Money Studies Articles and Resources

Plan Ahead for Housing in the Golden Years

By Lois Vitt

With Social Security reform in the forefront of the news these days, Americans of all ages are giving serious thought (sometimes belatedly) to ensuring their financial solvency in their golden years. The current debate is between private investment plans and government programs, but the conversation reminds all of us that the day will come when we will leave the workforce and look to our retirement portfolio for our sustenance and quality of life.

Unfortunately, what many fail to consider in this period of self-examination are their housing needs and preferences for their golden years. Eighty percent of all householders age 65 and older, whatever their marital status, are homeowners. Among married seniors, 92% are homeowners. And we've all heard the parent or grandparent, confronted with the possibility of moving from the homestead, proclaim, "I'm staying in my home 'til the end. They'll have to carry me out in a pine box."

The reality is that, if Grandpa is carried out of his home, he will likely be very much alive and kicking and screaming. Should he be fortunate enough to remain in his home, operating under his own steam until the end, it will be the result of careful financial planning. Many seniors who remain at home in their final years require costly in-home health care and nursing assistance. Others, sadly, remain in their homes due to lack of financial planning, foregoing the care and assistance and social interaction they really need.

Homeownership is the number one key factor related to self-sufficiency in later life. As a psychological resource, it allows us feelings of independence, identity, control, and security. Fortunate is the elder citizen who made a financial roadmap early in life and followed it through to the wise investment of homeownership. Even more fortunate is the mature adult who has investigated and arrived at a reasonable housing plan for the waning years, right alongside a pension or retirement portfolio, a will, and written instructions for the execution of all matters of personal importance.

Owning a home is a dream of all Americans; for most of us, it is the ticket to financial security, the best investment we will ever make. It is not the end of the road, however. Each individual needs to have a carefully thought-out plan, with contingencies, for ultimate housing choices. The final decision to remain at home until the end should be the best decision in terms of quality of lifestyle and personal satisfaction, not the final insult rendered by default.