Caution: Falling Home Values

With home prices falling for nearly five years, many Americans must consider what to do with their homes should prices continue to collapse and the equity in their homes, if they are still lucky enough to have any, disappears completely. 

If you were counting on tapping the equity in your home to help finance your retirement, you may have reason to worry. A recent issue of SmartMoney points out, “With home prices falling for nearly five years, many American must consider what to do with their homes should prices continue to collapse and the equity in their homes, if they are still lucky enough to have any, disappears completely.” If you are a Baby Boomer with an eye toward retirement, your plans may be taking quite a beating right now. Warnings about shortfalls in social security and Medicare, rising health care costs, and the prospect of higher taxes now combine with disappearing home equity. No wonder so many Boomers say they plan to work through their “retirement.” So, what do the experts say you should do with your home? Should you stay put and wait it out, hoping that

home prices will eventually recover? Or should you bail out now, before you lose even more, and downsize?

“The answer is that it depends on the individual situation,” says Nicholas Paleveda, an adjunct professor at the graduate tax program at Northeastern University. “If you have plenty of assets for retirement, there may be no reason to downsize. If you do not have sufficient assets for retirement, then selling your home to live in a smaller home may be appropriate.”

Some options to consider include:

  • Multi-Generational Living. Think of The Waltons, with three generations living in one house. Multi-generational living was commonplace years ago, and is growing in popularity now. In fact the number of household comprising multiple generations jumped to 7.1 million, or 6.1% of all US households in 2010. Of course, things worked out well for The Waltons, but remember that was television … and even John Boy eventually moved out!
  • Pay Down the Mortgage. Depending upon your circumstances, it may be wise to pay down, or pay off, your mortgage before retirement to reduce your monthly expenses.
  • Downsize. In today’s market, it may actually make sense to sell your house, even if it is underwater, if you can purchase a smaller home at a particularly good price and low interest rate. The cost of paying off your current mortgage would effectively be added to the purchase price of your new, smaller home. In some instances, after the dust settles, you could still be money ahead in the long run.
  • Buy a Second Home Now. That may seem counter-intuitive, but if you have the means and can find a good price on a second or vacation home that will mesh well with your retirement needs, then you could basically lock in that price (and interest rate) now, and sell your primary home when the market recovers. 

Retirement planning has never been simple, and is even more complex in today’s economy. You are well-advised to seek qualified counsel before making any major moves involving your home.

Reference:  Robert Powell via SmartMoney (May 17, 2010) “For Retirees, a Real Estate Nightmare Looms

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