Though owning a home has long been hailed as the American Dream, that's not necessarily the case when it comes to retirement. Since 1990, homeownership has declined among 55-64 year-olds, and experts expect this trend to continue in the coming years.
Of course, owning a home in retirement has certain benefits, like the ability to capitalize on tax breaks and tap the equity you may have built up. But before you prepare to live out your senior years as a homeowner, here are a few reasons to consider renting instead.
1. Your housing costs will be fixed
The problem with homeownership is that even in the absence of a mortgage payment, you still face countless unknown costs. Your property taxes, for example, could go up significantly if you have a year when your home is reassessed. Similarly, as your home ages, your regular maintenance costs could easily go from manageable to downright astronomical.
Consider this: The typical homeowner spends anywhere from 1% to 4% of his or her home's value on annual upkeep. If you're dealing with, say, a $500,000 property, that's a pretty huge range, but you can't discount the possibility of creeping toward its high end as you make your way through retirement.
Then there are repairs to consider -- problems that aren't expected, but rather pop up suddenly and constitute a huge financial burden. Do you really want to deal with those when you're on a fixed income?
When you rent a home, you're locked into the same monthly payment regardless of whether the roof starts to leak or the heater needs repairs. If the local lawn service raises its rates one year to cut the grass, that's not your problem. Of course, the downside of renting is that your landlord could raise your monthly payments once your lease expires -- but if that happens, you could always find a new home or try to negotiate.
2. Owning may not help much from a tax perspective
One benefit of being a homeowner is getting to deduct the interest on your mortgage, thus saving you money on taxes. But if you're coming into retirement mortgage-free, which is the case for the majority of homeowners 65 and over, then that benefit no longer exists.
Furthermore, it used to be the case that you could deduct your property taxes in full, and as we all know, those apply even once your mortgage is paid off. But as part of the recent tax changes that took effect this year, the state and local tax (SALT) deduction, which property taxes are part of, is now capped at $10,000. This means that if you live in a state with high taxes, you might lose the bulk of that write-off (at least for the next seven years), thus making homeownership a less appealing prospect.
3. You'll get more flexibility
The beauty of being retired is not being tied to a job, or that job's location. This means that if you want to pick up and move to a state with warmer weather or get closer to your grandchildren, you're free to do so -- provided your home isn't holding you back.
As a renter, you have the option to leave your home once your lease ends, or, in many cases, break your lease prematurely with a reasonable bit of notice. Selling a home, by contrast, could take months, and there are numerous expenses you might encounter along the way. You may therefore be better off unloading your home prior to retirement and buying yourself that added leeway later in life.
Now this isn't to say that renting a home in retirement is always the right move. As mentioned above, your property could serve as a source of equity during your senior years, and become an income stream in the case of a reverse mortgage. Also, in some cities, it can be more affordable to own a home rather than to rent, even if the latter does allow you to lock into a fixed monthly cost. At the same time, it pays to think about the benefits of renting at a time in your life when you're no longer bringing home a steady paycheck.