Dear Penny: I Bought a Florida Home, but I’m Homesick. Should I Walk Away?

This photo shows a condo with palm trees by it.
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Dear Penny,

I’m a 64-year-old single woman and retired teacher from the Chicago area. With savings and a pension, I’m pretty comfortable financially. 

Four years ago, I had a tragic loss in my life. A year later, a change of scenery and a different way of living away from my hometown sounded like a good idea. I purchased a beautiful one-bedroom condo in a 55-plus community in Florida. I paid $130,000 and made renovations for just under $40,000. 

Since then, there has been a hurricane, red tide and now COVID-19. I’m lucky to have a couple of married friends nearby from the Chicago area but am finding it challenging to make new single friends in Florida. 

I came back to Chicago a month ago to help out a friend and to escape hurricane season. I am renting a room at an Airbnb. Being here with my friends and family has been centering and fun, even with the COVID situation.  

It seems like I keep coming up with reasons to want to keep my Florida residence and I'm coming up short. The condos in my building have been increasing in price. I would most likely make a nice profit if I sold it right now. I could move back to Chicago where I already am established with friends and family.  

I could keep my condo and just rent in Chicago during the hurricane season, but I don't think I would like to own two places, as it is too much upkeep, money and worry at this time in my life.

I want to be financially responsible, but I’m just not sure what to do. Should I sell my Florida condo and buy in Chicago? Keep my Florida condo and rent in Chicago?  

-In a dilemma

Dear In a Dilemma,

Would holding onto that condo for another five, 10, 15 years may make you wealthier? Possibly.

But would your life be any richer for it? It certainly doesn’t sound like it.

You made an investment when you bought and renovated this condo. Financially speaking, it sounds like it’s been a good investment to date.

For you personally, though, it doesn’t sound like this is the right investment. That doesn’t mean it’s been a mistake. You’ve just realized that it’s not right for you.

Your dilemma, it seems, is about letting go of an investment, something a lot of people struggle with.

They don’t sell stock in a company that’s floundering because they’re still hoping for a rebound. Or they won’t close a business that’s hemorrhaging money. Instead, they fall for the sunk cost fallacy, i.e., that just because you’ve poured time and money into something, you need to keep pouring time and money in, even when it’s a losing venture.

I suspect that there’s a little of each at play here. Perhaps you envisioned pink skies and beach weather in January when you moved to Florida, and then you got a reality check, but you’re still clinging to that vision. Or maybe you feel that you shouldn’t walk away because you’ve already invested three years and $170,000 in this condo.

What will you gain if you come back to Florida and sink another three years into that condo? Home equity, perhaps. But this decision is way bigger than money. You’re feeling centered and having fun back in Chicago — feeling that way in 2020 is no small feat.

Maybe buying that condo was the right decision for you three years ago. You’d just experienced a tragedy and needed a big change. But it sounds like your priorities have shifted, and I’m guessing COVID-19 has driven that shift, at least in part. At a time of so much isolation and uncertainty, being close to the people we love matters more than ever.

Even if you had told me that you’d have to sell your condo at a loss, I would have urged you to consider it. You know where you want to plant roots, and you say you don’t want the hassle of owning two homes.

But yours is an easy problem since you’ll likely turn a profit. If you opt to buy a home in Chicago, you could use part of the profit for a down payment — and maybe even set aside a bit so you can take a vacation in Florida when it isn’t hurricane season.

Although this investment is no longer the right fit for you, I think it’s paid off. It’s helped you figure out what matters and where your home is. That, to me, sounds like money well spent.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior editor at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].