Life and Money With Helaine by Helaine Olen

Buying a Bigger House Has More Risks Than Rewards

Hi, Helaine: My boyfriend and I are in our late 50s, and we live together in a house I own, along with his two teenage children from a previous relationship. He would like to sell my house and purchase a larger, more expensive house closer to his work and the children's schools. I am not so sure this is the retirement-smart thing to do, given our ages and the expenses incurred by our adult children from previous relationships.

I purchased my home several years ago, near the bottom of the market. Both my boyfriend and I would each be able to make the mortgage payment on my house if the other were to lose a job or fall ill. The home my boyfriend wants to purchase is worth about $100,000 more than I believe I could receive for our current residence. We'd need both of our incomes to meet the mortgage payments, and if something were to happen, we'd need to pay for the house out of my savings.

He earns twice what I do but has little in savings outside of his retirement account. That concerns me. I lost half my 401(k) in my divorce, and I am still making up for lost time, so I am nervous about starting over at ground zero. Could you please share your thoughts on this scenario? -- Housebound or House-Hunting

Dear Housebound or House-Hunting: It sounds to me like you do not want to sell your current home, and I agree with you. If your boyfriend wants to purchase another home, he should go off and do it. But that's the rub, right? Unless he takes money out of his retirement account, he doesn't have the money for a down payment -- not for your home, never mind one that's more expensive. So he's putting the squeeze on you. He wants you to make a financial sacrifice for his benefit, one with little to no upside for you. If anything, it comes with enormous risks.

As you noted, in your late 50s, it's more than a tad financially risky to take on increased mortgage costs. All too many of us leave the workforce earlier than we plan, either because of ill health or job loss. You might want to remind your boyfriend he's likely going to be helping out with college tuition payments well into his 60s. The last thing he needs is an increase in his monthly living expenses.

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