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Getting the home in a divorce is both a big victory and responsibility.  You may have mixed emotions.  You know why or how the division of assets were decided, yet the good and bad in your settlement is a grey area.   The house, your home is yours. 

Then you realize, the house, your home is yours!?  Now what?

House Disclosure:  This house comes with emotions tied to it, keep at your own risk.

Don't you wish this was an actual disclosure before you decided to keep your house?

PROS: Your house can be an extension of what provides comfort, pride and security.  During a divorce many emotions can dismantle those feelings.  Other emotions develop which make the idea of keeping your house like maintaining some semblance of life as you know it.  It's a comfort to know some things can't be split, removed or changed as a result of your divorce.  Your house is your constant and the divorce didn't change that.

CONS: The downside is that life as you know it may feel stifling given whatever circumstances precipitated your divorce. Keeping the house may present the feeling of abandonment and/or feeling like you are left with the financial and home maintenance baggage.  It may be difficult to live in the same house alone without the painful memories of your time there with your former spouse.

There is good news!  You have a house.  But, the first thing you will want to do is make it your new house so that you can find your way home.  This means you need to let go of the pain and sorrow from your former marriage so that you house feels like your home instead of as you and your former spouse's home.

You will also need to take control of your finances and settlement, develop or continue with a budget to insure you will have adequate means to afford the mortgage, insurance, taxes, maintenance and repairs.

Letting go of what haunts you

Your in your house, but you're not home.  You can't figure out exactly what gives you such dismay, but it's there.  You give a big push in the right direction and the house seems to push back twice as hard.  You feel like you live in the enemy.  This wasn't what you expected.   You wanted the home.  You wanted your children to sleep in their own rooms, play in their own backyard.  You wanted to transition into the life of a divorced spouse with home and family intact.

Despite your ex taking his things, the home still carries with it a great deal of memories from the past and negative energy.  In order to let go, you should identify areas or issues with the home that bother you. 

Is it the financial responsibilities, the memories of one room or multiple areas?  Are you frustrated with unfinished areas, too much or too little space, the maintenance, problem areas, taxes?  To visualize the emotional and financial expense of each problem, start your own pros and cons list.  Really be honest with yourself about the likelihood of resolving the issue(s) as quickly as possible so that you can start enjoying your home or prepare it to sell.

If you decide you can make your house your new home, you must then open the door to the future.  You are now the owner and primary resident of this new house. 

Now you're ready to make it your new home.  

Take control of your house & home

Make new memories: Start a book club, host dinner parties, make a new family routine for meals - activities - movie night.  This is your very first step to making this your home that's the place your family feels safe, together and happy.  If you only compare the house to the home it was, it just feels emptier, quieter perhaps with less arguing or disagreements.  But, it has a definite end, the divorce.  Now is the time to make a definitive new beginning.

Manage maintenance: You'll want to have your former spouse prepare a maintenance list (e.g. lawn care services, pruning, deck and home power washing, heating and cooling clean and checks, inground sprinkler maintenance and general info about housing maintenance systems) that your spouse previously managed.  If you managed any systems or home care or maintained other issues related to home and family it would be helpful to provide him a detailed list as a "peace offering" for his willingness to get you similar information.  Your list could include tips on kid stuff, school and sports functions, schedules & home maintenance issues you managed.  Ladies, please read our 2020 DMK article, Girlfriends Guide to Home Maintenance.

Redecorate: Now is the time to do things, your way.  Paint the rooms the color you want, add floral pillows or retro mod décor.  Whatever makes your new house your home, do it.  Start with a small room and work on it in your spare time.  This keeps you busy on a positive project that has a start and finish.  This gives you an end goal to look towards and an accomplishment to increase home value and your own self-esteem.

Finance: The most important thing about your house is that it's an affordable investment that gives you shelter and builds your net worth.  This is accomplished  with paid-in equity from your mortgage payments and the house's appreciation of value over the term of your ownership.

The best thing you could do is to maintain your payments and consider any opportunity to reduce the term of the loan, reduce the interest rate or remove fees such as private mortgage insurance upon the home reaching a specific loan-to-value ratio. 

Contact your mortgage company to get the details related to your current interest rate, your payment breakdown (Principal, Interest, Taxes and Insurance) and if there are any fees that can be reduced/removed or fees that would be charged in the event of an early pay-off (such as in a refinance). 

Also, ask your mortgage company if they have a bi-weekly payment program where you would have your payments broken into 26 payments per year instead of 12 payments (about two extra payments per year) in order to pay-off your mortgage several years early.  If not, ask (some mortgage companies disallow this) if you can send in two extra payments independently to apply directly to the principal (a great time to do this is after a tax refund).

If you didn't already refinance the house into your name during the divorce, speak with a reputable mortgage broker about current interest rates, cost to do a refinance (such as closing costs, prepaids and/or points) and determine if it would be advantageous based on the anticipated length of future ownership and monthly savings in contrast to the costs to do the refinance.  Remember, you will need to qualify for the house on your income alone.  So get your debt-to-income ratio inline with your brokers recommendations for the best loan and interest rate possible.  If your former spouse assumed some marital debt in the divorce settlement that's still in your name, it too will be considered in your ratios.

Secure: There are many options in home security that will give you an added sense of protection for you and your family. Many systems can be installed by you or a local handyman.

Many security companies offer free installation if you sign a monthly monitoring agreement. Most provide you the opportunity to have real-time monitoring via an app on your phone so that you can check on the home anywhere and anytime. You may be able to see who is at your front door and talk with the person via your phone just like you were at home. The best part is that once installed*, you may qualify for a discount on your homeowners insurance.  *The security company needs to provide a Certificate of Security System Installation with the details of their services/system to provide to the insurance company to qualify for the discount.

If you install cameras and wish to monitor the home yourself, you may still qualify for a home surveillance discount.  Call your insurance company for them to review your policy to see if you qualify for this discount or any others.

Your home, vehicles, life insurance policies should be in the same portfolio with the same insurance company in order to get the multi-line discounts. Also ask if an umbrella policy which provides added liability insurance would provide additional discounts on your homeowner's insurance?  Sometimes the additional cost of the umbrella policy is near negligible in comparison to the discount you can assume.


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