What to Do with Your Home When You Move Abroad
So, you want to hit refresh, travel the world, take a gap year, have a sabbatical, find yourself? Great! But what will you do about your home? Let’s talk about what to do with your apartment or house when you’re ready to travel.
How to Rent Your House and Live Abroad
Letting go of what you know to move overseas is inspiring and exciting. While you might feel giddy with anticipation about starting a new chapter in your life, planning to live abroad can stir up a mixture of emotions that make you a bit nostalgic too.
Aside from dealing with how you’re feeling as you get ready to set off on your overseas adventure, you’ll need to take a bunch of steps to prepare for your big move. This includes wrapping up projects from your current job, saying goodbye to friends and family, as well as organizing care for your pets. You might also want to learn How to Declutter and Downsize Before Moving Abroad.
If you own your home, one of the most important decisions you’ll need to make is figuring out how to rent your house and live abroad. But, before doing so, think about whether renting out your house while overseas makes sense for you. Some questions to consider include:
- Why do you want to rent your home and live abroad?
- How long do you plan to stay away from the home you currently own?
- Will you need to hire a property manager while you’re overseas?
- What type of tenant would you like while you’re in another country?
- Do you need income so that renting abroad is easier for you too?
Your answers to these important questions will help you determine if and how you should rent your house and live abroad. Regardless of your responses, the good news is that renting out your house while overseas doesn’t need to be a hassle. As you read on, you’ll discover options that’ll help you make the right decision for you.
In addition to learning how to go about renting your house and living overseas, learn about the 12 things you need to do before moving abroad.
What to do with your apartment when traveling
Before you hit refresh to travel or live abroad, you’ll need to arrange what you’d like to do with your apartment prior to jetting off on your overseas adventure.
If you’re planning to travel for a short amount of time, you have plenty of options of what to do with your apartment while you’re out of town. Some ideas include getting someone to stay at your home through a house sitting service, subletting your place, or asking a friend to occasionally check in to make sure everything’s in order while you’re gallivanting around the world.
Deciding what to do with your apartment when traveling long-term or moving abroad for an extended period of time, requires more thought than if you were just going to be away for a few weeks or months. So, before deciding if you’re going to rent your home and live abroad, take time to weigh the benefits and challenges.
One of the first things to consider when contemplating what to do with your apartment while you travel is how much time you’ll need to invest in making sure everything is running smoothly on the home front while you’re away. For instance, if you decide to hold on to your place, will you have to deal with neighbors or a condo board questioning why there’s someone in your apartment? On the other hand, if your rental agreement or HOA permits it, renting is a great way to generate extra income while you live out your dreams in another country.
Another thing to consider when determining what to do with your apartment while you travel is your Return On Investment (ROI). So, aside from your time, think about the financial gain you’ll receive from renting your place while you’re away. If it’s significant, then it’s the way to go. If not, maybe it’s an opportunity to unload the apartment for good.
After you’ve sorted out what you’re going to do with your apartment when you hit refresh, grab your copy of I’m Outta Here! An American’s Ultimate Visa Guide to Living in Europe.
Along with learning about viable visa options to live long-term in 17 different European countries, you’ll get useful information about the cost of living and getting settled abroad.
If you are renting or leasing an apartment in the United States, chances are you have less than one year remaining on your lease and your options are pretty straightforward:
Sublease your apartment
Read your lease carefully, and make sure you obtain any required pre-approvals in writing from your landlord. Subleasing can be a risky option, as it is likely that under the terms of your lease if your subtenant does not pay rent or causes damage to the apartment you will liable to cover all expenses.
It is a very good idea to consult a lawyer specializing in landlord-tenant law. Prevention is money well spent. At a minimum, you should run a credit check and a criminal background check of the subtenant. For additional information on check out this renter’s guide to subletting your apartment.
Break your apartment lease
You can always terminate your lease early, according to the terms and with proper notice you can’t be forced to live there. But in all likelihood you will still be required to pay the rent for any months remaining on the lease, even if you move out.
Under the terms of the lease and the law in your state, your landlord may or may not be obliged to try to find someone to replace you, and they may even be able to collect rent from you even if they do find new tenants.
You can try to make a deal with your landlord, letting them know your plans well in advance, and possibly helping to find a replacement. Be sure to get everything in writing, especially if the landlord is flexible and agrees to terms that conflict with your lease. The terms in the lease control what is enforceable in court, not a verbal agreement. Read more on how to break the lease of your apartment.
Wait until your apartment lease expires
Even if you have 11 months left on your year-long lease and you have to wait it out, you now have 11 whole months to expertly research, plan and save money for your refresh. When I hit refresh, I decided in December and gave myself until April of the following year to make it happen. I also got laid off from my job at about the same time, so I had to figure out a lot of things pretty quickly. If you are determined and focused, you can make it happen. The more time you have to prepare, the better your plan will work out.
What to do if you're a home owner
If you own a home, outright or with a mortgage, you also have several options:
Leave your home vacant
This may sound like a waste of habitable housing, but in some circumstances closing up your house for several months may be your most stress-free and economical option. The biggest concerns in leaving your home unoccupied stem from water damage, usually mold and frozen pipes—which thaw and leak. A friend of mine won a weekend cruise and came home to a leaking refrigerator which cost $15,000 in ruined hardwood flooring.
An unoccupied house can create significant risks. If you do decide that your best option is to leave your home vacant, there are some practical things you can do to minimize the chances of mold, frozen pipes, or other disasters occurring, such as draining pipes. You can hire a third party or a management company to do any of it for you, but you may not need to. The New York Times breaks it down nicely in this piece on closing up your home.
Sell your home
While this is the most permanent option, it may just be time to sell your home. The housing market has recovered nicely, and you may be in a place where you are looking to break the chains of homeownership, take a break before you downsize for retirement, or you may ready to make a permanent move and start your refreshed life.
One of the biggest considerations in selling and hitting the road, is to ensure you are not overly penalized for capital gains taxes, especially if you are not buying another property in the U.S. right away. As with the sale of any home, you should consult an accountant and attorney to help you decide the best course of action for your own particular situation.
Rent out your home
When I left my home in the U.S. to hit refresh a few years ago I wasn’t sure if I’d end up running back with my tail between my legs after a couple of months. The real estate market was still pretty dismal as well, so I decided to rent my home.
Finding and screening tenants
Having witnessed some terrible situations that friends and family have suffered as landlords with nightmare tenants, I dreaded the idea of being a landlord. However, if I wanted to move overseas and hit refresh, it had to be done. From my own experience I cannot stress this enough: take all the precautions you possibly can to choose tenants who will pay you, pay you on time and will not damage your home.
Ok, so that sounds obvious, but I have seen bad things happen when landlords, being human beings, become soft. This is not the time for you to make emotional decision or even to be charitable. This is your home, likely your life’s biggest investment and you need to protect it. At a minimum, you should obtain a credit check, a criminal background check and two or more positive, and reliable, references. You can look up previously rented addresses on county websites to make sure the owner matches the name on the reference.
Do not be flexible with your income and background requirements, either. Now is not the time to be cheap or lazy. Experts agree it is well-worth it to pay for the background and credit checks. If not, you could end up with nightmare tenants. In each of these cases, had the homeowner done a simple credit check, they would have seen prior evictions on the reports and could have rejected unfit applicants. When renting, it is better to wait an extra month or two for the right tenant with an empty apartment than to admit thieves, vandals or squatters into your home. If you have trouble finding a tenant, you can use a real estate agent.
Managing from afar
Once your tenant is in the house, you are going to be far away, and you’ll need a reliable way to deal with collecting rent and making repairs should they arise. Set up automatic bank payments for rent and arrange a reliable handy-person to be on call or consider a home warranty plan. Also consider landscaping and weather-related needs: hurricane shutters, snow shoveling. You can hire a property management company to take care of your property and collect rent, and if so, you should include that cost as part of the price of the rent.
Ensure that the monthly rent covers or exceeds the cost of your mortgage, taxes, association fees, repairs, maintenance and insurance. Additional insurance to cover risks with renters is worth it and can cover you for unexpected events and protect you in the unlikely event of an on premise injury. Speaking of maintenance, you would be wise to put aside some cash for the inevitable repairs and maintenance of the home. After all, you would need to pay for those things if you were still living there.
Lastly, make sure your lease protects you from liability and non-paying tenants adequately, and that such provisions are enforceable in your location. Landlord tenant law in most locations in the Unites States strongly favor the tenant, but with careful drafting, you can have a perfectly equitable lease. Again, a small up-front investment with a landlord-tenant attorney or real estate agent can help things run smoothly later and can allow you to put your home out of your mind and get on with your adventure.
So, we’ve discussed closing up, selling up and renting out, but as a homeowner you do have a few other options.
If you prefer to have someone live in your house and look after it, rather than leave it vacant, you can arrange for a house sitter. If you have pets, a house sitter can take care of your fur-babies, plants, pool, garden and even shovel the driveway too.
Like all of the other options, you need to make sure this activity is allowed in your community. House sitting is a great way to keep your home secure and come back to a home ready for you to live in it again. Check out our article on house sitting to find out more about it and the most popular platforms to get started.
Do a house swap
Similar to house sitting, this endeavor is based on trust and is not a commercial arrangement, and therefore lacks the legal protection of a lease or sale, so communication is the key to success. In the case of house swapping you live at the other party’s house and they live at yours.
Some major considerations for a house swapping arrangement are how utilities will be paid and whether the house is suitable for you: if pets are allowed, if a car is available for use, how close the home is to public transportation, whatever is important to you. Learn more about house swapping and get some great advice from a how swapper with over 50 house swaps under her belt.
Monetize your home
While renting long-term can be a set it and forget it option, it may not be a cash-generator. Airbnb, VRBO, Booking.com and other home rental platforms have altered the old, rigid, accommodation industry. Why not become part of the “disruption economy” and monetize your home? Hit refresh and make money at the same time!
A big benefit of these options is that the nightly fee you can charge often exceeds the amount you would receive renting your property long-term. However, there are costs that need to be taken into consideration and there is a lot more work involved when sharing your home short-term. By planning in advance and engaging appropriate local assistance, it can be done successfully.
Some property owners employ property managers to greet guests, ensure the property is presentable, and assess for any damage or maintenance, and are on standby for guest emergencies. Property owners often contract professional services to clean and restock after each guest leaves. This can be a great part-time job for a trusted friend, family member, or neighbor.
Naturally, you will want to ensure such activities are legally permitted in your neighborhood and city, check insurance considerations, and crunch the numbers to see if it is a viable option. The amount of effort required in short term home rental is certainly higher than long-term, but the rewards can be much greater. If you’re looking to get started check out this article on how to be a long distance host.
Anytime you turn over the keys to your house to a stranger you run the risk of running into problems. The best way to play it safe is to take your time setting things up, read and obey the fine print, charge enough to make a suitable profit, and have a lawyer who is experienced with these types of rentals who can look everything over before you sign anything or click “OK.”
Do your homework before you move abroad
I cannot stress enough the importance of making sure that before you let anyone step foot into your home, you have read all of the fine print, done your homework, adhered to and meet all legal requirements, and have taken all possible steps to protect yourself from future problems.
I hope you now have some ideas for possible options for what to do about your home when you are off on your next “Refreshing” adventure. Please tell us about your own ideas and experiences in the comments.
DISCLAIMER: My comments here are for travel information only. I am not providing legal advice or participating in any legal representation. It is highly recommended that you consult competent legal and financial advice for your own particular situation.