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The Big Move: I’m 73 and on Social Security. I make about $1,000 a month renting my second home in Florida. But costs are rising. Should I sell my rental?

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Dear MarketWatch,

I am a 73-year-old with two homes in Tampa, Fla. I live in one, and rent the other.

I paid $245,000 at a 2.75% interest rate for the one I’m renting. It’s got four bedrooms and two baths, and faces wetlands, so it’s super quiet. I’ve also spent more than $50,000 on improvements — from landscaping to changing out the water filters to furnishing the individual rooms — making it ready for long-term rentals. I clear about $1,000 per month in profit.

Rentals are super easy to fill, but I’m 73. Utilities are going up fast.  I’ve had so many additional costs from dealing with the rental, from having to replace the grass on the front yard for $1,600 to replacing the air conditioning for $650. I’ve also had to spend $5,100 in legal fees to evict a tenant. I’m also worried about possible hurricane damage, and property insurance is out of control in Tampa. Homeowners insurance for the rental went up from $700 a year to $1,000 a year. 

And on a deeper level, I’m also concerned about the world going into a depression. I’m worried that if I wait for too long, my house drops in value by 20%, and I lose money. And with inflation, that’s going to be hard.

I still owe money for my primary house, which I bought brand new in January 2020. I still have $110,000 left to pay for a house worth $460,000. It’s my dream home. I rent three bedrooms, so that covers my mortgage payment and utilities. 

So my question is: Should I sell my rental and pay off the first house?

My Social Security is only $2,890 a month. If I sold my rental, I could pay off payments on my dream home, but I’d only have $80,000 left over. 

What’s holding me back is that the interest rate is only 2.75% and the tens of thousands of dollars spent to finish the rental. 

When times are good, I clear $1,000 a month from the rental. I like the people currently renting from me, but cannot find a property management team that will take on a non-traditional co-living house with four different rental agreements. But I feel like I need to move fast before property values fall further.

What should I do?

Signed,

Troubled in Tampa 

The Big Move’ is a MarketWatch column looking at the ins and outs of real estate, from navigating the search for a new home to applying for a mortgage.

Do you have a question about buying or selling a home? Do you want to know where your next move should be? Email Aarthi Swaminathan at TheBigMove@marketwatch.com.

Dear Troubled,

You’ve stumbled across one of the biggest realizations homeowners face when they enter the long-term or even the short-term rental market: The endless barrage of issues that come day-to-day with renters. 

With rents only going up, albeit not as fast as before, it sounds like a brilliant idea in theory to rent out a property. Clearing $1,000 in profit gives you a big boost to your monthly income. It sure feels like a great business decision.

But it comes at a personal and an increasing financial cost. 

You mentioned a number of costs that are weighing on you, from rising utilities, to insurance premiums, storm risk, wear and tear of the home, and also the possibility of bad renters.

I know you feel like you’ve got a great deal, buying a house at an interest rate of 2.75%. That pandemic low rate will help you in the long run, as your home appreciates in value while you don’t pay higher interest. 

But you said you’re worried about the world going into a depression, and that your property values may fall. At this point, everyone’s wondering where the economy is going, and housing seems to be in a recession. It looks like mortgage rates are only going to go up.

So here’s a thought: Why not wait? 

We don’t know if the economy will crash, if housing prices will crash, if mass layoffs are about to happen. So why give up on something that’s giving you a steady $1K a month?

Here’s the deal, though. You have to see if renting will still make financial sense a year or two from now.

First, list all of your expenses, and see if you’re still going to clear a  profit. Take time doing this; factor in legal and insurance costs with future tenants, insurance hikes, et cetera. If you’re still going to be making a profit a year from now, then great, stay put. 

If the upkeep is a tiresome task, here’s a suggestion: Try to hire a part-timer, or rope in a younger relative who you can trust fully, to help you run the property as a rental. Maybe stepping away from the day-to-day for a bit can help you decide if the hassle is worth it.

But if not, and if the rental’s not making any money for you, then, maybe it’s time to let go of the rental. 

The moment you see your profits shrink considerably, or nearing a break even point, then it’s time to sell. Yes, you’re giving up on the second home appreciating in value. Yes, you could sell in a couple of years. Yes, you could wait and see how the market plays out.

But consider the alternative: If you’re not clearing any money, just sell the rental, let go of your frustrations and your agreements with your renters, pay off the debt remaining on your dream home, and keep that $80,000 as buffer for whatever it is you wish to do.

As you get older, the money you owe on the homes will only bother you, and dealing with renters, and everything else you mentioned, is just going to get more annoying. And you’re also going to have less energy to deal with potential fraudsters, or any problematic individuals. 

By emailing your questions, you agree to having them published anonymously on MarketWatch. By submitting your story to Dow Jones & Company, the publisher of MarketWatch, you understand and agree that we may use your story, or versions of it, in all media and platforms, including via third parties.

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