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Here's Why Owning a Home in Retirement May Be the Wrong Choice

By Motley Fool Staff – Nov 18, 2018 at 11:50PM

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The peace of mind that comes with homeownership -- especially if you’ve disposed of your mortgage -- may be something of an illusion.

The classic version of the American dream has all sorts of subtexts and assumptions built into it. For example, we should all want to own a home -- because paying into somebody else's equity is for chumps. And for true financial security, we should aim to have that home's mortgage paid off by the time we retire, so that we're basically living rent-free in our golden years. Sounds smart, except those assumptions aren't always correct.

To cut through the mist around this myth, and others, Motley Fool Answers hosts Alison Southwick and Robert Brokamp brought in personal-finance writer Maurie Backman. In this segment of the podcast, she runs through some reasons many of us would be well advised to become renters in retirement.

A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on Nov. 13, 2018.

Alison Southwick: No. 4. Owning a home makes more sense than renting -- in retirement or otherwise.

Maurie Backman: I think that's something that's not necessarily true in life and in retirement -- for working people and your retirement. I'm not a fan of owning a home in retirement, and here's why. For a lot of people, once they retire, they move over to a fixed income, where basically you're living on your Social Security payments and whatever withdrawal you're taking from your IRA or whatever it is.

And when you own a home, you introduce a world of variable expenses into your budget. You never know when your roof might spring a leak, or your air conditioning unit might bust. And so suddenly you've got this mismatch where you've got a fixed income and you've got all of these variable costs.

So to me, renting is a safer prospect in retirement. Unless you have a compelling reason to own your home, renting is a safer prospect because you're basically, at least for the term of your lease, locking in a fixed payment. You're saying, "OK, this is what I'm committing to month after month and I don't have to worry about surprises."

Southwick: But you could, as you're entering retirement, sell your home, and then you would have all that equity that you would then burn through and rent going into retirement. Or through your retirement?

Backman: Yes, there's lots of options to play around with. Selling a home prior to retirement is a good way to generate a lump sum of cash that you could then, if you invest wisely, use it as an ongoing income stream itself.

I want to be clear on this one. It isn't to say that owning a home in retirement is always a bad idea. It's just not always a good idea especially in light of recent tax changes. When you think about the tax benefits of owning a home -- a lot of those are at least, right now, are not as strong. They're not as compelling. A lot of people aren't going to be itemizing now that the standard deduction is what it is. It's so much higher.

That mortgage interest deduction is a big tax break that a lot of people aren't going to take anymore, so you lose one very compelling reason, right there, to own a home in general; and then especially in retirement when it's just a financially precarious period in your life.

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