Making Moves

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 couldn’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 couldn’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 employer’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 didn’t cover the $2,000 in damages, and Bennett says she hasn’t had time to pursue legal action.

All this means that cash flow is a concern for Bennett. She hasn’t been able to fill the vacancy, so she doesn’t have income to offset the $900 monthly mortgage payments. It’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 debt–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 doesn’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