Why it may be smarter to rent a house during retirement

Renting offers flexibility and freedom from the chores and expenses of maintaining a home

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Some people rent in retirement because they don’t have much choice; they can’t afford to own homes.

But financial planners say renting can make more sense than owning in some circumstances, even for retirees who can afford the costs of home ownership.

Renting offers flexibility as well as freedom from all the chores and expenses of maintaining a home.

People who are “house rich and cash poor” can sell their homes and use the equity to fund a more comfortable lifestyle.

“While retirees often don’t want to rent, it can be a smarter decision for a number of reasons,” says financial planner Lisa Kirchenbauer of Virginia.

Consider renting if you’re in transition

If you’re moving to a new area, financial planners often recommend renting first to get a better feel for the advantages and disadvantages of various neighbourhoods.

You’ll need time to find new doctors, check out entertainment venues, locate favourite restaurants and otherwise set up your support services, says Delia Fernandez, a financial planner in California.

“It makes sense to rent for maybe even a year, so you can really dig into the community and figure out what’s going to be the right fit for you,” she says.

Renting is often smart if you expect to move again within a few years.

Buying and selling homes is expensive, and your home may not rise in value fast enough to offset those costs.

Selling a home also may take longer than you expect, especially during a real estate downturn, which could add stress, delays and additional costs to your move.

Renting could help you age more safely and serenely

Few homes are truly accessible to people who have mobility problems or other age-related disabilities, and adapting your current house could be prohibitively expensive.

Newer apartment buildings could offer ramps, elevators, one-floor living and other amenities to keep you safe as you age.

Social isolation and loneliness are other risks to consider, since these can have a huge negative impact on older people’s health, according to the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.

Apartments can provide a community of people who can socialise and watch out for each other.

Rental communities for older adults often offer organised activities and classes to help people connect, says Sara DeSantis, a personal finance educator in Denver.

Another option, for those who can afford it, is a continuing care retirement community, or CCRC, that allows you to stay in one place even if you later need higher levels of care.

People typically move into one of these facilities when they’re healthy and can live independently, with the promise that they can access assisted living, skilled nursing and sometimes memory care services as they age.

Residents also pay monthly fees that typically increase with the level of care.

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Renting could help you tap more equity

Many people hit retirement age without enough savings and need to use their home equity to supplement their income, says financial planner Nicholas Bunio of Pennsylvania.

Two common ways of tapping equity — selling a home and buying a less expensive one, or using a reverse mortgage — may not free up enough cash to substantially improve their situations, says Mr Bunio.

“If you sell the house and rent, you have this big pile of cash to help cover the rent plus anything extra,” he adds.

Coping with rent increases and other uncertainties

Many retirees understandably fear the possibility of big rent increases when they’re on a fixed income.

But retirees should keep in mind that rents aren’t the only housing costs that are subject to inflation.

Even when you have a fixed-rate mortgage, chances are good that your property taxes, homeowners insurance and costs to maintain and repair your property increase every year as well, says Crystal Cox, a financial planner in Madison, Wisconsin.

Renters can ameliorate the risk of rent increases somewhat by opting for longer leases, says Mr Bunio.

If you sell the house and rent, you have this big pile of cash to help cover the rent plus anything extra
Nicholas Bunio, financial planner

Another potential worry is the possibility of eviction. Even if you can keep up with the rent, a landlord could end your tenancy by selling the building, for example.

But homeowners aren’t immune to potential dislocations, says Ms DeSantis.

Many older people must move into assisted living facilities because they’re no longer safe in their homes.

She recommends people consider moving to more supportive housing while they still have the health and energy to manage the transition.

“Make that decision earlier, instead of it being forced upon you,” says Ms DeSantis.

Updated: March 24, 2023, 5:00 AM

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