What do you do when the right choice isn't obvious?
Earlier this month, I said that my husband Jake and I had reached the last straw with regard to our current place. Accordingly, we looked at a bunch of rentals. We anticipated that this was going to be a challenging process because Jake and I value different things in homes. Pretty much all I care about is a short commute to work and a decent kitchen.
Jake, on the other hand, wanted a freestanding house with a garage, as big and as new as possible. He also wanted to be in a particular neighborhood that I felt was too far from my work. However, eventually we found what seemed like the perfect compromise. We filled out the rental application, got approved, and put down the earnest money.
Then Jake said, “I'm not sure I want to move right now, and I'm not sure about this place specifically.”
What changed? I was frustrated. Though we could easily afford the new place and it was still only 7.5 miles from my work, I had agreed to go above my preferred budget and increase my commute to give him what he wanted. Now he was saying we should stay in our current, crappy place?
Two and a half years ago, Jake was miserable at the place he was working. His firm's rules stifled his ability to do a good job on the cases he was assigned. He was prevented from seeking out his own clients, so he didn't have any autonomy.
The job was also having an effect on his health. He wasn't sleeping. He'd been to the hospital for stress-related conditions. Heart problems also run in his family, and he was afraid of the long-term effects of being tired and angry all the time. So Jake left to start his own firm.
While there are things he absolutely loves about running his own business, it turns out it's not any less stressful. It's just a different kind of stress. When you work for yourself, your income can be quite irregular. When you change careers, the grass isn't always greener.
This summer, he ended up taking some time off when his grandfather died, and the week he got back we had to put our cat down. His income runs about two to three months behind the work he does, so by September/October, he was really hitting the financial ropes. Then he got an email from a recruiter asking if he'd ever considered getting bought out by a larger firm. It wasn't something he had considered, but he agreed to set up a few meetings.
The breakthrough and the concerns
The week after we put down the earnest money on our potential new rental, Jake got a job offer. It would triple his income and give him all the autonomy he was lacking at his previous firm job. However, it would also be an hour's commute for him if we rented the place we'd found.
While he doesn't mind commuting as much as I do, he thinks that's too far. And I understand not wanting to commute. It's why we live where we do now (3 miles from my work, 15 feet from his spare bedroom/office).
Then we also started having concerns about the place we were planning to rent. When we first looked at the house, Jake noticed a hole in the roof. It was a pretty small hole and looked to him like an easy patch job. When I dropped off the earnest money, I mentioned to the property manager that it would be easiest to have it fixed before our move-in date (December 1). She said she'd contact the owner, put in a work order, and update me on the progress.
We never heard from her again, and Phoenix recently had a record-breaking rainstorm. (And yes, our current condo has been dripping for days.) While 2.42 inches over 3 days may not sound like a lot to the rest of you, that's the second wettest November storm on record here! Since water damage is one of our primary complaints about our current place, we're a bit nervous. If there's still a hole in the roof of our potential new rental…
In addition, we didn't feel comfortable giving notice to our current landlord until we had seen the new lease. The property manager finally got back to us yesterday, after nearly two weeks of complete radio silence, and wants us to sign the lease tomorrow. We're feeling rushed and unheard. Is this the service we can expect to receive if we go ahead with the rental?
Should we keep our options open?
Another one of the (many) reasons we wanted to move was because our current condo is in foreclosure and scheduled to be auctioned off via Trustee's Sale on New Year's Eve. However, after calming down a bit, we're not feeling especially pressured by that. First, our landlord tells us she intends to redeem the property.
Even if the property isn't redeemed by our landlord, under the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act (PTFA), we'd have 90 days after the auction before we'd be required to vacate. In addition, new owners will often pay tenants to move out before their required time. This is often called “cash for keys.” We have a friend whose rental was foreclosed on, and he was able to live in the house for several months rent-free before the new owner offered him $3,000 to vacate!
Jake's current job offer isn't the only one on the table, either. While he doesn't have the details yet, one other firm has indicated they will definitely be making an offer. Two other firms are also in the running, for a total of four potential jobs.
I've been steadfastly against buying a home while our income is so uncertain. However, if Jake takes a firm job, then our debt-to-income ratio will be radically improved and we may be able to afford a house. We'd still have to be conservative, of course, but overall it's quite a different trajectory for our lives than we could have anticipated only three weeks ago. Who could have predicted this uncertainty?
We have to make a decision about whether or not to sign the lease by tomorrow! Would you kiss the $500 in earnest money goodbye, or sign the lease and run the risk that we'll spend much more than that in commuting costs if Jake takes a job an hour away?
Author: Honey Smith
Honey Smith has been reading GRS since at least 2008, right when she got her first â€œrealâ€ job and started getting serious about finances. She and her husband Jake are in their mid-30s and recently bought a home together. Currently, she manages graduate programs at a large state institution, and he is an attorney at a mid-sized firm.
Between them, they have paid off approximately $30,000 in consumer debt since she started writing for GRS in 2012. However, they still have nearly $200,000 of student loan debt, so she will continue to chronicle their debt-paydown journey. In addition to personal finance, Honey is interested in vegetarianism and cooking, gardening (despite living in the desert and having a black thumb), issues in higher education (including the student loan bubble and the slow death of tenure), and animal rights; however, her heart lies with fantasy novels, trashy TV and Skyrim.