Financial adviser Mitchell Katz of CA Wealth Management in Bethesda has a couple of clients who love golf. Both husband and wife were in their early 50s, and their retirement dream was to buy a home in a golf community in North Carolina.
When they were finally ready to do it, Katz warned them, as he does all his clients. "I told them you'd better rent first," he says. "Make sure it fits your lifestyle and you like your neighbors."
It turned out to be the best advice. They did not like their new golf community, where everyone was much older. So they returned to the area to figure out their Plan B.
"That was years of a dream that went away quickly," Katz says. "I've had three or four couples that had the same story. Typically, one spouse is going along for the ride. My advice is, please just rent. See if it makes sense. If it does, fine. If not, we have prevented a big mistake."
Buying that retirement home is a big deal. And you'd better do research before you do it.
First, consider whether you are going to use the new home as a primary residence or a secondary residence.
"I am a bigger proponent of making it a retirement home," says Joe Duran, CEO of United Capital in Newport Beach, Calif. "Retirees hold onto original home. They are uncomfortable letting it go because they want the kids to know it's still there. That can be incredibly expensive and impact the rest of retirement. Every month you keep your old home, you have two payments."
Like everything else when it comes to retirement, it takes a lot of planning. Here are tips from financial planners.
Try before you buy
Katherine Dean, managing director of wealth planning for Wells Fargo Private Bank, says she has seen a lot of people trip up on this one.
"They were trying to get closer to a child or followed a friend and found out 'I don't want to be there,' " she says.
"Rent for a year," Katz says. It prevents the big mistake. Get settled in. Do you like it? Does your spouse like it?
Ask: Can I afford this home if something happens to my spouse or loved one?
"Think about whether one person [if the couple buys it together] will be able to pay for the costs of the home on their own," says Mike Lynch, vice president at Hartford Funds.
"Many folks think that when one spouse passes, expenses generally are subsequently cut in half," Lynch says. "The reality is they generally only drop 20 to 30 percent. For example, if one spouse passes, the mortgage, property tax, home insurance costs don't change. They may even increase in the future. All of this needs to be planned for with their current sources of income."
Life's all about choices
Freedom or control, what do you prefer? "Do you want responsibility with land and property? Some people don't want to do that," Dean says. "Some people don't want to have debt in retirement. It comes down to a personal decision."
Consider your cash flow. Take into account the area you want to move to or live in.
"What can you afford? Do you own something? Are you selling? What is your budget?" Dean says. "Don't erode your retirement savings. Understand the nest egg. Don't be tempted to dig into that when you are making this stop."
Consider home maintenance
Access home equity in retirement
"When it comes to aging in place, it's important to think about who is going to change the lightbulbs, who will handle the plumbing, who will make repairs if appliances break down," Lynch says. "If one of the spouses was experienced in household maintenance and passes away, the other spouse needs to factor in what it would cost to hire someone else to do these types of household chores. It might even become necessary to hire out for other regular work as well, such as window cleaning, yard maintenance and even housekeeping."
"How long will you live there?" Dean says. "If it is short term, it may not be worth it. The general rule is you live there for three years minimum. It depends on terms of the loan and purchase price."
Will I be able to live in this home when I'm 80 or 90?
For example, Lynch says, in Myrtle Beach, S.C., the homes are on pillars and all the staircases are in the front. "The challenge is when I'm 75 years old, can I get up those steps? The physical layout of home is probably one of the more important things. Are the hallways wide enough? Are the countertops low enough?"
He said contractors can now get a CAPS designation (Certified Aging in Place Specialist). They are trained to look for problems like these.
Make sure you are close to amenities
Katz says one couple's dream was to retire to a lake community. But when they rented, they realized there were no grocery stores nearby. He says to make sure you have access to airports, hospitals and other medical care, and — if it's important — Starbucks.