Imagine the day. You’re divorced. You’ve sold the house you live in and divided up the equity. Maybe you have some 401(k) money as well. What do you do now?
Many, many people immediately buy a new home to start their new life as a single person. They sink all the money they got in the divorce into the down payment for this now home, thinking it’s a good investment.
Is this a good idea? When should you buy a home after divorce?
There’s no hard-and-fast answer to these questions, although I have a few thoughts you might take in to consideration when thinking about buying a new home after divorce.
First, divorce is emotionally, physically, and spiritually draining. People need time to recover. Take that time and contemplate how you want things to be and what you want your life to look like. My point is this: don’t rush in to things too quickly after divorce — this goes for homes just as much as it goes for relationships.
Second, buying a home immediately after divorce is almost always a knee-jerk emotional decision. You want to move on, which is great, but you want to make sure you buy the right home for you and your kids. That takes time, so take the time.
Third, sinking all the money you got from the divorce settlement in a home is usually not a wise money decision. The case of George Washington is a great example. Washington was worth — depending on how you calculate things — somewhere around $500 million to $1 billion. Yet, he sometimes had to borrow money to travel. Why? Because almost all of his wealth was tied up in property. He was land rich and money poor. If you have all your post-divorce money tied up in a home, it will seriously limit your options and make life harder.
Fourth, if you do decide to buy a home soon after divorce, only buy it if it feels perfect. Think about it as if you were buying clothes. You should only buy clothes if they feel perfect on you when you put them on the first time. If they don’t feel perfect then, they will only feel more and more imperfect later on. Same with a home. Only buy it if you are certain it meets all your needs and your kids’ needs. It’s in the right location. It’s the right size. It doesn’t require much maintenance. It has the right look. If it feels even a little off, don’t buy it. Hold off until you’ve had some more time to think through things.
My Rule of Thumb
What I usually tell clients is not to buy a home until at least six months after the divorce is finalized.
Six months gives you time to think and recover. It gives you time to really scope out where you want to live and what type of home you want. It also gives you a better idea of what you can afford now that you have all sorts of adjusted costs now that you have a new household.
So, for the first six months, find a good apartment or condo to rent. Then, start looking for your new home.
In the end, you’ll be glad you took time and made a good, thoughtful choice.