A woman in her late 50s was extremely distraught after her husband left her on their 25th anniversary. In the wake of the breakup, she become sole owner of their handsome Tudor house in a posh Minneapolis suburb. But instead of holding onto the appreciating asset, she immediately sold it in "as is" condition for a sacrificial price -- a move she soon came to regret.
As this true story illustrates, making hasty financial decisions after a relationship breakup can be a poor idea. Whether a newly single mom like the Minneapolis homemaker should hang onto a property or sell depends on many factors. But financial advisers urge those in her position to wait for emotional calm before making any major move.
"There are many moving parts to this decision, so definitely take it seriously," says Bojana Rovchanin, a chartered financial analyst who specializes in helping clients navigating through divorce.
Of course, not everyone who owns a home post-divorce can afford to take a lengthy time pondering the pros and cons of selling. For financial reasons they must liquidate promptly. But those with options are well advised to reason their way through this complex matter and spend at least one year charting their best course of action.
Connie Cusick, a life coach and small business consultant, says many newly divorced women choose to hold onto the big family house because it feels safe. Yet ultimately, moving helps them redefine and expand their lives in positive ways.
After selling the family home, Cusick says many women of middle age feel liberated to explore interests that have been dormant for years.
Mark Nash, a longtime real estate broker and author of "1001 Tips for Buying and Selling a Home," tells the true story of his mother, a long-time homemaker who became single soon after all three of her children left home for college.
"Only after she sold our family's 2,200-square-foot house and bought another place half that size did she have the freedom to discover a lifestyle beyond her homemaker role. She became a competitive bridge player," Nash says.
Though selling the family home is the best choice for many single women who've become empty nesters, it's not the right plan for all.
"Occasionally, someone who sells and moves feels they've gone through a big psychological setback. They feel like they've lost their sense of place and never seem to recover from that loss," Nash says.
Here are a few pointers for newly single women debating whether to sell a family home:
-- First wrestle with the financial issues around your decision.
Nash recommends that anyone facing a major money decision such as whether to sell a house should consult a trusted financial planner or accountant before going forward.
"Everyone needs a reality check on their money. You need an impartial observer to help you make a careful assessment of your whole financial situation and analyze your alternatives," Nash says.
Before you visit your adviser's office, Nash encourages you to spend time with your checkbook and credit card statements to determine exactly how much your house is costing you.
"Many people greatly underestimate what they're spending on home upkeep, household services and furnishings," Nash says.
-- Look at the big picture before considering any major housing move.
Often, people see their real estate choices in isolation from the larger issues of their lives, says Michael Knight, a financial planner affiliated with the Garrett Planning Network. But he says all major financial decisions should be made with your lifestyle preferences in mind.
Assuming you're one of those fortunate enough to have financial options, to whom should you turn to help formulate your plans? Sometimes, a real estate agent who's willing to listen to your story, (and won't push you to sell), is a better adviser than a close friend or family member, Nash says.
"The people closest to you aren't always the most objective. If you don't feel comfortable talking to a real estate agent, consider talking through your personal plans with a therapist or life coach," he says.
-- Proceed gradually with your action plan.
Nash, like many veterans of the real estate business, knows it can be a mistake to hurry into a home sale soon after a life-changing event. For many women, this is an especially traumatic period if it occurs around the time when their children have left the nest for college or other endeavors.
"When the last child leaves home, some mothers go through a personal crisis that can cloud their judgment," Nash says.
He advises those going through any major life transition to wait as long as it takes to make a decision that they know they will be comfortable with.
"If time allows, delay any big housing move until your gut and pocketbook tell you the time is absolutely right," Nash says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at email@example.com.)