Pay Dirt

I’m Stuck Owning a Home, and I Hate It So Much

I’m just not the one to be handling all of this.

A woman standing in the open front door of a home, putting one hand on the door frame
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus and Spoon Graphics.

Pay Dirt is Slate’s money advice column. Have a question? Send it to Athena and Elizabeth here(It’s anonymous!)

Dear Pay Dirt,

I am divorcing my ex. We jointly own a home and are both on the mortgage. I live there, and we split custody of a child. The house was appraised at more than what we paid, but less than what Zillow and Redfin value it. My ex wants to refinance it into my name for the entire appraisal amount.

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We never had any money to put in other than basic repairs, and I always assumed if we did sell, it would likely be as a fixer-upper, and we’d get only enough to pay off the outstanding mortgage, as it has issues with leaks in the foundation and walls. We refinanced before he left, and the mortgage payment is now half of what a one-bedroom rental in our city would cost.

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I hate owning a home, but see myself with two options: continue in a house, with a refinance that doubles my payment in order to give him his equity, or sell and rent a two-bedroom apartment for what will likely be an even larger monthly payment. I know a home is an “investment,” but I will have literally nothing to put into it if my payment doubles.

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Am I supposed to use my portion of the refinance to make repairs, or do I pay down the mortgage and leave the house as is? If I get a chunk of whatever we sell it for, that money will run out eventually if I’m renting. The house feels like an albatross, but it also feels like I’d be shooting myself in the foot if I don’t stay. What am I missing here?

—P.S. I Have a Lawyer

Dear Lawyer-haver,

I don’t think you’re missing anything. Any choice you make will be something of a bet. If you make repairs, there’s no guarantee it’ll increase the value of the house by the time you sell it. If you pay down the mortgage and leave it as is, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to sell anytime soon; then you’re stuck in a house you don’t like that has problems. If you opt for renting, as you note, the money will eventually run out.

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So you really need to weigh these things against your personal preferences. You say you “hate” homeownership, so being in the house for its own sake is not something that would make you happier than renting. Conversely, I don’t know what your income situation is, but if you’re feeling financially strapped, the idea of renting indefinitely might make you nervous—and so on.

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It may be helpful to think about what the worst- and best-case scenario is for each of these decisions, because there’s no straightforward financial calculation you can make without speculating about what you’ll be able to sell the house for and when. You can make some educated guesses based on housing demand in your market and what the appraiser tells you, but there are other variables to consider too. Your feelings about homeownership should be a big consideration, because you can’t fully know how long you’ll end up in the house. Does your hatred of homeownership outweigh the potential gains you’d realize if you stayed?

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I’d suggest you also consider the possibility of renting the house to a tenant, but if you dislike homeownership, I’m fairly certain you’d hate being a landlord even more. But, depending on the market, that route might allow you to pay down the mortgage faster while not staying in the house yourself. Unfortunately, there’s no right answer here. Personally, I’d go with the option I could live with the easiest, if the worst-case scenario were to happen.

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Dear Pay Dirt,

I’ve recently quit a very good job for the prospect of doing projects as a consultant. So far, I’ve made decent money, but in one of the interviews with a potential client, they asked if I could possibly improve my appearance for the parts of my job where I interact with their customers. I said yes, but the truth is, I have sensitivities to almost every single makeup I’ve tried. I have mostly clear skin and rosy cheeks and I personally like how I look without makeup, but I definitely don’t look like I’m wearing any makeup.

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Since this is a health issue, I think that I shouldn’t be made to wear makeup. I can do my hair nicely and curl my lashes (which stay curled pretty well), but beyond that, I can’t do much else. If I was working at a regular company, I’m guessing because this is a health issue, I’d be able to get some kind of an exemption from wearing makeup from HR.

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Do I have any protection if I’m a consultant? I can of course tell my prospective client that I will make myself up, and then do so as much as I can, but I’m worried about what will happen if I tell them I can’t wear makeup because of a health issue.

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—Sensitive Skin

Dear Sensitive,

No one needs makeup to look presentable and professional, but unfortunately, we live in a society where there are double standards for men and women. And women end up paying for it—literally. Women spend approximately $225,000 on beauty products over the course of a lifetime and 55 minutes a day applying them. The “grooming gap” costs women in compensation as well; women who are regarded as more attractive make more money. This of course looks like gender discrimination, but courts have ruled that employers are allowed to make differing requests of men and women when it comes to personal appearance. Personally, I think the law is behind the times on this one, but the law disagrees with me.

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As to your particular case: I’m not sure what kind of consulting you’re doing, but the request that you wear makeup, specifically, strikes me as a bit unusual, if it’s not part of some standardized company dress code. That said, they have the legal right to do it. I do think you should mention the problem you’ve described to them, because otherwise your potential client may get the impression that you’re resistant to the idea for other reasons. I think any reasonable client would accommodate you, because failure to do so might breach the legal requirement that this requirement not be an unduly onerous burden, given that your noncompliance would be necessary for health reasons.

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Another consideration: Any client who wouldn’t hire you on the basis that you can’t wear makeup might not be one you want to work with in the first place, especially since, as you note, you’re making decent money otherwise.

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Dear Pay Dirt,

In the later stages of my mother’s battle with dementia, my father no longer wanted to deal with it, so he asked my sister, who lived alone and worked from home, to take her out of state and into her own house. I was against it. I wanted him to hire someone to take care of my mother in her own home, but he wanted no part of strangers in his house. Due to health issues and a demanding full-time job, I was not able to physically care for my mother myself. My two other siblings also work full-time jobs, and my father never even consulted with them.

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My sister took her back to Florida, and within a few days found private adult day care that provided three meals, activities, etc. It really was a wonderful place, and my mother did well there. My sister dropped her off in the morning and picked her up at night. My father paid all the daily expenses, and when it became necessary to permanently place her in a private nursing home about a year or so later, my father paid all of those monthly expenses, until my mother died of COVID in April of 2020. My parents were in a very good position financially, and my father was able to pay the nursing home fees without any hardship.

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I will be the executor of their estate. My sister has told me that she plans on charging the estate anywhere from $100 to $200 per day for every day my mother was with her. While I am grateful that my sister did take her into her home, it was her mother. I could see taking this route if it was a financial hardship, but my father paid for everything, and my sister is financially set for life and fond of saying she has more money than she can spend. She will also be inheriting her share of a decently sizable estate. My other siblings and I, on the other hand, work hard, pay our bills, but do not have any extra. I know, had any of the rest of us been in a position to take care of my mom, it would have been out of love, not for what we could get financially.

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My question is, since my father is still alive, shouldn’t she be asking him directly for this money now, instead of making it my problem later on? I do not begrudge her the money if she feels she deserves it and it would be easier just to give in to her, because she can get nasty and cause trouble, but I have other siblings to answer to when it comes time to settle the estate, and they may not agree. This will cause me unnecessary stress at an already stressful time, and possibly a rift in the family which I know my parents would not want. I think my sister is being cowardly by not asking my father for payment now while he is still healthy and in control of his own money. I asked her why she does not ask him now, but she ignored me. Should I suck it up and deal with it later, or risk upsetting my father now by mentioning it to him?

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—Sister Stressing Me

Dear Sister Stressing,

I’m a little confused about why your sister believes she will be able to do this after your father is gone. I don’t see anything in your letter that indicates that your father or anyone else had a contract with her agreeing that she would be compensated for caretaking. In the absence of that, she can’t “charge” the estate anything, any more than I can charge you $200 you didn’t agree to pay for answering your letter.

So, if she wants the money, she’s going to have to take it up with your father now. Even if you wanted to, you couldn’t just give her that money as the executor, when there’s no evidence that was your father’s intent. If you tried to override the terms of your father’s will, you could be removed as executor by other beneficiaries of the will—your other siblings, in this case—for failing to perform your fiduciary duties.

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It is unfortunate that your sister was unaware of federal programs that help compensate family caretakers when she might have been eligible for it. (Medicaid offers stipends to family caretakers who are eligible, for example.) But now her only option is to be retroactively compensated, which your father would need to agree to now or spell out in his will.

You need to emphasize to her that if she tries to bill the estate after your father’s death, you cannot pay her, legally (unless, I suppose, you wanted to pay her personally out of your own inheritance). If she really cares about that money, she’s going to have to talk to your father now—and it’s her responsibility to do that, not yours.

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Dear Pay Dirt,

My parents are both getting older, and my dad is currently in the midst of a health scare. Due to this, and to other stuff with my mom, they’re moving into an independent living apartment (with no buy-in costs), probably eventually transitioning to assisted living in the coming years.

This is a big deal, of course, and where my mom is excited, Dad is very depressed. He is taking this out by freaking out about finances, and I just want a gut check that I’m not pushing them into ruin and his worries are probably due to depression and (totally justified) overall stress.

They have over $1 million in actual monetary assets, including bank accounts and an IRA. They also have long-term care insurance that will cover the current home health aide and, eventually, part of assisted living (though not the independent living). They have a house/property that will likely sell for between $200K and $400K. Finally, due to my dad’s federal career, they have excellent health insurance and receive a monthly pension where the take-home alone covers the independent living rent, with a little left over.

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They are incredibly well set up for this transition and absolutely fine, right? I’ve offered to set up meetings with a financial planner, but he doesn’t seem interested in that.

—Don’t Worry, Dad!

Dear Don’t Worry,

It sounds like your dad is using concern about his finances to mask anxiety he has about transitioning to a different phase of life where he’ll be less independent—which is an understandable response. I think you have to deal with two problems: helping him address his underlying anxiety about the future and his health, and the surface problem—his stated anxiety about his finances.

If your dad’s depression is serious and interfering with his ability to function, you should talk to him about seeing a therapist. Depression in response to health problems and impending loss of independence is not uncommon among older adults, and there are ways to treat it.

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This doesn’t mean you should avoid addressing his stated concerns, though. It may help to remind him that even if all of these events were not precipitating these upcoming changes, he still needs to have a handle on how far his finances will go in the event that they need additional care, eventually. That alone is a reason to see a financial planner.

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It may also help to present the idea as a concern of yours as well. Tell him that while you feel he’s very well set financially, you’d like an expert opinion, and if it turns out that you’re wrong, you will all need to figure out a plan. Then you are not dismissing his concerns, and you will have additional evidence to present to him to prove your theory that things will actually be OK.

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—Elizabeth

More Advice from Slate

My fiancée and I are getting married this summer and have a wedding budget of $30,000, for 175 guests. My father is a stingy multimillionaire who has just refused to provide more than $7,500, because he thinks, on principle, that each parent should pay for a quarter of the wedding. My mom is a public servant who took an entry-level job following their divorce, and my fiancée’s parents are also in solidly middle-class jobs. My mom has found the money; my fiancée’s parents are still trying. What do we do here? Should we disinvite people? Should we just cancel the wedding and elope? Should we put in the money ourselves and refuse to do father-daughter things like walking down the aisle, first dance, etc.?

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