By Laura Kelso
I hear this question often. With many Americans reaching retirement age, the decision of whether to remain in the family home is one of significant debate. The answer is complicated and can only be found by asking more questions.
More than 75% of Americans over 50 desire to stay in their current home.1 The reality, however, is that a much larger number of adults end up moving at some point. Planning NOW for a future move that may never happen is a wise choice. Here is why.
The Reality Gap
I like to think of this as more of an “optimist gap” vs. a “reality gap.” My children understand this explicitly. Each time I tell them, “I’ll be done working in 5 minutes,” or “this project is going to be a piece of cake,” I am not purposely trying to lie to them. When I say it, I honestly believe it to be the truth. Every. Single. Time. I think this is the same for many older adults. The homes they live in have served them well for decades. They rocked babies there, doled out advice to growing children, and hosted numerous holidays. It is the essence of comfort. The question then becomes, “Is Aging in Place a realistic option for ME?”
Questions To Ask
- Do I still really love living in my home, or just the idea of it? Do I have children, neighbors, or friends close by who could assist in the case of an emergency?
- How does my spouse feel? Often one spouse is ready to move, and the other is not.
- Is the layout of my home conducive to aging in place? Necessities such as a full bath and laundry on the main level and the ability to accommodate a walker or wheelchair are imperative to safe living.
- If my home does not currently have those things, is it possible to renovate? If so, are the changes economically feasible?
- Am I caring for my home the same way I have in the past? Are there expensive repairs such as a new roof or furnace that I have been putting off? What could happen if I continue to procrastinate?
- Am I keeping up with routine maintenance? Do I enjoy fixing things and keeping up my garden, or has it become a burden? If so, can I hire someone?
- How do my kids feel? While this is not the MOST important question to ask, it is a legitimate one. If I had to move or passed unexpectedly, am I leaving others with a mess?
What To Do Now
- Learn your options. Smaller home, a condo, senior community? Current city or somewhere new?
- Know your numbers. Qualified realtors, senior housing advisors, and financial advisors can help you evaluate your financial plan.
- Know lead times. Houses take time to prep and sell. Some communities have long waiting lists. Be realistic and plan accordingly.
- Make a tentative plan. A real estate plan is like insurance. You may never need to use it, but not having one can be devastating.
- Organize your paperwork. Wills, trusts, surveys, loan numbers, and insurance details are often needed and may require an update before closing.
- Understand real estate. Markets fluctuate every 7-10 years and have now been strong for over five years. If delaying a move puts you at risk to enter a market where your home might take months or years to sell (remember 2008?), does that affect your plan today?
These questions and ideas just scratch the surface. They are a great place to start discussions with your spouse or friends or to contemplate quietly. If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that life can change in an instant. Developing a plan for an uncertain future can lessen stress and help you enjoy today.
- AARP article, Oct 2018