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Post-Breakup: House Matters

Considering selling your home post-breakup? Here are many things to consider.
(3 minutes 17 seconds read time)

Laurel Starks
Laurel Starks is a divorce real estate specialist. Trained in both mediation and collaborative divorce methods, she speaks frequently on real estate and divorce issues to legal and alternative disputes resolution groups.

Considering selling your home post-breakup? Here are many things to consider.

If you plan on staying in the house, will you be counting on either spousal support or child support to make it work? If so, how reliable is your ex-spouse? You may have a court order mandating payments of a certain amount; that doesn’t guarantee you will actually receive the money. It’s not uncommon for exes to withhold payments out of spite. On the other hand, many ex-partners have every intention of making their payments but find that they simply can’t. Circumstances may have changed, or the arrangement may have been unrealistic to begin with.

Your ex could be laid out or in the red without warning. Is he or she an artist? A construction contractor? Self-employed people are vulnerable to wide swings in income. Moreover, the most common form of support is child support — which may end once the children become legal adults. If Johnny is 17 and Suzie is 16, your income could be decreasing soon. Better to avoid making long-term plans based on that payment arrangement. The bottom line: If your future depends on a shaky income source, it’s wise to plan conservatively.

A Slave to the House

You might be hoping to keep the house, for any number of good reasons. But things have changed now. The home that was once a source of security could become a nuisance very quickly. You won’t just be making the loan payment; you’ll be covering property taxes and insurance too. (For many homeowners, taxes and insurance are included in their monthly payments to the mortgage company, but you’ll need to verify that for your case). Your home’s value might be increasing, which is a good thing. But that probably means your property tax is increasing too.

You’ll also need to set aside money for maintenance. Is the house showing its age? That implies another set of issues: What shape is the plumbing in? The wiring? How about the roof? These are concerns you may not have needed to think about when you had a partner. Now, you’ll have to. Who’s going to care for the yard? Is there a pool? Have you figured the pool maintenance expense into your budget? You’ll also be paying for utilities on a house that may be bigger than you need. Take all these issues into consideration as you formulate your plans — and put a dollar figure on each one.

Even if you are financially able to handle all these contingencies, you must ask yourself one question: is it worth it? You might take on the challenge, only to find that you’ve become a slave, working endlessly for the privilege of saying that you kept the house. Meanwhile, you’re incurring an opportunity cost, since the money you’re pouring into the house isn’t available for other things. Will you have money to put away for the kids’ college? Will you have to forgo vacations for the foreseeable future? How many trips will your kids have to skip because you couldn’t afford the cost? Will they be able to get those braces they need?

As you contemplate these things, you may conclude that a smaller, newer house can meet your needs more efficiently without the headaches. Most people buy homes that match their needs at the time. If your family unit is now reduced by one or more members, it may be a good time to downsize.

Condominiums remain a popular form of homeownership, because they provide amenities that people desire without the associated stress. ere is usually a homeowners’ association that handles external maintenance issues, and the expense is shared among the association members. That can be a welcome relief in a time of transition. Of course, the convenience is accompanied by a monthly dues payment. But this is money you might have spent anyway with a traditional single family home — for yard care, repairs, and other maintenance expenses.

Excerpt from the book, The House Matters, by Laurel Starks. Unhooked Books.