Divorce is often a long and drawn-out process. By the time finalization is near, you may be ready to move out and move on to the next chapter of your life. However, buying a home isn’t a split-second decision — finding the right home at the right price requires careful consideration, especially after your financial life has just been upended.
Here are three home buying questions you need to ask yourself before the divorce is finalized.
Where Should I Buy?
If your divorce was less than amicable, you may be tempted to move as far from your ex as possible. If you don’t have children, that’s a perfectly viable option! But if you do, moving far will make custody arrangements more difficult, and Psychology Today warns that relocating after divorce can have major consequences for your children’s well-being. If possible, aim to buy a house nearby your children’s school and friends to minimize disruption to their lives and make custody exchanges easier.
Staying nearby doesn’t have to mean the same neighborhood. Ask yourself how you’d like your lifestyle to change now that you’re no longer coupled. Perhaps you want a shorter commute to work, a home closer to downtown, easy access to running and biking trails, or a home suitable for a dog. Now that you’re buying a house solo, wants like these can take higher priority.
If you do move to a new area, help your kids get to know the new neighborhood. Show them the cool spots, introduce yourselves to neighbors and spend time exploring together. Your kids will probably be hesitant about the change, so it’s important to build positive associations with the new neighborhood.
How Much Space Do I Need?
Buying a home after divorce usually means downsizing, but just how much smaller should you go? If you’ll be the primary custodial parent, try to match the living arrangements your kids are accustomed to. There are a lot of big changes happening in your children’s lives, and while the switch from individual bedrooms to a shared room might not seem like a big deal to you, it might be to your kids.
Even if your kids will only be at the house occasionally, carve out space for them. You want your children to feel welcomed and at home when they visit, but if they’re sleeping on an air mattress in the living room, they might feel like an inconvenience.
How Much Should I Spend?
A divorce can take a hit on your finances. Not only can divorce itself be messy and expensive, but transitioning from a two-income to a single-income household significantly shrinks your home buying budget. According to Dave Ramsey, men experience a 23 percent reduction in household income following a divorce, while women face a whopping 41 percent reduction in household income. At the same time, expenses often increase. You may have to pay child support or alimony, and as a single-parent household, child care costs are likely to grow. While buying a home is a great way to regain stability after a divorce, you shouldn’t let it threaten your financial security.
Get pre-approved for a mortgage before you start house-hunting. If your budget is smaller than you expect, don’t panic. You can still get a great house without blowing your budget, but you may need to expand your search. Fixer-uppers are a good way to save money on a home, and you can add value over time through DIY renovations. It doesn’t take a wealth of experience to refinish wood floors, repaint walls and modernize a kitchen, and updates like these can significantly increase the resale value of an outdated home.
Buying a home is a big decision, and when you’re in the middle of a major life change it’s tough to think clearly about things like square footage and mortgage payments. If you’re having trouble answering these questions, consider renting for a few months before you buy. That way, you’ll have time and space to make decisions that will get the next chapter of your life started off right.
About the Author: Caleb Anderson co-created RecoveryHope to help people with substance abuse disorders and their families. Though this effort has been growing recently to include putting together information for public consumption about finances and the home buying process.