Selling the Family Home Is Liberating for Many Retirees

WHEN is a house your safe haven and when is it standing in the way of richer life experiences?

That?s the question more and more retirees are asking these days.

Take Barbara and Mike West and Joseph and Phyllis Applebaum, retirees and longtime Maryland residents.

After years of analyzing their financial situation, the Wests decided to put the mortgage-free suburban house they had owned for 26 years on the market. They wanted to avoid the mid-Atlantic winters and considered moving to Hawaii, where they had lived while Mr. West was in the U.S. Navy.

But they decided it was too remote. They also ruled out San Diego, Savannah, Ga., and Charleston, S.C. Florida, they decided, was a possibility.

They considered renting their Maryland house out for part of the year, yet the idea of storing some of their household goods and someone else sleeping in their bed changed their minds.

Of the decision to sell a mortgage-free home, Barbara West, 63, said it would give them a chance to dream and to explore. Besides, ?It?s a lot of money locked up in the house,? said Ms. West, who retired from her job as a lobbyist two years ago. ?It?s a nice side benefit. It will free up money. We?ll have more flexibility. We?re kind of looking at it as an adventure.?

The Applebaums ? Joseph, 71, and Phyllis, 67, also decided to buy a place in Florida.

Their calculations were slightly different. They still had a mortgage on their home, where they had lived for 27 years. By selling the house, they could take the profit, buy in Boca Raton for cash and be mortgage-free.

For those 65 and older who have paid off their mortgage ? approximately 70 percent of homeowners in that age group ? the financial future looks bright.

Many still want to sell their homes to free up money that would give them more flexibility during retirement. So they sell or plan to sell their home, and create a less expensive lifestyle. For those who have a mortgage, selling and moving to a less expensive area can create a mortgage-free lifestyle.

Close to 80 percent of the 41 million Americans age 65 and older are considered homeowners ? whether or not they carry mortgage balances. That is the highest percentage of all age groups, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

While the overall homeownership rate has remained the same during the last decade and even after the recession for the 65 and older demographic, the percent of older owners with a mortgage increased to 30 percent in 2011, from 22 percent a decade earlier, according to a May 2014 C.F.P.B. report. For those age 75 and older, the percentage carrying mortgage debt more than doubled, to 21.2 percent from 8.4 percent, in the same period.


Reasons include the refinancing boom of the 2000s, a first-home purchase later in life, smaller down payments and the use of home equity lines of credit, the report said. For 2013, the percentage of homeowners age 65 and older carrying mortgage debt remained at 30 percent, according to the C.F.P.B., which releases the data every two years.

?There is a definite trend that older Americans are carrying debt into their retirement years,? said Stacy Canan, deputy assistant director for the C.F.P.B.?s Office for Older Americans. ?Decades ago it was sort of rare.? She does not see that trend abating as the age groups younger than 65 are carrying mortgages, too.




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