Should Seniors Buy or Rent

Should seniors buy or rent: You should consider how you will age in your home.

By Ilyce Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin

Q: We’re in our early 80s and we own our home. We have a loan of about $95,000 and make monthly payments of $700 to the lender. We don’t have much in savings, but we do have some. If a major repair came along it would deplete our savings. Would we be smart to sell the home now and rent?

A: You pose a great question, should seniors buy or rent. It’s also difficult because there is no right or wrong answer to your question. We could make the case for you to stay in your home and also to leave it. Moving can be expensive, but 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 also have to think through the possibility that this is your last move. You may need to be in a place that can provide additional services, should you need them over the next few years. 

Planning for home maintenance

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 roof repair or replacement, 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.

What will a move cost

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 of thousand dollars just 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.

Age in place

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. Also, you are 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 stairs, a worsening health issue, or if the property can’t be retrofitted with the equipment you’ll need to age in place. 

Should seniors buy or rent

You’ll want to think through these issues, the financial consequences of renting vs. 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 here. But, if you’re worried about upcoming house repairs, then perhaps it’s time to move. You could 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.

Good luck.

©2021 by Ilyce Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin.