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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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