprising for a house that's nearly 100 years old.)

That led us to the same question many others have dealt with: Do the work right away, in the midst of all the craziness of moving, or wait a bit?

Of course, for some people, there's no choice, because their mortgage lender insists that the work be done before funding the loan. But our lender wasn't requiring this. So for us, the pros and cons looked something like this:

1) Our lives were already in chaos, why not add a little more?
2) Once the work was done, we'd be able to settle in, hang paintings, and repaint if we wanted to, without having to undo it all and repaint over new cracks in the walls after the foundation work was done.
3) We could avoid buying earthquake insurance (which many homeowners with solid new foundations forgo)

1) The weather. It was one of the rainiest winters in my memory, which would have made it nearly impossible to store things outside that would have, but for the foundation work, normally been in the basement.
2) We didn't know anyone who'd need a house-sitter in January -- whereas, by waiting, we could house-sit for friends on summer vacations if the noise and chaos of construction got to be too much.
3) We'd have a chance to regroup, cash-wise. We moved into our new house before selling the old, which was already a financial challenge. We didn't want to be down to our last dollar when the inevitable new costs arose ("Hey, how about we replace your old, cracking floor slab while we're at it?")

So, three against three -- and we decided to wait. Mostly glad we did. We keep looking at the surrounding chaos, with a trench all around the house, deep holes underneath, and dirt piles in our back yard, and saying, "Can you imagine doing this in the rain?" fdn.JPG 

But it does sometimes feel like we're moving all over again. And we did end up house-sitting for friends. (Thanks, guys.)

A foundation removal is a big deal -- there was dust pouring through cracks in the house we didn't know existed. It was shooting up behind the mantel! And the downstairs plumbing had to be disconnected for nearly a week.

Does this lead me to any advice for others? Nope, I'm afraid there no universal answer. Wait, there's a better way to put that: There's no wrong answer. Do what feels more comfortable, and expect some chaos either way!

July 30, 2010

Need to Move for Work? Consider Renting, Not Selling Home

As this recent article in the Washington Post by Michael A. Fletcher describes, a number of unemployed Americans are finding that, even if jobs are available in other cities, they can't sell their homes -- or can't sell them for enough to cover their mortgages -- leaving them, effectively, stuck.

Surprisingly, however, the article doesn't mention the possibility of renting out the space until house values improve. This won't work for everyone, but it can work well for those living in areas where rents have actually risen or held steady since the real estate bust. In many cases, demand has actually been driven up by the numbers of people foreclosed upon or otherwise unable to qualify for a mortgage.

For example, check out this July 27 Bloomberg article by Prashant Ghopal, stating that, "U.S. apartment landlords are seeing a surge in rentals as mounting foreclosures reduce homeownership and an improving job market for young adults encourages them to find their own places to live."

Still, even at a decent rent, the amount might not cover the mortgage and other expenses. You'd need to run some numbers. For help with that, see Nolo's award-winning book, First-Time Landlord: Your Guide to Renting Out a Single-Family Home, and the free article, "What It's Like Being a Landlord."

July 2, 2010

Your Car Insurer: Don't Delay in Telling It You've Moved!

You've probably got a long list of places to advise of your move to a new home, such as your doctor's office, kids' school, magazine and alumni subscriptions, gym, and more. It's the kind of task that's easy to put off as you unpack.

But here's a good reason to tell your car insurer right away -- if you've moved to a better neighborhood, it may lower your rates! That's right, a zip code considered "safer" can equal lower car insurance premiums. If you've already paid, you'll get a rebate for the remainder of the year. Not that you could use any extra cash right now . . . . 
April 26, 2010

The Perils of Owning Two Homes While Waiting for One to Sell

If you can swing the financing, moving into your new home before trying to sell the old one offers many distinct advantages. The painters and repair-people have easy access to everything, you can stage the place with select pieces of beautiful furniture and not have to hide the toothbrushes and kitty litter, and real estate agents can bring in prospective buyers at any time of the day (thanks to the magic of the lockbox, where only an agent can access the key).

I recently sold my house this way, and everything turned out great. But that's not to say there weren't some nervous moments in between.

For example, consider the fact that your house will not only be sitting empty, but very obviously empty, full of beautiful things (which, if you've hired a stager, you're probably liable for if they're damaged or stolen).

As if to invite thieves -- who have been known to break in and steal the staging and fixtures --  you'll have a big "For Sale" sign in front, every light turned on to make it welcoming for visitors, and the security system turned off (again, for the sake of those visitors).

Even after we'd asked the Postal Service to forward mail, packages and letters continued to arrive. And of course there were the ubiquitous pizza fliers,and stray bits of trash that came to rest right where they looked the worst.

I took to driving over every morning and evening. (Good thing we'd moved only a mile away.) That gave me a chance to switch the lighting and make the place looked its best. I'd wipe up the footprints of the previous day's visitors (we were selling during the rainy season), deal with cupboard doors that they'd opened or things they'd moved around, and refill the birdbath. (Ok, maybe that was for the sake of the birds as much as for the buyers.)  

Even with all, as the days ticked by, paranoid thoughts infiltrated my brain. How -- or by whose hand -- did that flower get draped over the fence in the back yard? Do the earthquakes happening everywhere on earth else mean that we're due for one -- probably a day before the closing, with us nowhere's near to turn off the water if a pipe bursts? And how long can the place sit vacant before the homeowners' insurance runs out? (It's usually 30 days, but negotiable with your insurance company.)

I breathed a huge sign of relief when closing day came around with no disasters. And you will too. Without the constant driving back and forth, I feel like I've gained hours in my day. But I sometimes find myself thinking I should just swing by the old place to make sure everything is okay . . . .


February 16, 2010

Are Garage Sales Worth It?

This isn't an idle question on my part -- having just bought and moved into a new house with almost no advance planning, I've got piles of things that seem just a little too valuable to drop off at Goodwill (where I've already taken carloads of stuff).

So, I'll probably give them a try on Craiglist, and then have a garage sale one of these Sundays -- knowing full well that I'll probably get no more than $10 for any of the items in question.

If I work out how many hours I'll likely spend, first on posting the items online, answering emails or calls, meeting potential buyers, and then, for the garage sale,  attaching price tags, setting up, sitting outside in hopes of customers, and finally cleaning up afterwards, it's probably not worth the time at all. A savvy friend of mine likes to say that anything you can't sell for at least $50 bucks isn't worth the hours of effort (and sometimes aggravation) you'll put in. Probably sound advice -- which for some reason I probably won't take.

At least a garage sale might be a fun way to meet the new neighbors! And a few extra dollars wouldn't hurt right now, either.

In the meantime, I was interested to see Kiplinger's magazine provide a list -- in its March, 2010 issue -- of what items that might be sitting around in people's attics are selling best these days (particularly on eBay or

According to them, boys' toys from the '50s and '60s are a good bet, along with art pottery, sterling silver from famous makers, Griswold cast-iron skillets and other kitchen ware from the '30s to '50s. But don't try selling Hummel or Royal Doulton figurines -- the market is saturated.

Wouldn't you know it? The only one of those things that I own is a Hummel figurine.   
January 28, 2010

Sell My House? Never! (Uh, I Mean, Last Week)

It was the perfect house for us: built in 1917 with Arts and Crafts character and a showcase dining room and living room; a modest two bedrooms, which always made me happy that there wasn't more to vacuum; a backyard lovingly created by the former owner who was a landscape architect; and a pleasant kitchen, with tile in my favorite green.

"We'll never move!" we said, and congratulated ourselves on having found a place that we could stay in right through retirement, thanks to the lack of stairs.

The great part about thinking you'll stay in a place forever is that you stop obsessing about your home's investment value, or whether certain improvements will help or hurt its saleability. A home is, after all, a place to live in, and what's the point of home ownership if you can't turn the place into one that suits your personal needs?

But then there's the downside of thinking you'll be in a place forever: You, that is to say "I," get a little complacent. New paint on the inside? I still hadn't found the perfect colors. A new roof? It's not leaking yet, we figured we'd give it one more year.

And then came the "never say never" moment. We'd been planning to remodel the garage to gain a little space for visiting relatives. At dinner one night, my husband mused, "Should we consider finding a bigger place, instead?" The very next day, we visited an open house, fell in love with the place, and put in a bid. By that Thursday, we were in contract to buy it.

And now, fast forwarding a bit, we've just sold the house we thought we'd never leave. The process was crazy -- on short notice, having to organize years' worth of stuff, plus hire an army of carpenters, painters, cleaners, window washers, a stager, and more -- and still I was out in the yard every day, pulling weeds, putting in new plants, and getting my hands so muddy and calloused that I fear they'll never accept lotion again. Lucky for us, the buyers agreed to deal with replacing the roof. 

So much for certainty! But I'm not sorry -- the house we sold deserved our efforts, and we love our new place, too -- so much that I'm determined that we'll never move!