Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of home ownership, or to take arms against the oppressions of tyrannical landlords.
Hamlet’s suffering oftentimes feels equivalent to the agony many new retirees face when considering the downsizing decision of buying a new home or renting one.
Home ownership has long been a core concept of the American dream, embedded in the American subconscious, but is it right to own a home when you retire? The answer to that question will depend largely on your personal situation, but there are some general questions you can ask yourself to help steer you in the right direction.
Question 1: Inheritance
Do you want to leave an inheritance to someone? If the answer is no, then you may find renting a home more palatable. It’s almost always cheaper to rent than buy if you don’t plan to pass on any inheritance.
According to Ralph McLaughlin, Trulia’s chief economist and a CNN source, “The value of [home] equity matters a lot when making the decision. If you don’t care whether that value will be around when the house is sold, it might be a better deal to rent.”
Question 2: Available Cash
Have you estimated what your cash-flow needs are when you retire? As you age you will need to sock more liquidity away for those unexpected costs like health emergencies. If you have that locked up in equity in your house, it makes it much harder to get access to those funds when you need them the most. Jane Bryant Quinn in AARP says, “You can put the proceeds into a mix of bank accounts and mutual funds and tap those savings and investments for rent. This choice provides ready access to your money, without borrowing.”
Consider the opportunity cost of locking up your funds in a real estate asset versus investing those funds and allowing them to return liquidity to you. According to Rich Arzaga, a Kiplinger source and CEO of Cornerstone Wealth Management, “Renting will save you a lot of capital and lower your expenses,” he says. For example, if you pull out $300,000 in equity from a home sale and it’s invested at 6% a year, that’s $18,000 in earnings the first year. Even after taxes, that can go a long way toward rent, he says, and your ownership-related expenses will “either go way down or disappear.”
In other words, if you have an annual retirement income of $50,000, moving to a less expensive home (less expensive location or downsizing) could increase your annual income to $68,000. That could make a big difference for your retirement.
Question 3: Taking Care of Your Home
Are you a DIY’er who likes to take on household projects? If so, then maybe home ownership in your retirement is a good way for you to continue to exercise that DIY-muscle and stay active. If not, then the burdens of home ownership could plague you and cost more than they’re worth.
When you rent a home, it makes monthly expenses much more predictable, which is key when you’re living on a fixed-income. You’re not prone to the aches of home maintenance, property taxes, and home owners insurance, however you do need to be prepared for annual rent hikes and paying renters insurance — all of which are fairly predictable.
Question 4: Being Nomadic in Retirement
Do you plan on moving around in your retirement? Owning a home is not likely the best option then because when you move frequently, you don’t allow your owned home to appreciate value. You will also not recover the closing costs you paid when you purchased your home. In short, you’ll lose money if you plan on moving around a lot in retirement and owning homes.
However, Greg Daugherty in Forbes references a Trulia study that concluded, “buying a home would be cheaper than renting in all of the top 100 U.S. metropolitan markets if you take out a fixed, 30-year, 3.5% mortgage and stay in the home for at least seven years.” So if you’re planning on a staying in your home for several years, buying might make sense.
What It Comes Down To
In the end, the decision to rent or buy a home is a highly personal one that has several subtle nuances. These 4 questions will help you begin understanding what is right for you in retirement, but don’t stop there! Keep asking questions — the articles below have some great ones — and you’ll eventually be able to decide if renting in retirement is to be, or not to be.