Millions of baby boomers are now wrestling with a decision on whether to retrofit their houses to age in place or sell and downsize to more senior-friendly housing.
That’s according to Boyce Thompson, author of multiple books on housing. For those with a strong preference for aging in place, his new book, “The Forever Home,” offers a huge array of pointers on retrofitting a property.
“You need to consider all the space in the house and yard if you plan to use it forever,” Thompson says.
There are several reasons why the stay-versus-move debate has recently become front and center for numerous boomers. One leading factor is that the pandemic caused more owners to review the pros and cons of their current habitat.
Economic factors also figure into whether seniors resolve to stay put with adjustments or sell and move to a smaller residence. The recent rapid ascent of mortgage rates means more owners are clinging to the low-rate home loans they locked in several years ago.
“Moving expenses coupled with higher mortgage costs mean your move from a house to a condo may not save you that much money,” Thompson says.
Still, there are several factors that could cause retirees to consider a sale and move. One is that retirement in another locale might offer a more appealing climate or lifestyle.
Jen Lara, a life coach affiliated with the International Coaching Federation (coachfederation.org), urges retirees to see their late-life housing plans from a holistic perspective and not rush into a distant move that could prove a mistake if it strands them from family and friends.
“This is your last hurrah, so you want it to be awesome. Retirement is the time to do new things you’ve always wanted to do,” she says.
If you’re determined to sell your home and relocate in retirement, Lara recommends you formulate your plans with the assistance of trusted friends or a skillful life coach.
“There’s no one-size-fits-all for people in this period of their lives. Where and how you retire is worthy of serious consideration. If you’re not living your best life in this period, when will you do so?” Lara asks.
Here are a few other pointers for those trying to shape their retirement plans:
-- Compare the relative costs of aging in place to selling and moving.
Jeffrey Wuorio, an author on personal finance topics, says many older people underestimate their expected life spans, as well as the financial wherewithal they’ll need to cover their expenses for all the years they’re likely to live.
“Research shows that if you and your spouse have already lived to age 60, at least one of you can expect to live to at least 90. That means you will need substantial savings for a comfortable lifestyle going forward,” says Wuorio, author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Retirement Planning.”
To address the financial element of their retirement plans, he suggests retirees consider selling an overly large family house to reduce future energy costs, as well as their property tax and upkeep burdens. He says many retirees discover that living in a smaller place is surprisingly pleasant.
-- Look into adapting your current home for your elder years.
Understandably, many seniors prefer living on one level to spare themselves the need to climb stairs. But adapting an essentially vertical house for retirement living can be tricky, especially if the installation of an elevator is out of the question. The alternative is to add a bedroom with a full bath on the first level of your place.
If plausible, Thompson recommends that seniors trying to age in place “design a step-free, relatively flat route to the street curb to take out garbage and recyclables.”
Also, “install a low-threshold entry to the backyard deck or patio.”
-- Plan a lengthy stay in any distant location where you might move.
Retirees considering a move to a distant area are wise to spend some time there before buying property in the community.
“It’s a great idea to take a vacation to any town where you might buy a home. Or consider taking a temporary rental there before buying,” Wuorio says.
One helpful way to learn about a new area is to strike up conversations with residents, asking about opportunities to pursue your personal interests in the community.
-- Consider available health care resources.
Quality medical facilities should be a No. 1 priority for retirees, Wuorio asserts.
“Make sure there are good clinics and hospitals in your area,” he says.
-- Don’t rule out buying a smaller place in the same area where you now live.
One potential option for retirees is to downsize within the same metro area where they have established friendships. For example, you might choose to sell your large family home and buy a much smaller condo in a neighboring suburb. That could help you hang on to long-held ties.
With more time on their hands, many retirees find that friendships have a deeper meaning than before. And many older people who move to a distant locale for retirement find it hard to make new friends.
“Unless you’re a person who has a knack for making new friends quickly, you could be better off moving within the same area where you now live rather than moving far away, no matter how good the climate is in some dream destination,” Wuorio says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at email@example.com.)