It started a bit over a year ago. Like a slow bolt of lightning, my wife and I came to the realization that, with the kids out of the house and on their own, we didn't need three and a half baths, large extra bedrooms, a swimming pool and hot tub, and three acres of land in high-priced Howard County, Maryland.
The idea crept in that maybe we should think about selling our Howard County home of 32 years and move to Virginia. I would like to say that all of this was planned out to a tee. It wasn't. But as I thought about it, the idea seemed to have interesting financial ramifications.
To back up a bit, my father-in-law had the "cabin" built in the mountains of Virginia in the mid-70s about 40 minutes from Charlottesville, in Greene County, as a getaway stress reliever. The years went by, and my wife and her brother inherited it. We bought him out and, over the years, used it from time-to-time as our own get away; but it also became a bit of an albatross. Sometimes we visited to just do maintenance, keep mother nature at bay, and to hand various small creatures their eviction notices. At one point, we had a sizeable outlay to fix a washed-out road. Discussions were held on whether the cabin should be kept or whether we should try to sell it. The fact that it had sentimental value was part of the discussion.
Eventually, my son and his wife lived at the cabin for a few years before heading to Alaska.
And so, although the cabin was sort of an albatross, it was a friendly albatross. Until one day it dawned on me - why not get rid of my dinky Sears chain saw, upgrade to a larger Stihl, and sell the big house and move to the cabin? I'm not sure when the idea filtered in, but it was likely when I was on the porch in Maryland sipping some Shiraz and watching the sun set.
I broached the subject with my wife and the idea started settling in. Could we sell the Maryland house? I mean, I know we could sell it, but COULD WE?
Financially, the idea was interesting. Both places were paid for, so this would give us a chunk of after-tax money enabling the IRA to grow for a longer time before being tapped. Expenses, also, would be considerably less; although some monies would be required to get the cabin to full-time living standards.
I learned a lot in the process and can offer downsizing advice with greater conviction, having gone through the process.
What I Learned
- Over a long period of time, a family can accumulate a lot of stuff that needs to be gotten rid of to downsize. Over the year it took to sell our house, we had yard sales and donated stuff on an ongoing basis. Still, on the way to settlement, we had "stuff" in the driveway for a neighbor to pick up and hold for us until we could get back. START THE PROCESS EARLY!
- Secondly, the potential emotional impact is not to be overlooked. 32 years is a long time. Babies, funerals, graduations, first days of school - the memories were all there as we were walking out the door the last time. HAVE PLENTY OF TISSUES AVAILABLE THROUGHOUT THE PROCESS!
- Investing in real estate should be given serious consideration. Think about looking at a vacation home as a potential place you could live. Pay off both, and your primary house could produce an important part of your nest egg. IN ADDITION TO PROVIDING LIVING SERVICES OVER THE YEARS, YOUR HOUSE COULD TURN OUT TO BE AN EXCELLENT INVESTMENT!