Q: I am a 55 and own a house in Chicago. I decided to change my career and to pursue a PhD beginning in the fall of 2018. Meanwhile, I just accepted a 1-year position in Seattle, and am not sure after my year away whether I will return to Chicago, stay in Seattle, or potentially move to Ann Arbor, Michigan, the three top cities for programs in my field of study.
Here’s my question: Should I sell or rent my house out? My property taxes are rising more rapidly than home values, relatively.
A: Time is the most important consideration when it comes to buying or selling a home. That’s because real estate is such an illiquid investment.
We often say that if you’re not sure you’re going to be in your next house for the next 5 to 10 years, you should rent rather than buy. That’s because home prices typically move upward at just over the rate of inflation. If inflation is 1 to 2 percent, you could reasonably expect your home price to rise 2 to 3 percent per year.
In addition, there are costs and expenses that could reach between 6 and 10 percent of the sales price of your home, including the sales commission, transfer taxes and fees, title insurance (which sellers often provide), and many others. And, many sellers will face moving costs, storage costs, and move-in costs for their new home, whether they buy or rent it.
So, back to your situation, and the question of whether you should sell or rent your house. You’re moving to Seattle for a year and planning a big change in your life. You’re going to change careers and pursue a PhD program. All of this will unfold over the next five years and you don’t know where you’ll be. From your email, it looks as though Chicago has only a 33 percent chance of being the place where you’ll wind up. We’re not sure we’d bet on those odds.
And, there’s this: Let’s say you do wind up in Chicago. Will the PhD program you attend going to be close enough to your townhouse for the commute to make sense? And, will you be able to afford it?
While you’re noticing that your property tax bill is rising faster than your home value, there are other costs and expenses required to maintain your property. If you’re managing the property all the way from Seattle and there is a problem, it’ll take time to figure out who to call and manage the situation for your tenants. And, even if you get great tenants, and your townhouse doesn’t really have any problems in the first year, what happens if you decide to stay in Seattle but the market is a little slower in a year?
In short, we don’t think that trying to manage a rental property in Chicago from Seattle makes a lot of sense unless you’re fairly certain you’re returning, and that it would make sense to live in your house as you move forward with your new career.
The good news is there are a lot of advantages to selling now. If you sell now, you take advantage of the hot Spring market, and have cash in your pocket in case you decide to stay in Seattle and find a good property there to buy. You also don’t have to worry about what’s happening to your property, like finding good tenants, fixing broken appliances and rising property taxes, which means less stress for you. Even if you come back to Chicago, you have more flexibility.
In short, we think you should sell your house now, and go off to Seattle focused only on your new job and future career.
Ilyce Glink is the Publisher of ThinkGlink.com and the Founder/CEO of Best Money Moves. She co-writes her nationally syndicated column with Sam Tamkin, a real estate attorney based in Chicago.
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