Avoiding the Housing Trap in Retirement

Homes are a money pit. This morning the HVAC repairman showed up to fix the broken attic fan. Painters are coming next week. The insurance bill on the home is due soon. The landscaping needs some work. Let’s not forget real estate taxes and the mortgage payment.

Many people think of their home as a financial asset. Most people thought real estate was a safe financial asset. People were flipping houses for fun and profit. Then 2008 came along and we learned a whole new set of terms, like “liar loans” and “short sale.”

What does this have to do with retirement? Just this: many people are over-spending on their dream home or holding on to costly vacation homes. There is a term for this: being “house poor.” It describes the homeowners who spend too much of their income on housing costs.  How much is too much?  If it’s nearing 40% it’s definitely too much.

We won’t go into the reasons for this; they are well-known. The answer is to either make more money or to get rid of the money pit. It may be a very difficult emotional decision, but over the long-term, the financial markets have done better than the housing market. Another benefit is that the financial markets are liquid while your home is not,  sometimes taking a year or more to sell.

We are big believers in home ownership. But in our experience a home is not a financial asset that is used in retirement. In most cases the home does not become a financial asset until the owner gets too old and has to move into a retirement community or a nursing home. By that time, retirement is nearing its end.

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