My wife and sold our home in early 2015, and we did it mostly to enable us to comfortably quit our jobs.
Although it’s a normal thing for people to downsize, it is most decidedly not typical for professionals in their late thirties to do it.
Most people in our age bracket are reaching the height of their earning potential, and are therefore moving in the opposite direction, discarding starter homes in favor of more costly accommodations.
Despite the recognition that Mrs. Doom and I should have been, according to the intersection of our investment account balances and cultural norms, upgrading from our castle to a full-blown palace, we went the other way, discarding our 1500 sq. foot house in an upscale suburb for a 1200ish apartment in a somewhat less special area.
This post details both the journey taken and the path ahead.
A quick note before we get started in earnest:
This is not a generic post about how to buy/sell your house or downsize. If you’re looking for reasonable advice on what to do yourself, consider checking out Mr. Money Mustache’s article on how to sell your house. This post instead simply an extended accounting of a) what we did ourselves b) some financial analysis of how home-ownership actually worked out over the years and c) related odds and ends.
Hey, it wouldn’t be a livingafi post if it didn’t run 6,000+ words and jump around multiple subjects, would it?
It seems incomplete to talk about selling a place without describing the reasons driving the purchase. So on that note, if you want to read a bit about it, check out this old post.
The summary reads like this: My wife and I wanted to have a space to call our own as we built our lives together plus fix a broken commute situation while simultaneously acquiring a bit more space which might allow us to more comfortably raise children.
And so in early 2008, we bought our first and only home together, a 1500ish sq. foot place in the Newton-Needham-Wellesley area (i.e. the suburbs of Boston, MA, US) for the then-seemingly-ridiculous sum of 650K. I was convinced that because of the crazy fancy neighborhood that home prices would not go down over the mid to long term – and I wasn’t wrong. Location, location, location, or something.
Deciding to Sell
Fast forward seven years to early 2015 and we made a firm commitment to unload our property because a) we realized we couldn’t have children so we had quite a bit of unused space, b) without jobs, there would be no more broken commute problem to fix, and c) we were interested in lowering yearly expenses to pursue early retirement. Most of the reasons we’d originally had for buying had been blown to pieces as the years passed.
Note: If you want additional details on point c) — I summarized the financial benefits to downsizing in this ancient post.
But all you really need to know is that it worked out to a 10K/yr or so difference in outflow per person (20K a year as a couple).
To fund that extra 20K a year of living expenses, we’d need to collectively have about 500K of additional assets by way of the 25x rule. (As a basic rule of thumb, individuals typically need about 25K in investments to cover each 1K of annual spending in retirement.)
I’ll explain it in precise technical terms: That’s a shit-ton of extra money to earn just to fund living in a particular house in a particular location for no particular reason.
At any rate, we reached the same conclusion that a whole lot of people reach when they’re considering leaving the workforce: Moving to a more affordable place the safest thing to do financially.
Thankfully, there was absolutely no disagreement on this point between my wife and I. We’d also grown somewhat tired of the relentless upkeep. So in early 2014 we began making plans to depart.
Prepping for the Sale
We had about a year to pretty things up before listing. We took this as an opportunity to do some work to make it easier to offload the property.
- Gave bathrooms a face-lift. We bought two new vanity sets and installed them manually (this is achievable DIY work, trust me), and I also put down new tile in both of the units. Fact: Tile can generally go on top of tile, so if you have the clearance to do it (based on threshold height, door swing, and whatever else), it’s a fairly easy thing to do. Just a lot of labor.
- Bought a new refrigerator to match the rest of our kitchen’s appliances, which had stainless steel finishes. My general philosophy is to pursue improvements that your average person cares about while ignoring other issues you might personally have with your home that other people may not notice or give a crap about like maybe the somewhat uneven grade of the backyard. (My wife started watching a lot of HGTV which allowed us to indirectly consult Average American Folks for ideas. Fact: Everybody needs stainless steel finishes on everything.)
- I repainted the walls of our foyer and living room, making the color brighter, clean, and more welcoming. It’s the first room anyone sees when they walk in and I felt it was important to make a good initial impression.
- We have decent looking furniture (bought used, of course) and used it to stage the rooms.
- All clutter was removed. This includes things like books on coffee tables that might reveal your political views or taste in humor to a prospective buyer, resulting in irritation and distracting them from the awesomeness of your home. In the end, the place ended up looking like gently used hotel accommodations: Perfect. You don’t want folks thinking about the people who are moving out while they’re walking through your rooms. You want them instead imagining themselves living in the space. Keeping things fairly generic helps this magic to happen in peoples’ heads.
- Also repainted every single door of every single room, and swapped out ancient 40 year old rusty hardware (hinges and knobs) with brushed nickel. The cost of this project was about $140 including paint and hardware, and at the end of it our 11 doors looked practically new instead of like they were about to fall off at the slightest touch — seriously, they were that bad, very beaten up. All hail the deceptive power of paint and shiny metal.
- We had a small deck that had really suffered over the past 3 winters, so I sanded and re-painted it. Cosmetically, this work transformed it from looking like an unsafe tear-down to something you might be able to live with for a decade.
That was basically it. We also hired professional cleaners, for the first time ever. They came in the week before the open house. It ran us about $300 and included carpet steaming and window washing so the place looked absolutely immaculate. I was pouring all available energy into working my soon-to-be-ex IT job and the improvements listed above, so we needed a bit of help to finish the house preparation off. No shame.
I’ll add that some people who want to make sure that their place is in perfect shape before listing reach out to a professional home inspector. They’ll take a look at your house and come up with a list of liabilities. Then, in turn, you can take that list and resolve them if you choose. Doing this can protect you from anything unexpected arising when your buyers perform an inspection of their own. (People typically demand a reduction in list price if there is significant work to be done on the property.)
Although this is a decent idea, we felt it was unnecessary because I spent the previous 6 years fixing everything in that came up in the home inspection that we had back in 2008 when we bought the place. This turned out to be a great idea, as our 2015 inspection was squeaky-clean.
Another note: It might have been better to do the bathroom improvements a few years earlier than we did. This would have allowed
us my wife to enjoy the new tile and vanities prior to selling.
Agents and Rates
Mr. Money Mustache is a fixer-up master and frugal guru. He does pretty much all of his work himself, and his wife went to the trouble of becoming an accredited agent so that she can handle RE transactions without direct personal costs.
Neither myself nor my wife were interested in going to this length. Although I think it’s a great idea, we didn’t seriously pursue this option.
Instead, like most people, we reached out to find someone to guide us through the process.
We decided to interview three different agents — one each from Redfin, Coldwell, and William Raveis. The reason we engaged Coldwell and William Raveis is because they both had local offices and area-focused expertise, i.e. they knew the local markets. If you’re selling, I recommend you do the same: Figure out the top two or three sellers of homes in your area, and call someone from their firm in to talk.
Aside: In any project you’re contracting out, from selling your home to renovating your kitchen or getting a fire-pit installed in your backyard, I strongly recommend you call in three different contractors or agents as the case may be.
This will give you an opportunity to
pit them against one another in an epic fight to the death compare costs, services, and personalities in detail.
As a seller, you’re typically going to pay both your seller’s agent rates as well as the buyer agent rate, which can be as much as 6% of the value of your home — 3% on both ends.
Nowadays, due to increased competition, most agents will drop down to 2.5%, particularly if they know that you are shopping around.
Redfin agents, though, typically charge only 1.5% on the sale side, and that 1% difference on an 800Kish home is eight thousand freaking dollars. So I *really* wanted to go with them.
But we didn’t.
Each agent gave us a neighborhood market analysis and recommended selling price. Our Redfin agent suggested a starting price of 799K, and it was clear from our conversations that he had little familiarity with our region. Both of the other agents gave us an 849K price point — an obviously huge difference — and we did achieve this target.
I was curious to understand why our Redfin agent failed so badly. And what I found was that he was asked by his employer to cover a very large area of Massachusetts, spanning 15 towns or so. So it’s understandable that he didn’t understand the specifics of our market — he was spread fairly thin over the territory. Redfin has a much better presence on the West Coast, so I have to assume that they have more agents deployed, which in turn cover smaller areas, which allows them to more accurately price homes in those specific neighborhoods.
But as you can see, they significantly undervalued our home here on the East Coast. We could have gone with Redfin anyway, of course, and asked the agent to list at 849. They’ll list at whatever price point you want, after all — it’s your home. But at this point our confidence in the agent was shattered and we decided we didn’t want him to run our open houses or manage the transaction in any way.
My guess is that if we lived in WA or CA, Redfin would have worked out just fine, because they have so many more employees devoted to those regions, allowing folks to gain expertise in more focused markets.
But again, I’m glad we interviewed three different individuals. If we’d myopically surveyed that single RF agent, simply based on the percentage cost, we could have potentially missed out on a good amount of earnings on the sale.
To be clear, I’m not recommending one firm over another or dumping on Redfin. If you’re going to take anything away from this section of the post, it’s that you should take the time to shop around, because the information that each prospective agent provides will help you to make the best possible decision for your particular situation. And that can vary quite a bit, depending on where you live and the specific folks assigned to your region.
I will also add that we asked our favorite agent to drop to 2%, citing Redfin competition as justification. They declined — and we went with them anyway.
Eh, no harm in asking. The internet tells me that sometimes they’ll actually meet this request to drop their rates, depending on the specific market you’re in and how hard-up for business they are.
Timing the Market
You can’t really time the housing market. Just like the stock market, it’s a complicated beast, tied to a whole lot of variables. It’s going to go where it wants to go, and that isn’t always where you think it’s going to go.
When we bought in 2008, home values had been dropping across the country for several years already but most analysts still felt prices could still fall a fair amount before bottoming out. (They were right.) But we pushed ahead and bought anyway, because it was the right year for us to buy. To belabor a point, we didn’t try to time the market. We had non-financial reasons behind wanting to own a home, so we executed our plans and didn’t stress about market predictions.
Then in early 2014, Mrs Doom and I decided to sell our house the following year, in 2015. And again, we made this plan independent of housing valuations in our area or worrying about whether it was the ‘optimal’ year to sell.
Instead we made a commitment to doing what we could to have the place in good shape to sell in the year we had selected, i.e. to maximize the sale price on our property for that year. We decided to have things ready to go by mid-March. This is the very beginning of the buying season, and in our region, it signals the unofficial end of winter. People start coming out of the woodwork to check out homes.
Thing is, there usually aren’t very many residences available at this time — many people are still recovering from the snow and ice and aren’t ready to list. This can be advantageous as supply (inventory) will be low — but demand is potentially high.
We managed to list ahead of most comparable homes in our neighborhood — there were only two other places in our town with similar quality and square footage. And yet our open houses were packed because of the pent-up demand, full of couples with strollers and toddlers dropping goldfish and cheerios all over the place. The crowd created a sense of urgency, resulting in a number of virtually immediate bids: We received four offers within twenty four hours of the showing. One was 3K over our 849K asking price and we took it. Our home was on the market for a grand total of 3 days.
Point is: Although you can’t time the overall market valuations for the year in which you decide to sell, you certainly can pick the most advantageous month and then prepare like hell for it. This should help you to get a bid at the higher end of the value spectrum for your soon-to-be-former residence.
The Financial Reckoning
Buckle up. It’s time to do a full cost evaluation.
We bought the place for 650K in early 2008. And we sold it for 850K in early 2015.
On the surface, it sounds like we made out like bandits. Digging a bit deeper, though, it was just OK.
I kept honest records of all of the fixes and improvements we made, and they totaled approximately 70K over that seven year span — a staggering average of over 1K a month.
This includes some work we contracted out (new exterior window and doors, wall insulation, boiler replacement, unsafe tree removal, roof reshingling, major masonry work on the front walkway, a complete home repainting, lots of other stuff, you get the idea…) as well as materials for work we did ourselves over the years. No matter how cost-conscious you are, the expenses involved in owning a home can be considerable if you’re intent on keeping your property up-to-date, energy efficient, and safe.
But it’s still not that simple.
There’s also inflation to think about. And the opportunity cost of having a lot of your money tied up in your house instead of the market. We paid 20% down on the place, which, on 650K, comes out to about 130K.
130K dumped into the S&P in 2008 would be about 210K in today’s dollars, adjusted for inflation, assuming we’d also re-invested the dividends. So we lost 70K on the opportunity cost of simply holding onto that money.
That 60K of “earnings” isn’t looking so hot now, is it?
In addition, we’re forgetting to include the cost of the real estate transaction itself. And heating costs. (Most rents in our area include heat and hot water.) And a billion other things.
And don’t forget that we spent a little over 5% of the value of our home (850K) to sell it. This works out to a staggering 43K. (Holy God…) Plus we paid some amount to buy the thing in closing costs and agent fees.
You get the idea. There are a lot of variables in play here.
To simplify the rest of this section, I decided to use the NYTimes Rent vs. Buy Calculator to give us a one-shot summary. This calculator accounts for all the variables mentioned above, and then several more — it’s quite complete.
Also keep in mind that it’s reporting in 2008 dollars because of the way it works: I plugged in numbers from my past, and it’s showing us the so-called future but using “current” (i.e. still 2008) dollars.
If you want to see my worksheet for specific values I plugged into the calculator, check out this page. I didn’t want to clutter this post up too much with ugly napkin-math. I used real values from the time-period in which we owned our home, so this is as accurate an analysis as it gets, folks.
Had we decided to rent, we probably would have secured an entire floor of a house which would have given us a similar square footage to our actual home, and in 2008 this sort of place would have run about 1600-1800, assuming we wanted to live in the same town or general area. (Similar places go for 2150-2400 in 2015 dollars.)
In summary, the rent v. buy evaluation was not exactly a wash. We essentially paid somewhere between two and four hundred dollars a month (17K to 34K over the 7 year duration) for the privilege of owning our own property instead of renting.
Pre-Pay the Mortgage or Invest?
We didn’t pre-pay. Lots of people do, saying it’s worth peace of mind to know you’re getting a guaranteed return.
I don’t agree on this point, though, especially considering the ridiculously low interest environment of late.
So my wife and I made minimum payments on our mortgage, instead investing any remaining money in the stock market.
Here are the relevant values that we’ll use for this exercise.
- Our mortgage averaged a 3.29 avg interest rate over 7 years.
- We received about 28% of that interest payment back from the mortgage interest deduction break. This made the effective interest rate closer to 2.4%.
- During the time we owned our home, the S&P 500 returned 7.1% inflation adjusted, div reinvested return.
My wife and I are hard-core savers and investors. After maxing out our 401(k) and IRA contributions, we dumped all remaining money from our paychecks into our taxable retirement accounts. This typically averaged over 2K a month each — minimum 4K.
So let’s work with that 4K figure.
Pushing 4K/mo into the S&P 500 over those seven years would result in a total of 433K — of which an astonishing 97K (22% !!) would be market return.
On the other hand, pre-paying our mortgage by 4K extra every month would have resulted in a savings of nearly 30K in interest over the same duration.
That difference — 67K — is not exactly chump change. And the difference between the two options will tend to grow larger a) the longer you stay in the home and b) the more you are investing every month.
It’s even more pronounced if you are neglecting to max out your tax-advantaged retirement accounts each year (18K in 2016) because you prefer to instead have more post-tax money available to pay down your mortgage.
I’ll be clear on this point: If you are guilty of this decision, you should change your behavior and max your retirement accounts (both 401K and IRA) prior to engaging in any kind of pre-payment activities. In this case, it’s not even close to a fair fight because of the tax-savings on your investment dollars.
I’m not saying that pre-paying is always a bad idea. There are some factors that make the decision less cut and dry. Maybe mortgage rates are very high, or you need a fully paid off residence in retirement because otherwise the thought of the debt will tear you apart on a daily basis, turning you into a sleep-deprived bucket of nerves.
But history tells us that the odds are significantly in your favor that you’ll do better financially with that money working for you in the market instead of being all cooped up in your house. Would a farmer lock his hardest working children in the barn milking cows when they could instead be throwing their backs into pitching hay?
Of course not. And you probably shouldn’t, either.
Was Ownership Worth It?
In a word: Yes.
We enjoyed our time in the home and it (ownership) gave us an opportunity to learn all sorts of new skills. Owning can also potentially give you a level of privacy/autonomy that is tough to match in a rental unit. There’s also the wonderful predictability of monthly payments, plus the stability and peace of mind that comes with knowing you don’t have a crazy landlord that can kick you out on a whim or stop by for an unannounced visit.
But on the other hand, in addition to the increased financial cost, we also put hundreds of hours of our lives into upkeep over the years. If you enjoy this sort of work (we generally did) these hours of activity are another perk — if not, they represent an extra price to owning.
I do find it incredible that even though we did very well with the sale of our home, it still would have been cheaper to rent. Here I’ll insert a reminder for anyone considering a home purchase to read JLCollinsNH’s excellent Why Your House is a Terrible Investment.
Because it pretty much is. If you’re going to buy, I strongly recommend you have reasons other than pure (speculative) financial motivations, or you’ll likely wind up bitter by the end of it all. I can’t tell you how many friends around my age have already lamented the purchase of a home because the dollar side of things went badly. (One guy lost close to 200K in the housing market crash… it took him years to recover from it, despite being a high earner… ugggggh..)
The Decision to Become Renters
As you can see from the financial analysis above, there are a large number of sizable up-front costs when making any real estate transaction. This makes it risky to buy a place if you’re uncertain whether you can stay there an absolute minimum of 5-7 years. (10+ is better…) The longer you stay in a place, the less those initial expenses matter as they amortize over the duration.
We knew that we wanted to move closer to my wife’s sister so we could more easily see our nephews. Thing is, we had — and still have — open questions about our longer-term plans. The new location itself is fine but the main unknown is: Would we prefer to live someone else after the nephews are a bit older? They’re 11 and 9 right now, and basic rules governing human behavior tell me that they’re not going to care a whole lot about us in another five years when they’re firmly in their teenage years.
Given this bit of uncertainty, and the high probability that we’ll discover powerful reasons to move somewhere else as the years go by, it didn’t make sense to jump right into home ownership again. I’m sure we’ll own again someday, but this isn’t the right time.
We found a great 3BR unit at $1900/mo with heat and hot water included. It’s about 1200 sq. feet — an absolute abundance of space for just the two of us — and it’s acceptably updated. Not super fancy, but not a dump either — somewhere right in between. And of course there’s no condo fees, landscaping expenses, or other upkeep of any sort required. We also no longer live in a neighborhood with insanely inflated home prices or rents.
Given the costs involved in keeping our former home, this winds up being a great deal by comparison.
And if/when things change, it’ll be very easy to up-and-move again.
Renting Without a Job
Most renting agencies require ‘proof of employment’ in order to accept you as a tenant.
Although my wife was still working at the time that we signed our lease — meaning: we could have used her employer to satisfy this criteria — I decided to see what would happen if I told them I was temporarily unemployed.
So I said: Since I’m not working, I can’t show a paystub. However, my financial footing is extremely solid. Can you work with me on this?
This triggered a very different discussion. The property manager had a separate set of rules to cover scenarios where people weren’t working, were retired, or had irregular income.
They initially asked for proof-of-assets. I asked what they were looking for and the first response was “everything.” I took this to mean checking account balances, retirement accounts, and any other investment income or properties we owned.
But there was no way that I was going to simply disclose my full asset sheet. This is a safety/security/privacy issue in my book.
So I turned it around and just asked point-blank: What’s the minimum requirement? I’ll show you I can meet whatever that is.
They said: Our policy is you must have 40K in a checking account. They then added that they’d consider 10% of retirement accounts as liquid. (This means I could have alternately showed them that I had 400K in a 401(k) account.) The property manager also said they might make a special case for us if we had unusual income streams.
My wife and I agreed that we didn’t want to share any more details of our financial holdings than absolutely necessary. So we found ourselves simply transferring that 40K into a checking account, and getting the balances printed out by our bank.
Point of this is: If you’ve retired, you can, in most cases, secure an apartment without a current pay-stub. When apartment complexes say that a pay-stub is a requirement, they’re really just stating their preference. In truth, alternate paths to acceptance exist.
So engage your prospective landlord head-on, give them some skeletal details about your situation and ask what they need to see. In most cases you’ll be able to work something out.
What To Do With The Check
Being that we had 20% down on the house (130K), and there was some principal accrued on the mortgage(70K or so), plus the sale price was 200K over the purchase, we ended up getting a fat check.
This forced us to think about what to do with a huge lump sum of cash.
Luckily, there are really only
three two completely non-stupid options.
- Immediately Putting it to work in your investment vehicles, whatever they may be.
- Dollar Cost Averaging (DCA’ing if you’re hip) it over time
Going all in on GOLD! GOLD, I tells ya! Prepare for the coming apocalypse!
In our case, investment vehicles = stock and bond markets. For others it might be a new rental property or dumping funds into your personal business.
I was tempted to DCA it because I still believe market valuations are high.
But I didn’t. Instead I took a deep breath, consulted my asset allocation, and dumped it all into my index funds — all the while repeating to myself you can’t time the market, you can’t time the market, you can’t time the market.
Because you can’t. It’s best to simply stick to your previously defined strategy, adding the new cash to your current mix of investments in the same proportions.
I will acknowledge that the all-in approach isn’t the right choice for everyone. If you’re faced with a similar decision, consider reading Rick Ferri’s guidelines for investing a lump sum. Or Mr. Money Mustache’s article on the same topic. They both conclude that it’s generally better to push it all into the market, although there are exceptions to this guidance.
The big caveat is if this lump sum represents a very significant portion of your net worth — Ferri suggests that if it’s over 20%, you should consider pushing it into the market incrementally, perhaps 8% a month over no more than a year.
The three most compelling points that convinced me to ultimately dump everything into the market at once in the market were:
1) 200K (my half of the 400K payout) only represents about 23% of my NW at this point — only very slightly over the 20% mark noted by Ferri and
2) I don’t really need this money any time soon as I had enough for early retirement even without it, making the investing time-horizon for these funds fairly long plus
3) I’m a lazy investor and I don’t want to have to potentially re-evaluate this decision every single month.
Most people experience some amount of anxiety moving large sums of money around because it feels that there is a lot at stake and, as rational as I am most of the time, this emotion shines through for me, too. So I figured: Reducing the number of transactions involved in routing these funds into the market should also result in lower levels of personal stress overall.
If you are going to go the DCA route, consider reading this article which makes a strong case for pushing the full lump sum amount into the market over the course of no more than a year. It’s fairly technical and actually helped to underscore just how little insurance DCA’ing typically provides.
Emotional Aspects of Downsizing
It’s tough to leave a place when you’ve been there for a while.
It’s even tougher when you have a lot of fond memories stored up, from the chaos of full-scale family gatherings to quiet rainy days spent reading with your SO on the couch. It’s a well-known truth that people get attached to their homes.
I’ve concluded that having a good reason to depart is fairly important, or you’re going to feel like you’re losing something substantial without anything new coming in to replace it.
We solved this problem by moving closer to my wife’s family. So although we miss our old place sometimes, we have this wonderful new world around us, one in which we can see the people we care the most about much more often. It’s been a good trade, and one that we would make again in a heartbeat.
I realized that — somewhat to my surprise — if we moved purely for financial reasons that it wouldn’t have been so great.
The thing is, we lived in that home together for seven years. It’s the longest I’ve lived anywhere in my life. I moved every single year in my (unstable) teenage years, then again in college. Then I moved some more in my 20s as I chased lower rents and higher paying jobs.
So it was this huge relief to finally stop moving every year or two. And it follows that I came to associate the property with stability, with comfort, and, yes, even bits of my identity. I worked on the place: I maintained and improved it. I poured parts of myself into it.
And I’m saying that last bit literally: Some of my genetic material is, no doubt, stored away in paint and grout and concrete.
We did the following to ease the transition.
- We stopped calling our move “downsizing.” Downsizing implies moving backward, or losing something. People typically downsize when they lose their jobs, get sick, or worse; Downsizing is a total fucking downer. So, instead we began to refer to our change of residence as rightsizing and relocating. (Yeah, cheesy, I know, but we stuck with this term and it does feel nicer and more accurate.)
- We focused on the positives of the move: Increased proximity to family, zero time required to maintain the property, greater freedom to shift around in the future, and yes, also improved financial flexibility. And in the case of the financial component, we decided to earmark some of that financial flexibility for an upcoming trip abroad, i.e. we made that savings represent something real instead of a few measly extra coins on top of an already sufficient net worth.
- On the subject of positives, I have to say, renting is a lot more convenient than owning. We have less housework to do by half. I no longer worry about how “old” certain things are and when it might be time to investigate replacing things like our shifty deck in the backyard. This has been unexpectedly awesome for me — I feared I might miss things like landscaping or having my own lawn, but it’s been completely awesome so far. Just less to worry about.
- The two months prior to the closing date of the house, we said goodbye to our neighborhood. I took a whole slew of pictures of the home and our surroundings. We ate out at local restaurants and wished the owners well. We toured the local folk art museum that we couldn’t be bothered to visit prior.
You get the idea. The farewell tour helped. But it’s still tough to say goodbye. There will come a moment in the sale process when moving is no longer some abstract thing and the reality of the situation hits home.
It came for me in the middle of May after I’d completed the final mow of the grass prior to the closing date. I was all sweaty and lathered up because I push our people-powered mower up a steeply graded back-yard like a champ. At the end of the job, I found myself sitting on the steps leading to the front door of my house, half-resting, half-staring at the upscale houses of my neighbors — houses with perfectly trimmed lawns and multiple SUVs and owners who were falling over one another to maintain pace with one another. One of them (a couple close to my age with one child) had recently performed a very public same-street upsize, proudly moving a mere block down in order to secure a place with an extra 2K square feet.
And that’s when the reality of everything really settled in.
It’s over — our time here is really, finally over. I’ll have to find new streets to run around, I thought. New routes and patterns and new neighbors and new things to do to keep me busy and new adjustments to whatever the hell else that comes along. Things will never be the same.
It came for my wife when we unloaded her circular pine kitchen table on some craigslist buyers, complete with three cottage-y looking chairs standing on spindly white legs.
I bought that for my first apartment fifteen years ago, she said, overcome.
Want to put it in storage? I asked.
No, that’s just stupid, I don’t want to spend money to keep something we don’t need and isn’t worth anything. Just give me a minute, it’s fine, it’s O.K.
These moments pass. They can be uncomfortable and difficult — but also beautiful. It’s a time to momentarily look back, to cherish what you’ve had before again angling your face toward the brightness of the future.
And those nostalgic thoughts spinning around inside of our heads — the ones that said that things will never be the same — well, they turned out to be absolutely true.
Because they’re getting better all the time.