New house, big anxiety
August 5, 2022 11:15 AM   Subscribe

I just bought a house, and for a variety of reasons, I'm starting to feel like I can't handle moving in right away. Can/should I keep my apartment and rent out the new place for a while until I'm ready?

At the start of 2021, I separated from my husband, and since then I've been living with my two kids (now 3 and 6) in a small but sweet apartment that has sheltered us well.

The plan was always for me to buy a house eventually. This summer, spurred on by a combination of opportunity (a right-sized house for sale in a neighborhood I like) and fear (interest rates rising, low housing inventory, a possible recession), I jumped on it. Our housing market in my city is frothy right now, and things moved fast: in hindsight, maybe too fast. I like the new house, but I don't love it. It needs some upgrades, but even with them, I'm not sure it will ever be love.

I'm also about to return for my second year working as a teacher in an independent high school. I am glad to be going back, but I found the job really difficult and fairly stressful last year, and I think it will be challenging again. Between resuming the job at summer's end, and the work of single-mothering two small kids, the idea of settling in to a new place, learning new routines, getting new stuff . . . it's suddenly extremely unappealing.

I've been in a dark place of anxiety and sometimes panic lately, since buying the house. My sleep, appetite, and everything are all out of whack. Sometimes when I lie in bed and can't sleep, I fantasize about telling my landlords that I'll actually keep my apartment through the end of my lease (it runs through May, 2023, and I could likely get a couple months beyond that), and calling up a property management agency to have them rent out the new place.

Some details:

1. Using a property manager to rent the property would probably cover the mortgage and maybe net me a few hundred dollars a month of profit.

2. The new house is old and doesn't strike me as an ideal investment for a rental (it's been remodeled, but still has some funky stuff, like a dehumidifier in the basement that has to run constantly). But it's in a desirable neighborhood in a good school district, and I'm sure it would attract renters.

3. The kids and I are a bit crowded in the apartment, but I'm sure we would be OK here for one more school year.

4. Come next summer, I could decide whether to move into the house I've bought, or keep it as a rental. I'm expecting a financial windfall that might make it possible to buy a second house and never even move into the one I have just bought.

5. My mortgage was not a rental mortgage, it was the kind that specifies that I will live in the house. But when I asked my real estate agent about the possibility of renting the place out, she said I could likely do whatever I wanted.

6. I probably have to make this decision by the end of the weekend, if not sooner, because my landlord is going to rent this property otherwise.

Crazy? Maybe. But aside from the weirdness of going all in on a plan and then backing away from it, is this a feasible idea? When I think of staying in my apartment, I feel a sweet relief.

What do you think?
posted by toomuchkatherine to Home & Garden (27 answers total)
Do I think you're considering the house a source of anxiety in a way that isn't exactly logical? Maybe. But that doesn't really matter. You're unhappy/unsure. And it sounds like you have a workable plan to punt this decision for at least a year, and you'd kind of looking for folks to give you permission to use that plan. Do it, if you want.

I mean, if the math checks out with the property manager, why not? Do the thing you're more comfortable with and re-evaluate later. Cut yourself a break.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:24 AM on August 5 [1 favorite]

I've been in a dark place of anxiety and sometimes panic lately, since buying the house. My sleep, appetite, and everything are all out of whack.

I am in almost exactly the same place and I am here to tell you that I don't think your anxiety is going to ever think it's a good (or better) time to move because moving is stressful and your anxious brain is just like NONONONO.

Basically my situation is eerily similar: had to move because my landlady died (could have stayed on, but with some uncertainty as to how long), market here is crazy, got a not-quite-right-sized house offer from a friend (it's a little too big, price was right) in my favorite neighborhood, absolutely feel in my bones it's the WRONG idea (which, no one but me thinks, so I suspect it's the anxiety talking) and have also been daydreaming about just staying here.

I think both of your choices are fine, but I have to ask: are you getting treatment for your anxiety? Because if not you'll probably have this same dilemma a year from now and likely be no further along in decision-making. I decided, for me, the "rip the band-aid off" plan was good because then I could spend my time and attention getting settled and trying out my new house. If it's a disaster, I have options, but otherwise it's just going to be the unknown monster in the closet.

So in general: I support either decision for you. I do think you've had a WALL OF STRESSORS and it might be nice to be in a new place, with more space for you and the kids, and tell your anxiety to shut up for a while. But you know your own head so it's important to make the decision that is right for you.
posted by jessamyn at 11:30 AM on August 5 [26 favorites]

I moved from an apartment to a house in 2020. I didn't do a single damn thing right away, basically just plunked all my exact same stuff into a new space, and lived my life. Bought a piece of furniture here or there as the needs arose. Took me almost a full year before I bothered to paint, and even then it was only two walls. Took another year after that before I painted another wall.

So many things got easier (more space, letting the dogs out to use the yard, parking, laundry, dishes). Only two things got harder (have to maintain my tiny lawn and shovel 25 of sidewalk in the winter).

Not a single thing has to change except for your location, if you don't want it to. Moving doesn't have to be a big THING. You can just let yourself be.
posted by phunniemee at 11:32 AM on August 5 [14 favorites]

There's a lot of "probablys" in your description that I personally would be very uncomfortable with, but that's to do with my particular anxiety cocktail. I fully sympathize with the stress of moving and complicated after-the-fact feelings about major life-changing purchases. I think jessamyn has good advice about treating your anxiety so that if you do decide to delay, you won't find yourself in this position when your next deadline hits, because that deadline will still involve stressors and major life changes and complicated feelings.
posted by EvaDestruction at 11:38 AM on August 5

There's no moral issue with changing your mind, but do check into the mortgage and the insurance situation if you are going to convert to a rental property. Your insurance and property taxes will likely go up if it's not your primary residence, and you might be better off establishing an LLC and "selling" the house to the LLC in order to shield your own assets from the rental property business.
posted by mccxxiii at 11:42 AM on August 5 [9 favorites]

Moving is hard. It’s stressful. I think maybe it’s running your choices right now through your anxiety. If it’s possible to hire movers to pack everything up and unpack it all in the new place, I think you should consider it. A new school year will have new routines no matter where you are living - you know this to be true - so you may as well establish those in your new home. Don’t let your anxiety hold off your future.
posted by Bottlecap at 11:42 AM on August 5 [4 favorites]

If the house is in a community with an HOA or other other homeowner authority they likely have limitations on how many properties can be rentals, so that's something to consider as well.
posted by Medieval Maven at 11:47 AM on August 5

There's a small but very real chance that any tenant can turn out to be a nightmare tenant and things like evictions can take many months, depending on your local laws. Unless you can afford to pay for both the apartment and house for an extended period of time (and possibly repairs if they trash the place), I would not take on that type of risk.
posted by Candleman at 11:57 AM on August 5 [16 favorites]

I would also urge you to consider that renting it out, even with a proper manager, could create a whole host of new host of stress.

If doable I would delay making a decision for as long as possible while treating the underlying anxiety.

Good luck!
posted by Amy93 at 11:58 AM on August 5 [9 favorites]

Every thing I've ever bought in my life that was expensive has been a huge build-up and lots of planning, and then a period of letdown when I didn't use or touch it, followed by real excitement as I got into it.
I'm sure this is the same. Don't complicate things further and get stuck.
Dive in and it'll be great. The first few days in my old, strange hose were some of the best times I've ever had. Messy, crowded, chaotic, and fantastic.
posted by AugustusCrunch at 12:05 PM on August 5 [6 favorites]

There are so many things that could go wrong with renting out your new place. I think you should just splurge on movers who will do all the work, and then give yourself permission to make no improvements for quite a while at the new place. If things are going well in your apartment now, your same furniture, kitchen items, etc. will work fine with just a bunch more empty space around them. Let it stay ostentatiously empty.
posted by nobody at 12:20 PM on August 5 [15 favorites]

One thing to consider, it might be difficult to find a renter for a house who knew they would possibly have to move again in one year, unless it's a student or something. I tend to think of most house renters as families.

Also I agree with everyone above -- I was a renter until 2017, and when we bought, the realtor said "I can't wait to see how your place looks once you're all settled in!" I told her it would look exactly the same, except with a little bit of furniture. We never painted and have no plans to. Just because it's a house doesn't mean it has to be some big thing where every inch of space screams toomuchkatherine -- bring over your apartment furniture, hang up whatever you have hanging up on your walls currently, and fix things up as you have the time/energy to do so.
posted by jabes at 12:30 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]

When people bring up the similar issue on personal finance boards about "just" keeping and renting out an old house when they move somewhere new, a really revealing question is: If you had the opportunity, would you buy this place just to become a landlord?

I think you are really minimizing the stress of being a landlord even with the use of a property manager. It is certainly not just collecting a check at the end of the month. It is: lots of little things to get the place ready, interviewing PMs, tortuous decisions about accepting the right tenant, then they move in and have a bunch of move-in fix requests, ongoing fix requests (the PM just passes these along to you. YOU have to decide whether you'll change the light bulbs for them, or buy them a new stove because a knob doesn't turn right, or extend their lease until the middle o january), ongoing things. This is describing a case of things going well, with tenants who do pay rent on time; sometimes they don't, and you need to add a lawyer to all that. And this is on top of the underlying stress of giving your biggest financial asset to someone else and hoping they'll be nice to it.

Weighing your different stressors, I'd strongly urge you to rip this bandaid off.
posted by Dashy at 12:52 PM on August 5 [28 favorites]

Change is hard. Can you take the next 24 hours as a project to only think positively about moving, just as an experiment? Write down the good things not just about the place, but about the life you will be living in it? And when the negative thoughts come, just inform them that they have been well-documented and then counter them with a positive thought.

I think you should move into the house you bought. It doesn't need to be perfect, and if you spend the next year kinda stuck in the immediate-post-move state, that's okay! I would assume you have enough furniture and supplies for the three of you to sit, sleep, eat, play, and not be naked in public - and that is entirely sufficient! It'll give you time to get to really know the place before you commit to larger purchases - just order anything super pressing from IKEA or Target or whatever.

I promise you will not find being a landlord any less anxiety-producing. You still have the entire property to worry about something happening to it. Even with a property manager, you're not entirely insulated from other people's terrible personalities, habits, and friends.

I think in most states you need to hold onto the place for two years, or maybe five, to not run into tax pains if you sell it again. That's enough time to decide if you want to stay there any longer.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:13 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]

1. Using a property manager to rent the property would probably cover the mortgage and maybe net me a few hundred dollars a month of profit.

Perhaps consider : cover the mortgage but limit the profit? The rental market is not tracking the housing market. It’s getting harder for renters to find places with reasonable rents, due at least in part to our culture of real estate being seen not for housing but for magic wealth creation.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 1:35 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]

Being a landlord is more stressful than moving by a long shot. Having a property manager may help but there will still be issues that come up - broken things, leaks, etc. Yard work. All kinds of things. I'd take the money you would put into advertising and getting it ready to rent and hire packers/movers and move.
posted by warriorqueen at 1:46 PM on August 5 [10 favorites]

I would definitely look at your mortgage in regard to whether you can rent it and not take your realtor's breezy assurance as truth.

I think you're underestimating the hassle of renting the place out and the potential downsides. You're treating it like you're shoving the decision into stasis for a year, but you will have decisions to make about maintaining the property, rent, which property manager, etc. You don't have to love your house. It just has to be good enough, like your apartment is. It sounds like it's nicer than your apartment, so just move.
posted by momus_window at 2:11 PM on August 5 [5 favorites]

Perhaps consider : cover the mortgage but limit the profit? The rental market is not tracking the housing market. It’s getting harder for renters to find places with reasonable rents, due at least in part to our culture of real estate being seen not for housing but for magic wealth creation.

There are tax implications to this, if you do go this route. A good accountant will have all the details, but in general if you rent out your property for under market rate you may not be able to write off a good chunk of the housing expenses you normally could. We, uh, we once found this out the hard way. It's brutally unfair.
posted by mochapickle at 2:32 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]

I'm not going to make any guesses as to whether it will cause any problems in practice, but renting out a house purchased under a "primary residence" mortgage is almost certainly not allowed, and real estate agents are generally very poor advisors on legal matters. It's up to you whether the risk is worth it or not, but I don't think "you can do whatever you want" is the right characterization of the situation.
posted by primethyme at 2:48 PM on August 5 [4 favorites]

In addition to finessing the mortgage question, you'd need to change your house insurance (since you won't be living there yourself); you would need to talk to your insurance agent to know if that is going to have a large cost difference or not.

As much as moving sucks, renting out the place is more stressful, honestly. I was only in that position once, and even though things worked out great (dream tenants, no issues, etc.) I learned that I hated the stress of dealing with it, and hated being on that side of an economic relationship. (Also, don't discount the potential costs of repairs and upkeep; even the best tenant will cause some wear and tear. If you just barely cover your mortgage, the funds for repairs and maintenance will still need to come from somewhere.)

These are all practical pluses and minuses, but frankly I think the people commenting above that this is more about anxiety are spot on. That is the elephant in the room, and the practical issues of how to go about things are secondary.
posted by Dip Flash at 2:57 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]

I know it seems less stressful not to move, but finding a property manager that you trust who can rent it for the time and amount you want is going to be complicated. I'm guessing that doesn't seem like a hurdle because you haven't looked into it yet? And sometime during the year, something big might break and you'll have to make more decisions. You'll be dealing with two properties, even if they are both officially managed by others.

I'm going to take a big step back and ask if you feel a bit stuck because moving into this new house makes the whole situation feel more permanent and final? You all had a lot of disruption in your lives in the past year and a half, and I get that staying put feels safer. I am also going to guess that your apartment wasn't a dream space when you rented, but you've made it work. You'll also make the new house work. You will love it not because of the physical structure, but because it's where your kids will spend at least the next few years, growing and making memories. They will have more room than in your cramped apartment. You like the neighborhood and you will love your children in this house, and that's what will make you love the house.

My old house is a mess, partly renovated in some spaces and not in others, and I'm always worried something is going to happen that I'll have to deal with it. But it's my kids' home, and it will always be where they grew up, and that's worth a lot. It's time for you all to have a bit more stability. Don't keep putting off this decision.

It's time to move on and settle into your new life. I think you made a good decision. We don't buy houses because we love them. We buy them to provide a more permanent shelter for the children we love.
posted by bluedaisy at 3:05 PM on August 5 [6 favorites]

Another vote that being responsible for two different properties (living in the apartment, keeping abreast of what's going on in the house) will likely be even more stressful than moving. I had entire rooms that I left unpacked boxes in for a whole year after I moved; as people said above, just get your basics set up in the new house and everything else can wait.
posted by TwoStride at 5:14 PM on August 5

I would ask a close friend (or relative) to come stay with me and the kids in the new house for the first week. Even if the person lived nearby.
posted by Iris Gambol at 5:16 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]

+1 that this is likely not allowed with your mortgage / insurance. Our closing and loans and insurance required SO many acknowledgements that it was to be our primary residence and not an income property or second residence.

The solution to this is proper support for your anxiety so you can make a clear plan with all the proper information.
posted by Crystalinne at 5:35 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]

Anxiety makes my decisions for me, a lot of the time: faced with a choice of two stressful options, the factor with the heaviest weight is which of the two is likely to cause me the more stress. I would find it more stressful to be a landlord than to move house, so in this case, I would move.

+1 ask a friend or relative to keep you company for the first little bit. I find it helps a lot.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 12:42 AM on August 6

Moving is AWFUL. SO hard, and having done it with little kids underfoot feels like TOO much. But, if you get full service movers, who pack you and move you, it becomes so much easier. They literally do all the work that you are dreading. They pack up your canned good, your laundry baskets, your closets. If you do that, you can be moved in fairly painlessly, and ease into the new house and settle in. SO WORTH IT.
posted by mmf at 12:09 PM on August 6 [2 favorites]

I think for many people considering moving, the idea of suddenly not having to move is extremely appealing. It would be for me, definitely. Even when I was super excited about moving from our wonderful apartment (that I had lived in longer than any place except my childhood home) into the craftsman house we bought with a garden and clawfoot tub and other things I'd long wanted, the thought of moving depressed me. I'd start trying to pack and suddenly feel headachey and lethargic. Going through my stuff was a big psychic weight. I loved the neighborhood we were in, knew most of my apartment neighbors- it was extremely hard to imagine myself in the new house. And it took a long time for this house to feel like home. But I didn't have much choice at the time, and it turns out we've been able to do all the things I was thinking of when we were house shopping. We have more space, fruit trees in the yard, a dining room for dinner parties or putting together jigsaw puzzles, no one living above us. We have a spare room for friends or family, a large kitchen, and great neighbors. There are still projects we have never done. I can't imagine what our life would have been like if we hadn't moved here.

It's hard to leave a place that feels safe and comforting. But you had good reasons for buying and for making the choice that you did. Try and keep all those thoughts foremost. It sounds like this weekend is a big step- the "no going back" moment. Like you wrote, this new house has a lot going for it. It really sounds like it's time to tell your fantastic apartment "thank you for taking care of us" and take the next step.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:33 PM on August 6 [3 favorites]

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