Sunday, August 30, 2015
Bi-coastal homeowner can sleep easy owning two houses
A reader, let's call her Anne, has lived in Florida since the early 1960s. Her daughter was born there shortly after Anne moved to the state. In the early 1990s, Anne's daughter moved to California.
Anne retired in 2011. To prepare for retirement, she bought a second house in California, about a half-mile away from her daughter and son-in-law. Anne doesn't keep a car in California, so she wanted to be able to walk back and forth from her house to theirs.
Because Anne has strong ties in Florida, where she plays in a community band and orchestra, the house in California was always intended as a second home. Her music group schedule only frees her up to be on the West Coast over the winter holidays and about three-and-a-half months in the summer.
"It's quite a chore and expensive to keep up two yards," writes Anne, "but my daughter is my only living child and, of course, means the world to me." Last year, Anne's daughter and son-in-law moved about 30 miles south for work, so Anne only sees them about once a week when she's in California.
"I have wonderful neighbors out there," writes Anne. Some have visited her in Florida. Others keep an eye on her Florida house when she's not there. Anne now also plays in three community bands when she's in California. She's established a life there.
The California town where Anne has a house is very short on rental housing, she writes. If she were to rent out her home there, Anne figures her mortgage payments would be covered. But then she wouldn't have access to the house. Also, as a rental property owner in Florida, Anne says she knows "how tenants usually treat houses."
Anne has thought about options such as Airbnb.com, whereby she might rent out the California house on days when she's not there, but she knows such short-term rentals are "not popular with the neighbors." Also, using this option fails to address the issue of making more rental housing available where it's in short supply.
"Can I ethically continue to own this second home near my daughter, using it less than half the year but not renting it out to those who need rental housing?" Anne asks. "I hope you won't tell me that I'm selfish to keep this little house 'on ice' so it will be ready for me, in the condition I left it, for my next visit."
Anne is doing nothing wrong by owning two homes. She's paying her property taxes, involving herself as an active community member, and taking good care of both properties.
While renting out the California home might provide relief from mortgage payments and provide some much-needed rental housing, the right thing for Anne to do is to continue to be a responsible homeowner.
If Anne decides she'd like to rent out her house in California because it's too much work to keep up two homes, she wants to defray mortgage costs, or she wants to cease her bicoastal life, that's her choice. But if owning the California house allows her to be closer to her daughter and engage in the life of the community, she should sleep easy, regardless of which home she's sleeping in.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin
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