A: You pose a great question, but it’s also difficult because there is no right or wrong answer. We could make the case for you to stay in your home or to leave it. Moving can be expensive, and it is usually time-consuming and a whole lot of work. When you’re in your 80s, you’ll have all of that to deal with. But you also have to think through the possibility that this is your last move and you may need to be in a place that can provide additional services, should you need them over the next few years.
Let’s start with an objective look at your home’s condition and where the next set of expenses may come from and how much they’ll likely be.
If you’ve cared for your home over the years, you might avoid big expenses for several years to come. However, being a homeowner means that you will always have ongoing maintenance and repairs. The question is whether you’ll have to shell out for a really big house expense.
When these big expenses (think about roof repair or replacement, a new air conditioning system or furnace, or even having a new hot water heater installed) show up is relevant. If you’re on a fixed income (which you might be in your 80s), replacing a roof might mean withdrawing more from your retirement savings, whereas it was easier to manage a big number when you were both working.
Let’s say you decide to move. In this situation, you’d have to figure out what that move will cost you. The biggest expense may be hiring the movers followed by packing expenses. You could end up spending a couple thousand dollars just with the movers. But your new rental property may also charge you for a credit check, application fee, move-in fee, and a one-month security deposit. Between the move and rental expenses, we wouldn’t be surprised if you were out of pocket up to $5,000.
Selling allows you to pocket all of the proceeds from the sale and invest or use them to augment your income in retirement. But you’ll have your monthly rent payment, which won’t be insignificant, and perhaps some extras. If you decide to move into an independent-living facility, which offers various levels of care, you might pay more, although it could well cover food, your utilities and even activities. You may no longer need a car, which would allow you to save on gas, insurance and upkeep.
Issues relating to personal health and having cash on hand are tied directly to whether you have the cash, time or energy to manage your own home. Renting is easier, but can be more expensive, due to all of the extras, and you’re no longer building wealth by paying down the mortgage. Do these things change your mind about whether you want or need to move?
And even if you’re healthy enough today to manage the stairs and physical activities required of a homeowner, many seniors in your shoes would wonder how many more good years they’ll have. After thinking this through, Ilyce’s uncle, who recently turned 87, just moved from his three-bedroom D.C.-area rental apartment to an independent-living facility in Florida.
Homeowners in their 60s, 70s, and 80s should consider how they’ll age in their homes. You may no longer want to live in a two-story home if you have trouble walking up the stairs, you have a worsening health issue, or if the property can’t be retrofitted with the equipment you’ll need to age in place.
You’ll want to think through these issues, the financial consequences of renting versus owning, along with identifying what sort of property will meet your needs today and in the future. Don’t forget to think about where your friends, family, doctors, house of worship and favorite recreational activities are located. Your support network will become increasingly important as you age.
As we said, there’s no right or wrong answer. But if you’re worried about upcoming house repairs, then perhaps it’s time to move to either a condo building, where more of the maintenance headaches are taken off your plate, or to a rental, where you’ll enjoy a more carefree lifestyle. Peace of mind is priceless.
Ilyce Glink is the author of “100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask” (Fourth Edition). She is also the chief executive of Best Money Moves, an app that employers provide to employees to measure and dial down financial stress. Samuel J. Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate attorney. Contact them through the website, BestMoneyMoves.com.
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