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On the Move — or Not


reverse mortgage newsWhen we explored retiree relocation four years ago, we discovered that, contrary to popular myth, most retirees were not looking to move to a smaller home or to be nearer children and grandkids. They weren’t looking to move at all. Aging in place was the name of the game.

In 2015, retirees are fully embracing the old fast food commercial to “Have it your way” when it comes to how and where they’re choosing to retire. Many still opt to stay put, and renovate their homes to suit their changing needs. But there’s a twist: they’re not downsizing or remodeling with an eye towards growing older, but often upsizing — adding home offices or expanding the family room to accommodate large gatherings, with a focus on curb appeal and resale value. This is not your parents’ retirement!

And while a New York Times piece on renovation vs. relocation in retirement discusses all manner of ways to fund the improvements, from tapping retirement accounts to a HELOC, unfortunately it does not mention reverse mortgage, which might be ideal for seniors with significant home equity.

Those who do plan to move don’t intend to go very far: a survey conducted by Merrill Lynch in partnership with AgeWave found sunny weather isn’t the siren call it’s long been made out to be: 83 percent of those 65+ who chose to relocate in 2013 stayed in the same state — and they don’t all live in Florida.

This time around, nearly two-thirds of respondents say they plan to move at least once in retirement to be closer to family — though if family lives nearby they’ll stay where they are and reimagine what their existing home looks like. One truth, says AgeWave president Ken Dychtwald, is that these retirees aren’t “settling”: for many, their retirement home is “the best home of their lives.”

Reverse mortgage professionals understand these survey surprises. One experienced LO has some sage advice for seniors who plan to move: “For older people, moving is a big chore — even locally. If we’ve lived in the same house for a long period of time, we have accumulated a lot of ‘stuff’. You don’t realize how much until it comes time to pack, and you are forced to go through your closets and attic. This is the perfect time to donate — give it away to fellow church members, to Habitat for Humanity, Goodwill, or another worthy organization. Take the tax deduction, pat yourself on the back and stop worrying about it.

“Another question to ask someone considering relocation to a different town or state is, ‘Why are you really moving, and is it in your best interest?’ Many older parents, especially, get talked into leaving their support structure at the urging of their adult children who want to keep an eye on their parents as they age. The downside is, maybe the parent is giving up more than they are gaining. We all establish a social network, medical support, etc. and it can be difficult to re-establish these in a new locale.”

For seniors who need to move into a care environment as they age, innovation among the generations takes aging in community to a whole new level. In the Netherlands, students live free in nursing homes in exchange for spending at least thirty hours a month as senior companions, providing friendship and reducing social isolation. The students reside in small, rent-free apartments on the retirement home “campus”, learning from these elders’ life wisdom something they can’t receive in the classroom. It’s a creative win for all involved.


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  1. Amara, while I can you that you have a valid point, this is not what we’re experiencing. I live in a very popular retirement community in the South. During the boom years retirees were moving here and buying rather large, family style homes. Now they are buying smaller homes that they can pay cash for or fit more easily into their tight budgets. I’m not seeing the buy and remodel crowd and we still have MANY people relocating due to our attractive lifestyle.

    • Michele,

      Thanks for reading and responding. I imagine there is a geographic component to this ~ and of course, the stories that make the news are usually ones that highlight trends different from the norm. Clearly your retirement community remains popular for a good reason!

  2. I agree that all angles should be discussed with seniors. Before kids come in and pack up their parents they need to actually talk about what the parents want. They have a familiar neighborhood, grocery store, neighbors, church, etc. Can they afford to stay? Should they downsize, is the home safe are all topics to be discussed. This is especially true with the loss of one parent. Is the survivor strong enough, equipped to live on their own? The seniors need to be included in the decisions or they may be very unhappy with where they land.

    • Pat,

      You raise some excellent questions for discussion, especially about the surviving spouse. Thanks for commenting!

    • Pat,

      I would add in the situation of a married couple that the potential loss of one of the spouses and its financial impact to the other should be part of that discussion along with an brief examination of whether or not it will be harder to get a HECM if one of the spouses dies before applying for the HECM.

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