Monday, January 30, 2017

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Should I Stay or Should I Go?
I have a recap in the works for our Asia trip, but I'm working on a new format (and website) for that post, so you'll have to wait to suffer through my amateur photographs and mundane anecdotes. But in the interim, please step into our latest, ongoing mental anguish: whether we should stay in our current home, or move to a new one.

I know we've written about this in the past, and came to a decision that we thought was firm: to renovate our current home and make it pretty. And low and behold, we hem, we haw, and question our past selves. So why not crowd-source our living situation?

Come on. It'll be fun.

Our current home is a 3 bedroom, 2 bath, built in the early 1950s, with just under 1300 square feet, in a good, working class, part of Scottsdale. There's a detached garage with a workshop, we're on a corner lot, and two of the bedrooms have stained concrete floors with original, wrap-around windows. As the home was built mid century, there are a lot of original features that we like: like the all-concrete block construction, and the low pitched roof whose modern style has become cool again.

On the downside, the house needs a ton of renovations: both bathrooms should be gutted, as well as the kitchen. New tile in the third bedroom and the washroom. The fence posts in the backyard have come loose and are now being held up by 2x4 braces. A spring on the original garage door needs to be replaced.

Here's the rub. Even if we do all those renovations, there are some things we can't change without major construction, like adding on space and redoing the HVAC, which is covered in parts by the spray-on roof. So I guess that includes a new roof, too. The home was originally a two bedroom, one bath: something that made a lot more sense in the fifties. So the home has two additions: a bedroom on one side of the house, and a washroom and bathroom on the other side. Both these additions have a lower floor (so you step down about six inches to them) and a lower, pitched ceiling. It's a bit odd, but we make it work. Still, both these areas get hot in the summer and cold in the winter. And since the second bathroom is off of the washroom, it hardly ever gets used. And we don't have an en suite bathroom off the master. Finally, the kitchen is dang small. We can put in new cabinets and stone counters, but the size is going to be limited no matter what.

Finally, we're concerned about lead paint in the house, due to its age. We're hesitant to do a test because, if it comes back positive, we'd have to disclose that to any future buyer where, as of right now, we can honestly claim that we just don't know. And due to some past water damage from the prior tenant, paint is starting to chip in a couple areas of the house. With our plans to start a family in the near future, we're driving ourselves a little crazy over this.

So, that's the good and the bad of our current home. Here's the decision we're mulling over.

Scenario One:
  • We have $60k in cash set aside for renovations on the home. We (foolishly?) have estimated this would cover the kitchen, both bathrooms, and the new tile in both the 3rd bedroom and washroom.
  • We'd use that cash for renovations, keep our $100k mortgage (at 3.625%), and stay in our current home for the foreseeable future, and into financial independence. Other renovations, like changing the HVAC/roof, and possibly adding an addition to account for an en suite, are not in budget.
  • We are assuming there's roughly $130k in equity on our home ($245k potential sale price, minus 6% realtor fees)
  • Property taxes are low: less than $900 a year
Scenario Two:
  • We'd use that $60k as a down-payment on a new home at roughly $290k purchase price
  • We would invest the $130k equity that we'd hypothetically net after a sale of the current home
  • And we'd take out a $230k mortgage (assume 4.125%) on a new home: so, $130k in additional mortgage debt in order to invest $130k in equity
  • Assume $4k in transaction costs, covering the title insurance, appraisal, inspection, and lending cost you incur when buying
  • Property taxes are higher: roughly $2,000 a year
Trying to ignore whatever emotions might be driving this big decision, as well as the subjective bits like which neighborhood we like better and which school district would be better for future kiddos, which scenario is better when we strictly look at the finances?

Assuming our home would end up selling for $245k, I think the scenarios are basically a wash financially.

We'd be shifting the $60k for renovations to a down-payment, and shifting the $130k in equity to investments by taking on an additional $130k in debt at a slightly higher interest rate. But over a 30 year time-frame, the invested funds should definitely outpace the interest rate of the debt, even at 4.125%. There's an additional $4k in transaction costs in scenario two, and a little over a thousand a year in higher taxes, but my take is that the invested funds should be able to cover these costs, on average, over time. (Even assuming just a 6% return on $130k invested nets $7,800 in a typical year: enough to cover the $5,300 in additional interest on the $130k of additional debt, the additional $1,100 in taxes, with enough left over to chip away at the initial transaction costs.)

Savvy readers will note that I'm not fully considering the $15k to pay the realtor when selling our current house. Why not stay and avoid those costs altogether? My thought there is that we doomed ourselves to pay that 6% the moment we bought the house. I can't really avoid them: I can only postpone when I pay. Sooner or later, we're selling the current house. Right?

As you're clearly aware by now, Mrs. Done by Forty and I want to move. We like the neighborhood our good friends have moved into. It has good schools and a great feel. And we like the idea of having a home that's already renovated, saving us from having to to spend weeknights and weekends for months and years renovating our current home. To top it all off, the idea of friends walking over to play boardgames and cook dinner and drink beer (or even just to have some free babysitting for a date night out) is approaching the idyllic. We want to go to there.

But all of that is subjective, and a bit squishy. Before we let the qualitative aspects dominate the decision, we'd like to get a sense of whether my assumptions on the numbers are valid. That's where you come in, kind readers.

Is there a blind spot in our analysis? Is there something big I'm missing?

Please let us know what you think in the comments, and don't hold back.


*Photo is from Kate (deedsofthedanes) at Flickr Creative Commons.

46 comments:

  1. Hey, this is like that TV show "Love it or List it!"

    Mathematically, it makes slightly more sense to stay (unless the renovations get out of hand and go way over 60K).

    What about a 3rd option? Rent out your current house and buy the new house? I'm asking because you mentioned that you own other houses that you're currently renting out. So clearly, you're no stranger to being a landlord.

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  2. Ha! This totally is like an episode of that show (which I can't stand: I don't like either of the realtors, or their bickering).

    The costs are definitely higher with the "move" option, but my gut says the extra $130k invested (which is captive now in equity) would, over time, actually push the move decision over the top. A lot of that depends on what we assume the market will return in the next 30 years.

    As for renting, we've considered it. The problem is how you choose to frame the current house. Is it a home with just a $100k mortgage (in which case it clearly would meet the 1% rule and would be an acceptably good rental, netting about $1200 in rent a month).

    Or, is it a house with a $100k mortgage and $130k in equity, too? If it's the latter, then you have to consider the opportunity costs of not selling and putting that $130k to work in the market.

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  3. "And we'd take out a $230k mortgage (assume 4.125%) on a new home: so, $130k in additional mortgage debt in order to invest $130k in equity"

    Just curious if taking out the 130K is part of this plan, any reason you would not take out the equity now and invest? Also what is the reason not to take the 130K to pay down the mortgage balance, 4.125% vs 6% in your article, any consideration on reducing the mortgage expense in this scenario with (term, rate, monthly payment)?

    My personal preference is to do something similar to FCR recommendation. I would use the 1% rule in terms of your original purchase price so estimated 120K, but I would also consider this a 3 year decision because if this does not work for you in those 3 years you can sell and still get the equity/sale without taxes and still be 3 years along at your new place. I don't know all of your numbers but you might be able to pay it down faster/renovate for more money/create new tax advantages, etc.

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    1. Hi Steven,

      One thing that would keep us from being able to leverage ourselves to the same degree in our current home are the rules on a cash-out refi. For whatever reason, the lenders seemed okay with us taking out 50% of the equity, but not 80% of the equity, on our paid off home. So while putting 20% down on a new loan seems fine, they weren't okay with us doing it in reverse on a paid off home. Go figure.

      As for why we wouldn't pay down the mortgage balance in the new home (or, say the current one), it's really just the same reason as before: we anticipate we'll get a better return by investing the funds than by avoiding/paying down a 3.625% OR a 4.125% mortgage. Basically, opportunity costs.

      Turning our home into a rental does have some attractive options (depreciation, deducting costs, etc.). But, it also has opportunity costs and some risks of carrying another mortgage + the costs inherent with owning more properties. (This would bring us up to 4, total.)

      Lots to think about here. I'm personally trying to own fewer homes total (say, get back to just one primary residence). But Mrs. Done by Forty would probably like your idea. She loves real estate.

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  4. This is a really tough one because I know nothing about real estate. But if i had to guess by your tone what decision I think you really want to make, it's to sell your home and look for another one.

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    1. That's definitely what we want to do. But I know myself well enough that I want to run the basic numbers by the smart people who read this blog, to make sure I'm not missing something.

      But if Tonya says it's okay, then it must be okay. Validation!

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  5. If all else on the money front is equal, I would vote to sell and buy elsewhere. The purchase and sale hassle isn't negligible but it's a lot less than the hassle of making all the renovations that you listed here.

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    1. Yeah, hassle is putting it mildly. The kind of major renovation's we're talking about will take 1-2 years, at least, and that's likely when Mrs. Done by Forty is pregnant and/or when we have a baby chilling in one of the rooms. So, you know, not an ideal time to renovate a kitchen.

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  6. I hate to say it, but when the financials are close, I go by emotion so I'm going to say sell and move to where you would be happier. Do it now and avoid the hassle of renovations and then moving later. Don't listen to me though, I'm doing my own secret financial juggle that I can't even admit on my blog yet because too many opinions make me confused and then I don't do anything.

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    1. That's kind of our thinking right now, Daizy. It's close enough to say, hey, I'm not going to actually do all these renovations, and even if I do, it's going to be a huge headache and I might not like the renovated home as much as this other one anyway.

      I hear what you're saying about too many cooks in the kitchen. Sometimes good decision making happens when you're able to be alone and sort out your thoughts.

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  7. Did you guys ever come to a clear perspective on whether or not AZ is your long term future home? Last I remember there Mrs DBF was nearing completion of her dissertation and it wasn't 100% clear if you'd be permanent Arizonans or not.

    FWIW, moving is a pain in the butt, but renovations are 10x worse, maybe more if they are largely DIY. I will say that if staying in the house (especially with kids) is really on the table, I'd probably get the lead paint test done. Better to know and take precautions than not know, right? Because someday you're going to want to repaint and have to deal with flaking paint chips.

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    1. Yeah, I totally forgot to mention that in the post, Mrs. PoP. We're staying in AZ, for sure. We're shifting away from career focus and more to family/home focus, and we don't want to pull up stakes again.

      Your 10x comment is the main driver of our decision to move. We know major renovations + baby + finishing writing don't mix. The juice just isn't worth the squeeze, in our opinion. Frugal DIYers will disagree, I'm sure, but for us we'd rather pay the money and save ourselves the stress.

      And the lead paint is another thing driving us to just move. Once we test, we have to disclose. (I just couldn't lie to another home owner about that.)

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  8. "as well as the subjective bits like which neighborhood we like better and which school district would be better for future kiddos"

    I don't know that this is subjective. Maybe it's not related to immediate financials, but it could play a large role in the access to opportunity your kids will see in their future. I'm sure you have heard this as a former teacher, but elementary ed is the bedrock of future educational endeavors, so where you live when they're young is important.

    This is, like Mrs. PoP was saying, if you're staying in Pheonix long-term.

    Plus, there are numbers to measure school's performances. Because <3 numerical measurements (though not necessarily the testing that produces them--they're still a decent barometer.)

    The paint thing freaks me out, honestly. If you do stay, I'd test it before even trying with the kids. Paint fumes are no good for pregnant ladies.

    It's so close I would go with what you guys want to do. Better schools and improved quality of life? If the cost difference is marginal, I'd spend the money. If it can't buy you quality of life, what is it for?

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    1. The schools are definitely more objectively measured, but as a former teacher I am not as keen on judging a school strictly based on that metric. Just my opinion of course, but I still put it in the subjective category (but less so than, say, "How much do I like this neighborhood?")

      We are splitting hairs on this front though: both Scottsdale Unified and Tempe are good districts, with good schools in the neighborhoods we're choosing between.

      Like you said: we're leaning towards just moving because we think it's overall somewhat better for us, and the numbers are close. If we don't buy this sort of thing, what are we buying instead?

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    2. Ahh okay. If you're judging between two relatively good schools I agree that the metrics are all NCLB-y. We're looking at a five and a ten as we face the next couple of years--with that big of a spread, I'll take the test scores as relative indicators. :)

      And that's it, I think. It's about spending on the things that matter to you, and it really sounds like where you raise your family is important to you guys. It is for most parents. Even if the friends ever move out, you'll still have the neighborhood.

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    3. Yeah, the schools are a mix: the middle and high school are better than the elementary school. And the latter should be the focus first, I suppose.

      More to think about, for sure.

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    4. Well, it depends on the comparison between the two elementary schools, especially if you're trying to buy and hold. If they're both decent I wouldn't stress over it. You'll appreciate what we're looking at as a comparison here: PPS vs NA. Worth the difference in price by any metric. Sounds like your spread isn't that dramatic and probably doesn't matter as much.

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  9. Personally, I think you should move. You've been throwing this around for a long time and I don't think it's going away. :-) Plus, when you have kids things are a totally different ball game. You'll want the good school system and the great neighborhood even more than you do now. As far as the finances, you know I'm super conservative, but I'd put all of the proceeds toward the new house purchase and then invest money monthly as you pay down the new mortgage. I know history states that you'd be better off investing, but I'm still wary of the market and a paid down/off house is a permanent thing. :-)

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    1. Thanks, Laurie. And you're right, we've been kicking this same idea around for years. At least if we move, you won't have to hear about it over and over on the blog. :)

      I hear what you're saying re: pay down the mortgage. Our thought is: we can always take the invested funds, sell the next day, and pay off the mortgage. But we can't take money out of the house easily: it costs a good deal of money to get a new loan, and it's kind of a pain.

      If in early retirement, we really hate having the debt around, and we're sure of it, we can always take those funds we'd invested and just be debt free again.

      But having done that once, and been mortgage free, I think we're more comfortable investing and carrying the mortgage. Just our personality, I think.

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  10. I think it's pretty clear from this post and your previous one that you want to move. The new neighborhood near your friends does indeed sound idyllic. Sometimes you just have to do what makes you happy. Sure finances and doing the math is important but if you're on track to retire by 40...there isn't much to worry about when it comes to finances. Do what makes you happy.

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    1. That's a really healthy way of looking at things, Andrew. Do what makes you happy, because we enough money not to worry.

      It makes sense...wonder why we worry so much about the one thing we probably don't need to worry about.

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  11. In our area, remodeling labor is "tightening up" and thus most remodeling a) is taking longer to kickoff than originally intended and b) runs on the high end.

    Net net, I love to remodel, but (unless you're going to do most of the work yourself), I'm more and more of the mind that buying already remodeled properties is economically and timing efficient, particularly as I think the remodeling labor pool is going to continue to tighten for the foreseeable future.

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    1. Hey, Tin. There are definitely a lot of houses being redone in our neighborhood. Maybe that should have factored into the analysis?

      My thought has always been that, if you don't typically get $1 back out of $1 in renovations, you're probably better off buying an already remodeled home. (DIY changes that figure, I'm sure, but I just don't want to DIY).

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  12. I personally say sell the house. Move to the neighborhood you want to be in. Invest the 130k because it will pay off in the long run. Life is too short to be in a house you don't want. I mean it isn't like you are buying too much house or can't afford it. I mean you can always take that equity, if you want, later on and pay down the mortgage if necessary.

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    1. That's really the kicker for us, Jason: we can always take the invested funds and pay down the mortgage with it if we want. Having paid off our mortgage by paying extra every single month for 3+ years, I can confidently say it was not the most efficient way to do that. We should have invested the money and paid off the house in one fell swoop (*if that was our goal...and it really shouldn't have been our goal).

      Our monthly bills will certainly rise, but so will our invested capital. If it's not a total wash, I guess it's close enough. Thanks for your comment!

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  13. As the owner of a 1955 mid-century that we are remodeling ourselves (and I work part-time as an interior designer while my husband is doing the majority of the construction) I suggest you sell and run. ;)

    I adore my home but between the massive single pane windows (dangerous), lead paint (certainly) and asbestos tile/adhesive/caulking (let's not even mention the remediation) my home is a labor of love. Estimated repairs and reconstruction I am estimating at 7 - 10 years and I have significant experience in this field. Particularly these old-moderns. A lot of them need to be more restored than remodeled which is even worse.

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    1. I think you win the contest for most persuasive comment on the blog today, Morgan. Nothing like someone speaking from experience to scare you straight.

      As you said, it has to be a labor of love. We're, I guess, kind of minimally handy. But the stuff our house needs is way beyond our current skills. It would take us a while to be even competent.

      But I have a lot of admiration for you guys doing the renovation and I'm sure it's going to be awesome when you're done. Best of luck, and thanks for sharing that perspective!

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    2. It would give you a whole new blog! 'Done by 2040'.

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    3. That would be funny!

      Maybe in my early retirement, I'll have a desire to reno a house. But not right now. :)

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  14. I agree with the other posters that it sounds like you really want to move. And if it's a wash financially, I don't see any reason you shouldn't. Seriously, my home is of 1950's vintage and in need of some major work which I'm absolutely dreading, so I can totally understand your reluctance to live through all of that - especially if what you'll end up with still won't be what you really want. For me it's sort of a devil you know vs. devil you don't know situation - plus having a mortgage that's paid off is really nice in terms of cash flow.

    The one thing that I would be concerned about is dumping $130K into the market right now. I know that over the long term it's a good bet... but given the unpredictability of the current political situation, it would not surprise me at all if we see some extreme volatility and/or a major crash in the near future. Maybe it would be worth considering hedging your bets and going for a smaller mortgage? Just a thought to ponder...

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    1. That's an excellent point, EcoCatLady. I know the math says invest it all at once. But we've never had the guts as a couple to go full bore. We end up having the same debate anytime we have a windfall: invest a big chunk up front, then dollar cost average the rest over a year or so. I'm sure we'll do the same this time.

      We could certainly take a smaller mortgage, but I think our hedge might be to just keep the cash on hand and invest slowly in case we do get that volatility. Heck, we're probably hoping for it if we have cash to invest.

      And I totally hear you on having a mortgage paid off. There's a big part of me (the "I used to be a huge Dave Ramsey Fan part") that would like to use that $130k just to keep the same sort of $100k mortgage we have now. I just don't think it's technically the best thing for us financially.

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  15. if you want to move, do the in depth research to confirm it will be good long term...

    drive the new commute route(s).

    visit area at all times of day, not just evenings or weekends when visiting friends -- especially school start/stop time, if memory serves the neighborhood is near mcclintock high.

    immediate and near neighbors make a huge difference in day-to-day quality of life -- do you like/tolerate the current ones? will you go from alleyway separation to not having that extra space, or vice versa?

    look at crime stats;

    what banks/grocery/retail/ restaurants, etc will be nearby compared to current.

    are your friends staying long term in AZ too, in that neighborhood? would hate to move nearer and then have them move someplace else

    how stable is the management/finance of the golf course in the neighborhood, if that is important, or you find a house backing to it?

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    1. There's a lot of good advice there.

      Luckily, neither of us have commutes, so that's a good thing.

      We've spent a lot of time in the area hanging there with our friends, but that's always good advice: go at different times of day.

      We don't have alleys now (very old part of Scottsdale) and would in the next area. I don't know how much that matters, but I suppose it's a plus to have more space.

      Will have to confirm their long term plans but yeah, I think they're staying.

      There is a golf course in the neighborhood but, sadly, I don't play. It's an exercise in patience for me.

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  16. In this scenario there doesn't seem to be a clear winner from a financial perspective unless the markets go on a crazy bull market run for the next 30 years. Yeah it'll be higher but I doubt 10%+ annual returns. Even if the renovations were slightly better I'd still probably go with the newer house because there's a whole lot of positives to go with it. I don't know what y'all's utilities run each month but a newer house is likely going to be much more energy efficient and could possibly breakeven with the property tax increase.

    Any thoughts about just investing the $130k equity from the move and once it gets to enough to pay off the mortgage on the new house just sell the investments? Or wait until you get say $50k ahead or something so you still have some of the capital working for you? I've been leaning more towards wanting to get rid of our mortgage even though it's at a relatively low rate.

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    1. I think that's probably a good middle ground: if we really wanted to pay off the mortgage, we're better off investing first then paying it off in one fell swoop. For now, we think we'll keep it around as long as possible (30 years) and just keep ourselves invested because, well, we should come out ahead like that over 30 years. I want to say the total returns of the market over the last 130+ years are north of 9% when you include dividends, but I'm just going from memory.

      Good suggestion. I'm sure once we pull the trigger on early retirement, we'll consider being totally debt free again. There's an allure.

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  17. I'd say sell it. It will be a huge headache if you rent it out since there are a lot of renovations to do. Unless the tenants don't mind living in the house as is, I'd go ahead and sell it. Old houses are a lot of work...

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    1. I hear you, Joe. We're definitely going to get a new house now. We just have to find it. :)

      I am sure we could rent it as is, but at a lower rent. And the opportunity costs alone of leaving the equity in the house are enough to make the numbers go sideways (not to mention we'd have 4 mortgages, which is too many for us).

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  18. Scenario #2 - Sell, Buy, Move

    I'm surprised nobody has pointed out the dynamics of the tax implications. Here goes:
    1) The $130,000 mortgage interest will cost $5362 per year
    2) The mortgage interest deduction will save you $1340 per year assuming 25% tax bracket
    3) The investment of $130,000 @ 7% would earn %9,100 per year ($6,825 after taxes)
    4) The $2,000 in property taxes is also tax deductible ($500 annual savings)

    So in scenario 2, you save time on renovations, and increase your annual income, after taxes, by about $2,400 ($200 a month), and get the house you really want.

    Another issue, though. Stocks are historically expensive with P/E ratios for the S&P 500 at 17.5 compared to historical averages closer to 15. So it's not a good time to buy high-returning equities that would return 7%.

    Consider a tax-free municipal bond fund, returning around 4.0% (5.3% tax equivalent yield). This should provide around $5,200 in tax-free dividends, paid out monthly like clockwork. Conveniently this is about equal to the cost of your mortgage interest, at a much lower risk.

    Finally, this avoids the risk of renovations going wrong, over budget, or not providing ROI when you finally sell.

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    1. Good point about the deductions but we've never gotten close to the standard deduction for married couples. Even with the taxes + interest, I'm not sure we'll hit the $12,600 and be able to itemize. But hey, who knows.

      I know the market seems high right now but we're proponents of sticking to your asset allocation no matter what, so that money will go right into our "Simpleton's Portfolio"...but we'll likely DCA some of it. Maybe half.

      https://ed-chang.com/review/

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    2. Even if you do hit the 12,600 and can itemize, you need to get far enough above that to care, know what I mean? At 15,000 you can itemize... which is an extra 2,400 dollar deduction. At 30%, which is high for most retires, that's a 740 tax reduction that you paid for with 15,000 dollars in deductions. Ugh.

      I hate the tax deduction.

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    3. It's certainly thrown around a lot with my family and friends. I wonder if they're all actually taking the deduction, and we're the weird ones.

      I'd have to buy a lot bigger of a house, I think. Or maybe have kids or a business.

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    4. I think a lot of people are not fully on top of their taxes... They know it's deductible so they assume that they qualify for the deduction and are taking it. For instance, having additional children wouldn't affect this deduction nor would having a business. At least not directly. Remember, I do design part time, but I do accounting for the rest of my pay. :D

      The people I speak with make a whole variety of assumptions (that this is in addition to a standard deduction, that it's a credit rather than an income reduction, etc) that aren't easily shaken. Realistically, very few people in the median income range exceed the standard deduction for very long.

      Actually, that's one of the reasons I completely support removing the mortgage interest deduction. It generally only is a factor for people with substantial mortgages (high income earners) or high property taxes (high income earners) or substantial state taxes (high income earners) while confusing the issue for those on the lower end of the spectrum.

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    5. I actually knew that the business expenses & kids wouldn't apply to the standard deduction but I typed it anyway, just because I couldn't think of things that would apply other than mortgage interest & taxes. Maybe medical expenses? I don't know because I've never even gotten close.

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  19. Id say sell.
    Also where is the picture from that you've used? It looks very English, or perhaps Scottish.

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    1. I just got it right from Flickr Creative Commons. I think it might be Danish?

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  20. Bit late to the party here, but it sounds like the decision to "go" is the right one! Happiness > money! Just make sure you don't slip back on that hedonic treadmill and want to move on up, move on out again in another 5 years time ;)

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