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Women: Don’t be stupid. Keep the house in the divorce

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I mentioned before: when I got divorced it was critical that I keep the house. I had a lot going for me: my ex moved out, unannounced, I had a job and good credit, and I have custody of the kids. Plus we had a lot of equity in the home and mortgage rates have been at an all-time-low, so it wasn’t a huge financial stretch for me to refinance and buy him out.

Other women aren’t so fortunate. Even women who should know better. Just ask Deana Arnett, a certified financial planner with Rosenthal Wealth Management Group in Northern Virginia. This savvy money professional went through her own divorce a few years ago and walked away from the house she shared with her ex. “It was the worst move I ever made,” Arnett says. “It was a very emotional time and all I could think of was ending in a clean way without lawyers and fighting. In hindsight I realize I walked away from a lot of money that was rightfully mine.” Today she advises women to do better for themselves and their kids.

There are lots of reasons the woman — in most cases — should keep the house when she divorces.

Financial reasons include:

  • Chances are, you will have less money when you divorce. If you’re forced to leave the home, you will likely move to smaller, less desirable digs.
  • The home is the biggest financial asset for most couples. You walk away from that, you walk away from the bulk of your wealth — even if he buys you out. Why?
  • Because historically, real estate has been a more stable investment when compared with stocks (recent years being an exception). Between 1978 and 2004, real estate appreciated an average of 8.6 percent per year. While stocks returned more than 13 percent during that time, they also saw more peaks and valleys. True, stocks grew more. HOWEVER, that is just appreciation — not including the wealth-building associated with paying off a mortgage, or the tax advantages.
  • Because your household income will be lower, the tax write offs like mortgage interest and property taxes will be even more valuable post-divorce. Plus, if you were to sell your home, you can likely pocket most or all of the profits tax-free. Only a few investment vehicles provide such a tax perk.
  • If you sell now in this down market, you will likely lose money on your investment. Hang on to it, and history tells us that you will recoup your investment — and then some. Remember investing 101 – buy low, sell high. Selling your home or hand it over to your spouse now is the equivalent of selling low, while refinancing or otherwise taking possession now equals buying low. Be a smart investor.

 

There are plenty of less tangible reasons why it is important for women to keep the home in a split.

The emotional reasons:

  • Your home provides a measure of stability for you and your kids during a tumultuous time.
  • Moving house might mean your children switch schools. See above.
  • I believe there is something enormously comforting and empowering about home ownership — especially for women who tend to be the nurturer of the hearth, the nesters.
  • For me, staying put meant being close to friends and neighbors who provided emotional and practical support during my split. It also meant that I stayed in a large apartment where I had a steady stream of overnight visitors who also lent much-appreciated support — including my mom who stayed with me for most of a year. These were critical elements of my story, which may not have been as positive without the real estate involved.

 

 

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  1. rachael
    rachael08-23-2012

    hi there. i just saw your link over at miss single mama. anyway, i’m really enjoying it so far (my finances are trash).. i just kinda wish it wasn’t just directed at divorced women. i dated my son’s father for 5 years until i found out i was pregnant and he decided to bolt. none of this was an option for me.

    (ps. not a teen mom either. i’m 28 with my five-year-old)

  2. Emma
    Emma08-23-2012

    Hi Rachel – thanks for the feedback. As this site gets going I hope there will be plenty of material for all moms — divorced, never married, single by choice, and even married (you know you either a) often feel like a single mom, and/or b) fantasize about being a single mom!). Keep reading, and keep the suggestions coming!

  3. Syl
    Syl08-27-2012

    I can see how this would be good advice, but my husband was negatively impacted by giving his ex the home in the divorce. She stopped making the mortgage payments, never refinanced (though the settlement ordered she do so within a year of the divorce)and ended up in a short-sale with his name dragged along for the ride. I think that it’s important to note that husband or wife; if you can’t afford it on your own you shouldn’t keep it.

    • Emma
      Emma08-27-2012

      Syl – those are excellent points. Taking on a home that you can’t afford kills the finances of all parties involved — even if they’re no longer married.

    • michelle cooper
      michelle cooper10-01-2012

      Great point. I agree that there is a lot of sound advice as well but think that there are a lot of women especially that hold on longer that is financially feasable. I hate to see that because it seems counter productive to what we strive for as mothers. It’s important to reassess frequently to make sure you aren’t digging yourself into a deeper hole.

  4. Kelly
    Kelly09-05-2012

    I let him keep the house when we divorced. We had zero equity in it, as we bought it with a zero down payment. Plus, the value of the home was going down and the neighborhood was selling for $40,000 less than the purchase price. ANYWAY, I got his retirement money of 90K and he got the house. I think I did better.
    PS….Love your blog.

    • Emma
      Emma09-05-2012

      Thanks Kelly- and yep, sounds like you knew what you were doing. Good on you!

    • Jim
      Jim08-16-2013

      You’re the exact reason why american men choose not to marry. Vindictive gold digger! Bragging about it too. You didn’t earn the retirement money.

  5. michelle cooper
    michelle cooper09-30-2012

    I agree somewhat, but what happenens when you spend so much time and energy in trying to hold on to the property that it takes away from quality time better spent raisng your children? I understand that owning a home/property can empower single moms and may make sense in securing you financial future. On the other hand, I think that it’s equally improtant to realize when it’s time to move on and to be able to admit when it’s no longer feasable to keep investing. I was in a situation where I had to decide whether to keep our home or walk away. I chose to move knowing that my children would benifit more from spending time with me than seeing me struggle to fix broken bathrooms, mow lawns and solicit volunteers and neighbors to to help me maintain the grounds. I may not have lots of money in the future, but seriously doubt that there are many single moms out there these days that have the financial means to keep a home running on one income. As a single mom I chose to walk away from our home in the interest of living a less stressful existence and having a strong, loving, well rounded relationship with my children.

    • Joe Dillon
      Joe Dillon01-14-2014

      Spot on Michelle. I watched my mom go emotionally bankrupt trying to keep the house when she got divorced. All we did was rake the yard, cut the grass, clean the gutters, etc. I lost my teenage years as instead of hanging out with my friends, I became a homeowner. No fun whatsoever.

  6. monica gorham
    monica gorham12-06-2013

    I don’t agree with this. Most wealthy men want the wife to keep the home that she ultimately will have to sell because they want to keep her hands off their precious retirement plan. Never overlook the value of the retirement plan. Your home will not support you when you retire. I plan to take half of both or some similar combination. If he can afford to buy me out and keep the home, great. I may have to downsize, but I will be far better off in 20 years.

    • Emma
      Emma12-09-2013

      Thanks Monica – you are correct, you must assess the entire financial package when divorcing, and not all assets are equal. Good points.

  7. El Bastardo
    El Bastardo03-07-2014

    This is why men are refusing to marry. They know the odds are stacked against them, and apparently, none of you are to upset by it either.

    Love the articles by past child bearing years women though. Keep telling yourself that the reason you are single is because you are so much smarter than everyone else.

    I can’t wait for teh American government to try and raise bachelor taxes like Japan, because men have wizened up, and understand that marriage is a raw deal. That time is coming, and I can’t wait to see what happens to women like you.

    I will see you on the street, and laugh.

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