Take a fresh look at your lifestyle.

I’m leaving Seattle for a job and better weather. Rental income won’t cover the 1.9% mortgage on our home. Should I sell?

We need to relocate from Seattle for a variety of reasons — work, disliking our neighborhood, desire for better weather, need better schools — and will be moving 2,000 miles away.

We currently have a four-bedroom 2021 new construction 2,700 square-foot home. Our mortgage payment is approximately $3,800 and our interest rate is 1.9% APR. The home was bought for $750,000 and it’s probably worth around $950,000 now (developers are selling new homes opposite us for that price).

We are contemplating trying to rent our home out, and renting in our relocated city/state for a year to a) get a feel for where we want to buy and b) save money for a solid down payment. Our household income is $400,000 a year, so I think we could probably buy a second home for around $1 million fairly easily, assuming the Seattle home was rented out.

A $9,000-a-year shortfall

I’m skeptical our home would rent for over $4,000 but I was wondering — because of our high income — if it was renting it for over $3,500 and making up the difference ($3,800 mortgage, plus $65 homeowners association fees and $400 rental management fees) — spending $9,000 a year to keep this low mortgage rate doesn’t seem like a crazy idea.

I would be comfortable renting in the new state while paying our mortgage for 3 to 6 months to find a tenant, obviously. And if we couldn’t find a tenant, we could just sell.

A house on our block rented for $3,500 and our home has approximately 400 square feet more of usable space (studio office, gym room, etc.), a huge yard and significant home upgrades. What do you think?

Tom

The Big Move’ is a MarketWatch column looking at the ins and outs of real estate, from navigating the search for a new home to applying for a mortgage.

Do you have a question about buying or selling a home? Do you want to know where your next move should be? Email Aarthi Swaminathan at TheBigMove@marketwatch.com.

Dear Torn,

What is your ultimate goal? 

Do you need to put aside money for emergencies, for your family, for retirement, and so on? Do you plan on returning to Seattle at any point? If so, you may (or may not) find yourself priced out of the market, if you sold now.

Do you want to be a real-estate investor and deal with being a landlord, or do you want the freedom of only owning the home you live in? If your goal was to hold on to the property as a real-estate investment, you need to either find a tenant that is willing to pay a higher monthly rent, so that you at the very least break even on the house, or lower your costs. 

Consider switching companies and lowering your fees, if possible. It may be that the rise in value and increase in equity of your property will offset that extra monthly rent. You’re also holding on to your low rate. So paying $9,000 a year, particularly when you’re making over $400,000 a year, may not be a big expense.

But you need to weigh that against the projected increase in value of the house. If you spend $9,000 a year over a long period, calculate how much that will cost you — taking appreciation and increased equity into account — five, 10 or 15 years from now. You could, after all, be putting that money to work elsewhere.

Lifestyle vs. investment

Your dilemma is not uncommon, Ken Graff, a Seattle native and a real-estate agent based with Coldwell Banker Bain, told MarketWatch.

“What’s the bigger picture? What are they hoping to accomplish? This isn’t commercial real-estate, price per-square-foot, this is lifestyle, this is family, there are so many factors when evaluating a residential transaction,” he explained.

Being an out-of-state landlord is also a pain, given that some tenants can be tricky to deal with. Plus, your home will not be treated the same way if you were still living there. Consider the cost of repairs if you have terrible tenants causing damage to the house. 

If you’re able to break even, it would significantly help your cause to save for a new house in the new city. If you’re still losing money on the Seattle house, that’s lost income which you could be investing, or saving to grow your down payment.

“We just have so many people that purchased at [low rates] and are reluctant to sell and rebuy,” Graff said, adding, “People are going to have to, at some point, get off the sidelines and get in the game.”

Take a trial run

It may be heartbreaking to split up with your 1.9% rate, but you’ll be pocketing $200,000 from selling the house to roll towards a new home. You could also ask to see if your mortgage is a government-backed “assumable” loan, meaning that it can be passed on to another individual, in which case you can give that prized rate to someone else.

You scored an unbelievable deal and it surely feels like giving it up is impossible. Keeping the low rate may come at a hefty price, if you end up being an out-of-state landlord.

You may wish to hire a real-estate agent to take the stress off your shoulders and deal with all the minor irritations that come with being a landlor, but that will come with a fee.

One caveat: Once sold, it may be difficult to buy a similar house in Seattle if you choose to rent it out. 

You said you’re willing to try renting your Seattle property out for half a year to see if you can find a tenant. That’s a good plan. Give yourself a fixed time period, after which you can make a final decision.

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