Just about everyone assumes they’ll own a home by the time they approach retirement. After all, the American Dream all but guarantees a large house, new car and a freshly mowed lawn. Who wants to worry about a nosy landlord in their golden years?
Unfortunately, the reality of aging isn’t always how we imagine. With housing costs on the rise – especially in large cities – many seniors are being forced to rent indefinitely. That’s not a scenario most are prepared for, but it will continue to be more common as the baby boomer generation approaches retirement.
So how can seniors continue to rent while still enjoying a comfortable retirement? Read below for our advice.
This may seem obvious, but if you’re living in an area where renting is more common than owning, one solution is to move. You don’t need to move across the country (although that’s always an option), but moving even an hour away can offer more affordable opportunities. It might still not be possible to buy a home, but rent prices may be more affordable and allow you to retire comfortably.
For example, the median rent in Los Angeles is $2,710 a month, while it’s about $1,000 less in Santa Ana – only an hour’s drive away. That divide is even more drastic in New York City, where the median rent is $4,820. Jersey City, just across the Hudson River, is only $2,970.
Downsizing may be necessary if rent prices are forcing you to delay retirement. For example, if you currently rent a two-bedroom home, you may consider switching to a roomy one-bedroom. Single folks can consider swapping a one-bedroom for a studio, which could bring more flexibility to their budget.
A smaller space will also allow you to save on utilities, since there will be fewer bedrooms to heat and cool. You can also downsize to a newer apartment that has better insulation – costing you less during hot summers and chilly winters.
If you’re dead set on staying in a place that’s slightly out of your budget, you could consider getting a roommate. While the idea of sharing a home in retirement may seem undignified, it’s a practical solution that will only become more common as nationwide rent costs rise and retirement savings dwindle. Some people also rent out spare rooms or whole apartments while they’re traveling; this could be one strategy to make use of your home while you enjoy retirement.
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Choose a Rent-Controlled Apartment
One of the biggest reasons advisors caution against renting in retirement is that you have no control over how much your housing costs will increase as you age. Some cities see 10% rent growth every year, and those costs can affect how much you can afford other expenses and leisurely pursuits.
If you can, choose a rent-controlled apartment. Cities with rent control only allow landlords to hike the rent by a certain amount every year. By knowing how much your landlord may charge every year, you’ll be better prepared than someone who suddenly finds out their rent is being doubled.
Build Increases Into Your Budget
If you still want to rent while retired, you need to be prepared for rent prices to change. There’s no guarantee that rent will go up every year, but it’s better to be prepared.
“It has to be in your budget. If you don’t have cost of living increases, your housing costs will be a larger impact of your budget more and more over time,” she said.
“If you’re doing your planning properly, you just need to be correct in your cash flow assumption,” he said.
Sign a Longer Lease
The longer you sign a lease for, the more control you’ll have over your housing costs. CFP Marguerita Cheng and CEO of Blue Ocean Global Wealth advises taking the longest lease you can (usually two years for most landlords).
Staying in the same spot also helps. Moving is expensive – especially if you can’t handle the physical aspect of hauling your stuff to a new apartment. You also have to pay a security deposit every time you move, and risk losing part of it to a cranky landlord. Consider the pros and cons of moving, and staying in your current apartment if costs change.
Flavin also recommends renting from an individual landlord instead of a big company, which may be more likely to hike your rent. Historically, rents have gone up over the years, and retirees should be prepared for higher costs. “You’re at the whim of the rental market,” he said.
Retirement is a scary process and can be even more frightening for those who rent. The sooner you tackle your housing plans, the better off you’ll be in your golden years.
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