Most Older Americans Age in their Homes

This article is from: Squared Away Blog: Financial Behavior: Work, Save, Retire from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, posted Feb 11, 2020

Retirees are apparently unpersuaded that it’s a good idea to convert their substantial home equity into some retirement income.

One way to tap this home equity is through state programs that defer older homeowners’ property taxes. The programs are offered in many states, but very few people take advantage of them. Retirees are also skeptical about the benefits of converting their equity into income using a federally insured reverse mortgage: only about 50,000 older homeowners, on average, get them every year.

A big concern is that if they ever sell the house, the back taxes or the reverse mortgage must be paid back – with interest.

But a new study by the Center for Retirement Research finds that this is an unlikely scenario for the majority of retirees, because they rarely move or don’t move at all.

The researchers constructed a picture of how Americans’ living situations change between their 50s and the end of their lives by combining the data for two separate age groups. They matched the households in one group, who were between age 50 and 78, with similar but much older households in the second group and then followed the second group through most of their 90s.

The researchers found that 53 percent of this constructed sample of homeowners never moved out of the house they owned when they were in their early 50s.

Another 17 percent relocated around the time they were retiring and then generally stayed put. Although the households in this group tended to be more educated and better off financially than the people who never moved, both groups ended up with substantially more housing wealth than the people who moved frequently.

The frequent movers – 14 percent of the households in the study – had been through more financial hardships. They were more likely to have just one person in the couple earning money, and they had more children and experienced more unemployment.

The remaining 16 percent illustrate the wild card facing all retirees trying to plan for the future. Medical problems such as dementia or a physical impairment eventually forced many of them to move into a care facility, such as assisted living or a nursing home.

Older Americans overwhelmingly say in surveys that they hope to grow old in their own homes – and their actions back this up.

Their stable homeownership patterns indicate that tapping home equity could be an option for more homeowners, the researchers concluded.

To read the entire study, authored by Alicia H. Munnell, Abigail Walters, Anek Belbase, and Wenliang Hou, see “Are Homeownership Patterns Stable Enough to Tap Home Equity?

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