You want the house. You know you want the house, unless it brings back too many bad memories. The question then is: Can you afford to keep your house post-divorce?
Well, can you not? I’m a financial advisor in Los Angeles, and I hear this question all the time. Should we sell the house and split the money? How can I possibly make the right decision?
Chin up, sister. My mentor Deborah, 71, was divorced 18 years ago and turned a $3 million dollar real estate portfolio into a $15 million dollar one.
You can too.
Let’s take a hypothetical: a couple has been married for 18 years. When they split up, they both thought they got the better deal.
The wife, who made less than half the salary of the husband, kept the $600,000 house, which had a remaining mortgage of $200,000. With taxes and insurance, her monthly payments would come to approximately $1,500, assuming a 30 year mortgage at 6.5%.
The husband, meanwhile, took something of equal value: an IRA worth $650,000.
To make their shares even, he threw in a $50,000 membership to the local country club, which she could sell if she wanted.
They split what remained in their savings account.
So who got the better deal? He got the equivalent of cash, and she was saddled with a mortgage, right?
And the membership to the country club required paying dues.
But she’s the financial winner from the divorce settlement.
The country club membership allowed her children to swim and learn tennis for almost nothing.
His IRA was effectively worth 25 percent to 40 percent less than its face value because all IRA distributions are taxed as ordinary income upon withdrawal.
Sure, the wife would be taxed if she sold the house, but the fed allows a $250,000 tax break on selling a primary residence if she lives in for two of the last five years.
Moreover, any profit is taxed as capital gains and not the higher income tax rate.
So the wife got the better deal financially and she preserved her lifestyle. She got to keep an asset that appreciated significantly.
After 10 years, the wife would have assets of more than $3 million (if the house appreciated 8 percent a year). And the husband, who invested his IRA and rented a fancy condo, had assets worth barely $2 million.
Some fast tips:
- Most husbands recommend selling the house and splitting the money. In my experience most people spend the lump sum settlement, and have nothing left to invest. A house is forced savings.
- Never sell in a down market, which is what many places have now. Don’t sell just to get out of a bad situation. Don’t sell at the bottom, period.
- Make sure you have every tax advantage in keeping the house, the right to itemize deductions and take off the mortgage interest and property taxes. That is another benefit of owning real estate.
- If things get really tight, consider taking in a roommate, or carving out a “tax payer/mother in law” apartment you can rent out.
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