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The Question of Selling or Renting Out, Part 1: The Facts

Contributed by mm | June 23, 2005 6:09 AM PST

Now let me start to discuss the single most important decision I have to make during the summer: in anticipating of an upcoming relocation later this year, should I sell my house, or rent it out? It is not a million dollar question, but it does have potential to be a $100,000 one, or big enough to make a difference in my financial life.

For discussion purposes, let me compile the facts first:

• The house was acquired in August 2003 for $315,000.

• My mortgage, which was refinanced in April 2004, is a 5/1 ARM at a remarkably low rate of 3.50%. The outstanding loan balance is $243,400 by the end of this month. Monthly mortgage payment is a bit north of $1,100, including ~$400 for principal repayment and ~$700 for interest.

• I pay property tax on my own, and it amounts to $280/month. Homeowner's insurance adds another $40/month.

• The current value of the house is about $390,000 -- my neighbor's house, which is identical to mine but with 1,000 sqft more lot size, was sold for $400,000 a few weeks ago. (If you run the math, you might notice in my accounting book, my home equity was understated for about $67,000. The actual equity is close to $147,000 by now thanks to the housing boom.)

• If I choose to sell, I will only do so after August. This is to make sure I can take advantage of the tax-free clause for capital gains. Plus, my relocation package will cover virtually all of the closing cost, which can normally take up to $30,000.

• My overseas assignment will take about two years, and we don't think we will choose to stay in the current house once we return. Both my wife and I agree we should be able to afford more spaces then. (We estimate our net worth will be north of $450,000 by then and income will increase too.)

• We estimate the house can be rented out at $1,600-$1,800/month. Since I cannot be a local landlord, I will incur monthly maintenance/property management cost of $200-$300 if I choose to put it into the rental market.

There are too many personal finance "experts" splicing and dicng the popular "buy or rent" decision (including a very early one at PFBlog), but when it comes to "sell or rent out," resource is scarce. I am determined to explore this better in the next few weeks at this critical turning point of my personal finance journey. Please feel free to throw in your comments, and they will be very much appreciated.

This Post Has Received 15 Comments. Share Your Opinions Too.


Wes Commented on June 23, 2005

Since MS will be covering closing costs I would say "SELL"! You say it could be up to $30,000, which I assume means you are including agent fees. I think that alone will tip the balance.

What you really should do is get a NPV of both and see which is better. Then add in the "trouble factor" of being an absentee landlord.

Will you have more fun investing your dough or being an absentee landlord?

Wes


Felix Commented on June 23, 2005

Just want to throw in my two cents. You do not have to wait the required two years to sell your home (assuming you haven't sold a previous primary residence in the past two years).

The IRS allows you to sell prematurely due to certain hardships, one being that you are relocating for a job. The gain exclusion would then be prorated. Since it appears that you would only have a gain of about $75,000 and the amount you can exclude is $500,000 (married-filing-jointly), the prorated gain exclusion would definitely cover it.

If however, you choose to rent it out for two years while you are relocated, you would then need to sell it within a year of returning. The IRS says you need to have it as your primary residence for at least two of the previous five years. Which means that if you begin renting it in, say january 2006, for two years, then in August 2008, five years will have passed since you acquired the home and you will have lived in it for at least two of them (Aug. '03 through Dec. '05 and then Jan. '08 through Aug. '08). Once you go beyond that date you are eating into your two years and then you may be required to hold onto the property for longer than you may like in order to exclude the gain.

In addition, because you are renting it, your basis will decrease due to depreciation allowance that you can take (cost basis over 27.5 years) each year and this must then be recaptured as gain regardless of whether you can exclude the gain or not under Sec 121 (gain exclusion from sale of principal residence).


FMF Commented on June 23, 2005

SELL!

Wes said everything I was going to say.


Jamie Commented on June 23, 2005

For what it's worth, I once saw a study by Jeremy Siegel that suggested that individuals 30 years of age or under should actually have more than 100% of their assets invested in stocks (believe it was around 122%) to capitalize on historical market patterns. I will look for the link, but the basic idea was that when you're young, even a big market decline will pay out over the long run and so leverage makes a great deal of sense.

The reason why I find this interesting is because I think it talks to the real advantage of a house: leverage. If you're planning to buy a new house where you move to (on a mortgage), I think it makes sense to sell and avoid too much of your portfolio in one asset class. If, however, you are not planning to do so, while I know housing lags stocks in the long-run, I can still see the benefit of leverage to someone as young as yourself (or myself) in order to get more investable assets at modest long-term risk.

On a separate note, living in the Bay Area makes me darned envious of your mortgage. I think I need to look for a new job in Seattle! Good luck! I wish we all had your good fortune of having this sort of decision to make.


foo@bar.com Commented on June 23, 2005

Selling is probably better. But if your employer is picking up the closing costs, they still might W2 you for that, which would mean more US taxes next April 15.

You are paying out about $1420 per month on everything associated with the house. With adjusted potential rents of $1300-1500/month, you are just losing or breaking even, not factoring in any appreciation.


dave Commented on June 24, 2005

I lived in a house near grad school and the landlord went overseas to Iraq. The people he left behind to run the place were not exactly responsive. The people in the house did damage that a rented manager wouldnt notice, but as the owner you would have noticed.

You own this place. You want to be around if it floods, or if a tree falls or if the people who live there are slobs. You dont want to be overseas from it.

Even if you were making money off of it, for the hassle factor alone i would advise you to sell the house. The value of not worrying about a property while you are overseas is definitely worth the lost income. Invest the money in a no-maintenance asset like index funds.

The real estate market is fantastic, your company pays closing, which is like throwing another $20k onto the price of the house... It seems so clear to me that you should sell. Plus, you dont seem like the landlord type. Everybody thinks they can do it these days, but its not as easy as it seems. Especially from thousands of miles away. Just my USD 0.02


damian Commented on June 24, 2005

Hey one more comment - the WSJ online has an article on this exact topic today...
http://online.wsj.com/article/0,,SB111892803843361442-email,00.html

i dont know if that link will work because you have to be a paid subscriber. I can email it to you if you want...the wsj will let a subscriber email the article to a friend.

Anyway, it was written by Terry Cullen and the headline is "Bubble Anxiety Has Homeowners
Debating: Time to Sell or to Rent?"


mm Commented on June 24, 2005

Thanks Damian. Good finding! Yes, I do have WSJ access.


1stMill Commented on June 24, 2005

Ask yourself if the potential upside is worth the downside risk? Then remember, part of being a successful investor is knowing when to sell.

Good luck, 1stMill


Shadows In The Cave Commented on June 24, 2005

I think you should keep the house and rent it.

I left Atlanta after owning my home for only a year. I didn't want to be an absentee landlord. But now it has been 8 years since I left, and I still own the home. In that time, I've spent maybe $12,000 out of my own pocket, while the tenants have paid the rest.

The tenants have paid down the mortgage by about $40,000 and the home has appreciated by about $20,000.

Yeah, sometimes it's a pain, but with a good management company, it makes sense to hold on to real estate.


Bryan Gross Commented on June 25, 2005

Sell! You will be happier for it. I'm 26 and I just sold my house in West Palm Beach for many of the same reasons. Talk about real estate bubbles ... we are going nuts down here. Anyway, I sold my house to go to the Univesity of Florida and get an MBA.

Read my new investing blog:
http://grosscapital.blog.com/241282/


Marj Benway Commented on June 25, 2005

Selling seems like the thing to do. Then you have no time constraints for excluding your gain at tax time, and you don't have the worry of relying on a management firm to protect the property. You already made the decision to find another house upon your return. Why hope that the real estate prices will stay as high as they are now? Marj


stasd Commented on June 27, 2005

Hi,

Eight months ago I was facing the same question, and my company paid 100% of the closing cost for selling the place as well as the closing cost of buying a new house at the destination. My house was sold at $196,500, and now another house in the subdivision which is about 400sqft smaller (with less upgrades) is being listed at $232,000, and for my case I think I would be better of not selling it it. I knew that my property would go up, but because I did not want to be a remote landlord I decided to sell the property.

I think you should just keep your property for two more years. I'm not sure if renting will be a good option unless you can find a really trusted tenant. A few people I know owning properties and being remote all have problems with tenants. They are always late on payments and some don't pay and there is nothing you can do about it. So, I think you should forget about renting, and keep the property if you can afford it.


ja Commented on June 29, 2005

Sell, sell, sell. If you never want to live in the house again. Get rid of the baggage.(g)


nelsonal Commented on August 30, 2005

An article about this subject included a link to the AICPA's page with a spreadsheet designed to answer this sort of question. Hope it works for you.
www.aicpa.org/download/pubs/jofa/2005_06_witmer.xls


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