Sometimes moving forward in life requires you to move. And if you own property, moving may mean putting a home on the market. Alicia D. Bennett, who had worked as a paralegal for nine years with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of the General Counsel, left her hometown of Denver to pursue a new career in Twin Falls, Idaho, a city with more than 71,000 residents, of which just 0.2% are black. She relocated there last September to accept a job as a public affairs officer with the USDA Forest Service.
“This was an opportunity I couldnâ€™t pass up,” says Bennett of her position with the Sawtooth National Forest. “The scope of the work will give me the skills I need to work anywhere in the country, in another forest or another agency.” Her salary increased from $67,655 to more than $71,000.
The promise of advancement came at a price, however. Bennett, 45, left behind two homes: her primary residence in Denver and a rental property in Longmont, Colorado. In light of the current real estate market woes, her timing couldnâ€™t have been worse. Although the number of homes for sale in Denver declined by more than 3% last year, Bennett had difficulty selling her three-bedroom, two-bath home. She had decided against renting it because she was unsure about having two rental properties. She purchased the house in 2002 for $176,600 and made some $14,000 worth of improvements. The offers were so unattractive that she let her new employerâ€™s relocation company buy it for roughly $179,000, resulting in a loss of more than $11,000 on the sale.
The three-bedroom, one-bath home in Longmont that Bennett purchased in 1992 for $79,000 was bringing in steady rent that covered the mortgage. Then, just weeks after Bennett moved to Idaho, her tenant of five years, who was on a month-to-month lease, opted not to renew. The tenant, who did not provide a forwarding address, left the property in shambles. Unfortunately, the $1,050 security deposit didnâ€™t cover the $2,000 in damages, and Bennett says she hasnâ€™t had time to pursue legal action.
All this means that cash flow is a concern for Bennett. She hasnâ€™t been able to fill the vacancy, so she doesnâ€™t have income to offset the $900 monthly mortgage payments. Itâ€™s been tough because her rent in Twin Falls is $700, plus utilities. And she had to repair the Longmont property with money earmarked to pay down almost $12,000 in credit card debtâ€”which is spread across six cards. Furthermore, after refinancing twice to pay down debt and refinancing a third time in 2001 to lower her interest rate from 8% to 6.4%, the balance on her mortgage ballooned to $118,000. Bennett doesnâ€™t want this to affect her financial progress. She has nearly $157,000 in a Thrift Savings Plan, $60,000 in an emergency savings account, about $4,300 in IRAs, and a folk art collection worth about $18,000 that includes an 1870s needlework tapestry and an antique African dance skirt.
Bennett says she was so eager