"Should we move?" my clients plaintively asked as we sat in their lovely living room last week. "We need to redo the kitchen, we've got an aging mother who may come to live with us, and now the doorbell is broken!" (Just an observation, but you DO know that there will be a doorbell at the next house, right?)
Full disclosure, I make my living as a REALTOR so the answer is YES, of course you should move. You should always move, given the opportunity. (Okay, maybe that's not exactly the full picture, or what your really need to hear.)
Let's back up a moment before we answer the question as moving typically involves a LOT of upheaval, thus, we must first define the specific reasons you are considering a move, and why now, as opposed to down the road . . .
I'll preface this discussion by sharing that Cliff and I moved every few years when we were first married, buying one "fixer" opportunity after another as we took advantage of liberal capital gains to accumulate equity as fast as our little paint-splattered hands would let us. (I showed him how to use a roller.)
Of course, I was a couple of decades younger and I was chasing an elusive dream . . . (in the end, it wasn't a house that delivered it, Dorothy.) Suffice it to say that eventually, we took our profits and segued them into a absolutely stunning property in Piedmont we could barely afford and probably had no business buying, but like today, interest rates were low so we took the leap and stretched, and I do mean S T R E T C H E D! (Happily, that house worked out very well for us in the end, but not without a lot of those "Should we sell it and get out from under?" moments along the way.) Thus, from where I sit,"moving" has, more often than not, resulted in a very positive gain.
Not so fast Speed Racer. When I calculate the amount of money we spent paying commissions, transfer taxes, moving companies, architects, engineers, contractors, painters, electricians, plumbers, cabinet makers, etc., etc., etc., not to mention the rapidly-escalating property taxes with each successive move, we probably came out on the losing end of the "Should we move?" equation from a purely mathematical point of view. (I try never to actually add up the numbers.)
In fact, had we held onto that first little condominium off Lake Street in San Francisco that my husband had purchased before our wedding back in 1989, we'd be looking at a profit of more than one million dollars on that small 1200 s/f unit alone (or rather Cliff would, having bought it while he was still single.) In retrospect, the second house on 16th Avenue was probably the one we should have never let go (especially as it was community property). It has now appreciated so much we couldn't afford to buy it back in today's market, even if we wanted to. So on second thought, maybe we should have stayed put,because regaining lost ground is nearly always impossible in the Bay Area (and that's not a metaphorical statement).
Of course, a growing family of four and a large dog would never have fit into the cozy TIC we started our married life in and what's more, we needed the profits from the sale of each house to move UP to the next, so keeping the starter home was never really an option for us average, working folk. BUT as life happens (and life DOES happen), our family was expanding, and so were our needs . . .
Now, with both boys nearly grown and out of the house, our needs are changing once more. In short, "moving" is rarely ever just about "the math;" it's always about so much more. In reality, a move is usually the physical manifestation of a life event that has already taken place - or is about to (a baby on the way, empty-nesting, retirement, divorce, the passing of a loved one . . .)
"Should we move?"
That's entirely up to you, but here are the important questions you should be asking yourself before the "For Sale" sign gets firmly planted in your lawn:
1) Can we gracefully age into our home or are we battling stairs and arthritic joints?
2) Does our home/garden require more upkeep and expense than we can, or want, to continue to carry or afford?
3) Are the property taxes a drain on our finances or are they frozen in time?
4) Is our home too large, too small, or just right, Goldilocks?
5) If it's too small, can we affordably expand the footprint of our home and does it make more sense to do so than to move, even if we have to take out an equity line to make such improvements?
6) Do we love our current location, street, lot, neighbors, schools, etc.? Would our current setting be difficult to duplicate elsewhere?
7) Are significant capital gains a consideration and have we discussed the tax ramifications with a trusted financial adviser or a CPA?
8) Are either one of us 55 years of age or turning 55 soon? (Prop 60/90 may allow you to carry your current tax base with you to the next house.)
9) Is there a need to sell immediately or are we better served waiting a year or two? (It's okay to wait.)
10) Is retirement on the horizon and will we be staying in California, or moving to a more forgiving state, tax-wise?
11) How does our home fit into our larger investment portfolio?
12) What do we need or want our home to provide? (Security, tradition, freedom, choices, a nest egg?)
13) How do we find a replacement home in our community? Do we purchase first and sell second? How do we logistically purchase when all our money is tied up in our current property?
14) When is the best time to sell our home?
15) From start to finish - what is the realistic timeline for selling a house in our current marketplace?
Is your head spinning?
Having been asked this question more times than I can count, the simple truth is that "moving" is a very personal decision and there isn't a Realtor on the planet that should be making that choice for you. If you honestly answer the questions above (it's okay to have a glass of wine while you do so, but not a bottle) I'm betting you're bound to have much more clarity around the decision on whether or not you should "move" and when to do so.
Then give me a call: 510.326.0840. I'd love to bring all of my experience, skills, and attention to not only making sure you get top-dollar for your home, but ensuring that the process of moving on and letting go is truly a plus, both financially and emotionally.
When "moving" provides a real solution to whatever life has presented, then it's time to do so. Not before.
How can I help you?
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 15 years and has published more than 500 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.