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How Not to Move

Richard Quinn  |  April 17, 2020

THE SAGA IS FINALLY over—18 months and $50,000 later. That’s what my clever moving strategy cost, including taxes, interest, insurance, utilities and some maintenance on the house I hadn’t lived in for more than a year. My strategy was intended to lessen stress, but instead it did just the opposite.

This all started because our 1929 house became too much to cope with, the stairs became too much for my wife—and I resisted moving for too long. My son the realtor kept encouraging us to move. We finally agreed to look at a condo in a 55-plus community that’s literally 100 feet from our current town line. The new condo meant we could keep all of our friends and community connections built over many decades.

I learned a hard lesson about selling a house: Price matters—a lot. When we decided to move, the collective wisdom of neighbors and realtors was that a good price was about $600,000. Based on that guesstimate, we bought our condo for $580,000. More cash would soon be in our future, or so we thought.

Instead, to sell our house, we had to accept $505,000, plus pay $2,000 to remove a previously abandoned and inspected oil tank, and another $3,500 to repair the driveway above where the tank used to be. My advice: If you have an oil tank buried in your yard, get rid of it now.

The good news is, Zillow tells me our new condo is now worth $621,000. Another unit the same size in my building just sold for $665,000. I’ll never see the money, but my kids will be happy someday.

Based on my unrealistic assumptions about how long it would take us to clean out the house and get it sold, I took out a short-term mortgage to buy the $580,000 condo. I put down the minimum and borrowed the rest, resulting in a steep 5.375% interest rate. In the end, after closing costs, I cleared $475,000 on the sale of the old house. The upshot: I must now come up with cash to pay off the remaining mortgage. That means either I sell investments or I lie awake each night stressing over the mortgage payment for a few more months.

Thinking of downsizing? Here are seven tips:

  1. Start by defining your goals and priorities. Are you seeking to save money, reduce the hassles that come with a house, accommodate physical limits, move to a more desirable location or increase your social interaction with your age group?
  2. Decide where and what type of residence you want, taking into account current and likely future physical limitations. Age-based community, freestanding house, townhouse, condo, rental property or continuing care community?
  3. Start cleaning out your accumulated stuff sooner rather than later. Trust me, your kids don’t want your stuff—not even the good china or silver.
  4. Figure out in advance the transition from old home to new. Can you buy before you sell? If not, once you have an offer for your current place, are you prepared to clean out the old house in a short period of time, while looking for a new place to live?
  5. The younger you are, the easier it’ll be. I’m 76 and my wife is 80. That’s at least 15 years too late—speaking now from experience.
  6. Don’t jump unless you and your spouse are in total agreement on every aspect of the move. Okay, that’s unrealistic when it comes to cleaning out long-forgotten treasures. Give in now—and wait until it’s apparent there’s no place for those treasures in the new home.
  7. Are you counting on saving money or at least breaking even by downsizing? Run the numbers. My property taxes dropped by $2,000, and my insurance and utility bills were halved. I have no cost for snow removal, landscaping or home maintenance. But my homeowner’s association fee is $800 per month.

Now comes the really hard part: letting go. Even though we’ve lived in our new condo since September 2018, reality set in as we turned over the key to the old homestead. Our children came for one last look. My wife took pictures of every room and wanted to meet the buyers, so she could feel the house would be in good hands. I’m trying to be stoic, but it’s not working: 44 years in one place raising a family leaves a lot of memories. Old age makes those memories far more valuable than all the accumulated stuff.

Richard Quinn blogs at QuinnsCommentary.com. Before retiring in 2010, Dick was a compensation and benefits executive. His earlier articles include Change Our WaysHome At Last and Know Your Demons. Follow Dick on Twitter @QuinnsComments.

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Pete Tittl
Pete Tittl
11 months ago

Great writing as usual. I really enjoy your thoughtful pieces.

davebarnes
davebarnes
11 months ago

In 2010, we looked at moving from our 2500 sqft single-family house to a 1400 sqft condo.
The monthly HOA fee was $560. I thought that was high until I added up all the relevant expenses with our house. Those totaled $565/mo. LOL.

Now, at ages 71/62 we live in 1900 sqft side-by-side duplex built in 2011.
We sold (for a lot less than initial listed price) and then bought for a good price as the market was a 100% buyers market in mid-2011.

We are still good with stairs.
We have reduced our yard maintenance significantly.
Gas and water bills are down. Electricity is up as we now have A/C.
We are very close to many neighbors which is quite different from our old neighborhood.
Life is good.

We ignored (for the most part) the disposal of items as my wife likes to keep things.

medhat
medhat
11 months ago

Thank you Richard, and I hope you’re able to (soon) enjoy the benefits of the move.

CJ
CJ
11 months ago

Enjoyed reading this – thank you. I myself want to get out of my current house – not happy with where we live or the climate. I know I need to do this before getting too much older. But the emotional aspect of this is killing me – it was our “starter” house when we bought it, but we ended up staying for decades. So many memories. I don’t have family to make new memories. So I keep procrastinating…sigh.

Langston Holland
Langston Holland
11 months ago

Dick! You need to write a book called “How not to do Stuff”. Chp 1: The Cruise of a Lifetime, Chp 2: The Perfect Move in 999 Steps… I could contribute a chapter or two, such as “DIY Waterboarding or UTMA’s, Taxes and Teens”. Get Dave Barry to do the foreword. You’d be rich(er)! 🙂

kat652
kat652
8 months ago

You would be the Irma Bombeck of retirees!

DrLefty
DrLefty
11 months ago

Read this with interest because we did the same last year—sold our aging home of many years and moved to a new condo. Difference is we were turning 59. The condo community is not specifically for over-55, but many of our neighbors are retirees. I’ve thought many times how much harder it would have been clearing out the clutter if we’d been older. It was hard enough at 58.

We put the deposit on the condo in December 2018; it was still being built and would be ready at the end of June. We spent January-March clearing stuff out and having repairs and spruce-ups done. Put the house on the market in mid-April 2019, sold it in May, closed on the sale exactly 10 days before closing on the new home. It was a stressful six-month period, but now I”m really glad we did it.

Dwayne73
Dwayne73
11 months ago

Here is another tip if you live in New Jersey with a septic system. If it has not been state certified since 2012, expect to put out $20-30K for a new system. Add that to your moving expenses. I am sure other states will follow in time.

Ira Rosenberg
Ira Rosenberg
11 months ago

Thanks for your insightful article. I can see this in our future as I just turned 60. Tired of the yard work, wasted space and related costs too. We are constantly going through our “stuff” and are much more mindful of what new “stuff” we bring into the home.

R Quinn
R Quinn
11 months ago
Reply to  Ira Rosenberg

I wish I had made the move no later than 65, rather than 75.

Rick Connor
Rick Connor
11 months ago

Richard, Great article. Lots of great advice – the buried fuel tank is something friends of mine have also encountered. My wife and I are at the beginning of the process. We’ve looked at lots of options, but haven’t really decided where we want to go. Our current home has been in my family since 1965 – we bought it from my parents. It’s still “the house” where our kids come for Christmas, and my brothers and their families still gather for big occasions. We’ve mad some nice improvements, and started the cleaning out process. I’m looking at this as a 3-5 year process.

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