The Property Man

Buying a retirement property? 6 things to consider before pulling the trigger

Every day in America, nearly 11,000 people turn 65. Take a second to think about that — 11,000 every day, and it’s not slowing down anytime soon. The last “baby boomer” will reach 65 in the year 2029.

People are also living longer and staying healthier and therefore spending more years in retirement. So it’s becoming more and more critical to think about retirement now — including where (and how) you’re going to live.

On “The Property Man," I met Kay, who lived with her husband in New York, but knew that she eventually wanted to retire in a warmer climate. They turned to Scottsdale, Ariz., and Realtor Warren Neal.

Just like with any property search, finding the right realtor is critical, and the relationship you have with the realtor can make a huge difference. Your Realtor shouldn’t just know your price range and how many bedrooms you need. A good Realtor really has to get to know his or her client to find all the little items they’d be interested in, but may not be factoring in.

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When thinking about your retirement, there are some important do’s and don’ts that you need to keep in mind.

1: Understand what's going to be *really* important to you over the next many years.

Warren told me that many of his clients provide their requirements, but after working with them for a few days, he realizes that what they’ve identified aren’t really the important things. People focus too much on the house and the short-term wants, rather than the long-term lifestyle desires. 

“I’ll ask them of course about the house — ‘You want a one story house? How many bedrooms? How many baths?' — you know, the typical questions you would ask. But I also ask them about their lifestyle. ‘What do you like to do? You like hiking? You like golf? You like tennis?'”

That brings me to my second point.

2: How are you going to spend most of your time?

It’s not just about what kind of house you want. Do you want to spend retirement sitting on the back porch, or skiing? Hiking, or golf? (Or, of course, all of the above?)

You need to think of this home as where you’ll potentially be for the rest of your life. You didn’t retire just to commute to the things you want to spend your days doing.

3: What about the family? 

If you want your family to visit, don’t forget to factor that in. How easy would it be for your kids and grandkids to get to you … or for you to get to them?

You might think it’s time to downsize — there might be only you and a spouse living there — but what happens when the kids or grandkids come to visit? Sending the family off to stay in a hotel every time could result in fewer visits.

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4: Location, location, location.

Think about the makeup of the area and who you want as your neighbors. What are you looking to get out of the community? Do you want to just be off by yourself, or a part of a community with shared amenities like pools, recreation centers and communal activities?

Many people don’t want to spend retirement just surrounded only by other retirees. Others do. Get an accurate picture of who you will be interacting with, and make sure it’s a good fit.

5: Crunch the numbers.

Just like anything else, you need to understand your own finances, and how much you can afford.

Calculate all of your retirement income, including social security or pensions, and then figure out what all of your expenses would be.

There’s a lot more than mortgage payments to think about. There are HOA dues, property taxes, insurance, etc. Many retirees want to belong to country clubs or other things that involve substantial membership fees or dues.

And all that is before you even get to any improvements that you want to make to the house (and of course the purchase price). Planning on traveling during retirement? That’s going to cost you too. Sit down and take the time to add all of this up, before deciding how much to spend on a retirement property.

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6: Do a "trial run."

It’s always a good idea to spend a decent amount of time in the area that you’re considering before signing anything. Look for an Airbnb rental or something similar nearby so you get a sense of what it is actually like to live there, and not just what it’s like to visit or vacation in the area. 

Retirement is something a lot of us are having to think about sooner that we’d like to admit. You need to keep in mind that planning for retirement is not just about money — although that’s important. Do it right, and you’ll be enjoying some well-deserved years or relaxation in your new home.