Homeward Bound

Kristine Hayes

WHEN I GOT DIVORCED, I went from living in a 3,000-square-foot house to a 700-square-foot apartment. For 20 years, I’d been a homeowner. I’d dealt with the drudgery of yardwork, the financial pain of a city-mandated “sewer upgrade” and a never-ending stream of issues with broken appliances, furnaces and hot water heaters.

For the past five years, I’ve been a renter. I’ve dealt with noisy neighbors, steep rent increases and the inevitable boredom that comes with living somewhere where you can’t paint the walls, install new flooring or hang any “permanent fixtures” on the walls.

Of course, owning and renting also each come with benefits. Which option will I choose for retirement? My current thoughts on the subject can be broken down into five factors:

1. LocationThe only thing I’m currently sure about is that I’ll relocate to another part of the country. The grey-sky dreariness of the Pacific Northwest, along with the rapidly increasing size of the cities here, no longer makes this part of the country very appealing to me. After living in the Northwest for more than 40 years, I’m ready to leave. Where I decide to move to will depend not just on climate, but also on housing prices, tax rates and the region’s political climate.

Moving to a new location certainly appeals to my sense of adventure, but my practical side keeps my finances in mind. I’ll probably rent for at least a year once I decide where I’m headed. Buying a home, only to discover I don’t really like living somewhere with 300 days of sunshine a year, could be a costly mistake.

2. New or used? The first house I owned was exactly what you think of when you hear the words “fixer upper.” Built in the 1920s, it had been neglected for at least three decades. For five years, I spent nearly every weekend refinishing the wood floors, working on the electrical system or patching the lath and plaster walls. It was a learning experience and I don’t regret the knowledge I walked away with.

Now that I’m older, and have other interests, I recognize owning a home that needs extensive remodeling wouldn’t be very enjoyable. When I’m ready to buy, I’ll likely try to find a home built within the last 15 to 20 years.

3. Size. Apartment life has made me appreciate a simpler lifestyle. When I recently moved to a two-bedroom unit—and gained 200 square feet of living space in the process—it felt like I’d moved into a mansion. I suspect a 1,200 to 1,400-square-foot home will serve me well in my retirement years.

4. Style. I’ve learned a few things from watching my relatives grow older. My ideal retirement residence will be a single-level home with no stairs or steep driveways. In addition, I’ll be on the lookout for a floor plan that would easily accommodate mobility assistance devices.

5. Mortgage or cash? While I’d prefer to pay cash for any home I purchase, I’m not sure that will be feasible. My current plan is to make a sizable—meaning 50% minimum—down payment on my retirement home. Will I qualify for a mortgage to cover the other 50%? I’d love to know the answer—but I don’t think I’ll know until the time comes.

Kristine Hayes is a departmental manager at a small, liberal arts college in Portland, Oregon. Her previous articles include Council on AgingFour Numbers and My Five Mistakes.

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