Is downsizing right for you?

If there is one thing I have learned over the years it is that there is not one size fits all housing solution for retirees. There isn’t a retirement age either. We used to assume that when we reach a certain age we will retire and want a smaller house. I have had clients who wanted to move into larger houses during retirement. They wanted space for family gatherings and for children and grandchildren.

You don’t have to move just because you are retiring. You can stay where you are. Don’t let anyone talk you out of it if that is what you want to do.

Downsizing is an option for those who can afford it. Buying and selling can be stressful but it has always worked out for my clients.

downsizing info graphic
Perks of downsizing

Call or write for a free consultation if you are interested in downsizing in the next year or so.

Moving at the right age

Almost all of my home seller clients are over 65. I think most are over 70 but I don’t ask. There is no set age for moving or downsizing. In fact some older folks buy larger houses so that there is more space for grandchildren and maybe a parent or two.

Sometimes older people are forced to move and they do not have a plan.  They get sick or they lose their mobility or eyesight or maybe there is a dementia diagnosis. Some homeowners decide that the house is just too much work so they move on.

There is a best time to move and it is, if at all possible before moving becomes a necessity.

For people who are over 60, now is the best time to start getting rid of excess stuff. It is a great time to explore various neighborhoods and housing options.

Everyone needs to move eventually.

Also in Minnesota there are some free resources for seniors who need to move or who are exploring their housing options. Sadly they don’t cover that in real estate school and it isn’t covered in the Senior Real Estate Specialist program. I became familiar with it many years ago when a neighbor needed some help. Senior Linkage Line The Senior LinkAge Line is a service of the Minnesota Board on Aging in partnership with Minnesota’s area agencies on aging.

Rent free and mortgage free retirement

Mortgage lenders don’t like this idea and neither do landlords. There are some huge advantages in owning a home free and clear in retirement. In St. Paul the property taxes are high but property tax refunds are available through the State of Minnesota for low-income property owners.

In 2020 according to Zillow, 37% of Americans own their homes free and clear. The number went up by 5.5% after the Great Recession. In 2017 41% of baby boomers owned their homes free and clear. For seventy-year-olds, an estimated 68% are mortgage-free, in 2022 that number grew to 70%.

Over the years, I have read tons of advice suggesting paying off a mortgage isn’t a good idea. It makes sense that if paying off a mortgage means using up savings and retirement accounts it probably isn’t a good idea. Other debts should be paid off first, especially credit card debt.

Owning a home free and clear means lower housing costs during retirement. Those property taxes are killer but still lower than renting or paying taxes and making mortgage payments.

It might even be possible to retire without having a million dollars by owning a modest home that is paid for and no debt.

It isn’t possible to save up enough for long-term care. To get help paying for care seniors will need to spend all of their savings. In most cases, homeowners do not have to sell their houses to pay for care as long as they live in the house.

There are some psychological benefits of not having to make house payments can be liberating. Something to consider when planning for retirement.

What happens to a house when the occupant has Alzheimer’s

wooden houses

Alzheimer’s disease can be hard on a house. The owner may forget to clean the kitchen and pay the bills. Can you imagine remembering to pay your property taxes when you don’t always remember who you are?

In the US some 27% of people who are over 60 live alone. age is the biggest known risk factor for dementia. The majority of people with dementia are over the age of 65, and the risk of this condition increases as you get older, and the population is aging.

It is easy to forget to turn off the burner on the stove. Operating a microwave oven isn’t always intuitive and for people with dementia it can be very difficult.

I don’t have any answers or solutions on how to keep people with dementia safe when they are alone in their own homes. We all need to keep pay attention to aging family members and help our neighbors when we can.

In St. Paul, the fire department has a team that can respond to non-emergency crises. They can be reached at 651-228-6216 on weekdays between 10:00 AM and 6:00 PM. I recently met the head of the unit Deputy Chief Dwayne Gibbs.

There is also the House Calls program through Ramsey County. 651-266-1290.

There are other services. I am in the process of working with a couple of government agencies and the Saint Paul Areas Association of Realtors to come up with a list of services specifically for elderly homeowners in crisis.

Seniors are not part of the conversation about senior housing

I am not sure I believe in “senior housing”. For starters, there is about a 50-year age range for people we call “Seniors”. It doesn’t seem like a group of people who could have the same housing needs.

A few years ago I took some classes and became “Senior Real Estate Specialist” SRES. I do my best to keep up with housing trends for all age groups. When it comes to “senior” housing news it is all about how institutions that house the elderly can make more money.

Granted all businesses need to make a profit and housing is a business. What I find sad though is that Seniors themselves do not appear to be part of the conversation.

As we age our housing needs may change to the point where we need to move out of current housing and move into whatever kind of housing is more suitable.

There is the belief that all older people want to live near old people and that people over a certain age can not live in housing that has stairs or that older people don’t want to cook or clean but wish to be waited on.

I know a few people who are in their late eighties to mid-nineties who live in housing with stairs and who love to cook. They interact with people of all ages regularly. A relative who is in his late 80s has a social life that revolves around walking with his friends. He does not live in any kind of senior housing.

I know another who will turn 96 this year. He loves having the family over to enjoy a home-cooked meal. He bakes some wonderful pies too. Sometimes he needs a little help but don’t we all? The mother of a childhood friend will turn 99 this year. She LOVES baking and telling stories about her life. She lives in the same house she has lived in for more than 70 years.

Sometimes I sell 55+ housing, which is unusually in the form of small condos. Life in these buildings doesn’t look like what we see in the advertisements.

I’ll just say that senior housing isn’t for everyone who is between 50 and 100 years old. It is possible to age in place.

The city of St. Paul is cruel to the elderly

How to make a lot vacant

In St. Paul, someone can complain to the city about your property. Maybe they think your grass is too long. Maybe they don’t like you or the way you look. Maybe they want to buy your house and see that you are struggling to maintain it.

Someone complained about a barking dog at my house but we didn’t have a dog.

Another time someone complained about too many cats in our yard. We did not have a cat at the time.

Code enforcement in St. Paul is complaint driven. That means that the city does not pay attention to code violations unless someone complains.

The city can condemn a house. There used to be reports that we could see online through St. Paul property look-up that would show what was wrong with the house. They don’t do that anymore.

After a time and it depends upon the inspector a house can be condemned by the city and after that, the city can make it a registered vacant building and charge $5000 for a permit. There isn’t any consistency in this process. It can go on for months or for a decade.

Elderly homeowners on fixed incomes struggle to make repairs without the added burden of fines from the city.  If the fee isn’t paid it gets attached to the already sky-high property taxes They end up living in a car on the property or in a tent near the property because they are not allowed to live in the house.

In order to get the house uncondemned they must pay for a city inspection. City inspectors will go through the house and inspect it and create a list of repairs needed for code compliance.  If the owner doesn’t have the house inspected it can sit vacant and condemned for years.

The vacant building permit fee is $5000. That money could be used to fix up the property or to provide housing for homeowners who are not allowed to live in their own homes. At the very least the $5000 should cover an inspection that outlines exactly why the house is condemned.

The forced registered vacant building program does nothing to improve our housing stock. In fact, some of these houses rot as no one is allowed to live in the house. The program does not help improve housing safety for homeowners. In fact, I know of one situation where the elderly homeowner spent Christmas Eve sleeping in his car in sub-zero weather.

The only people I know who own condemned houses that they are not allowed to live in are over 70 years old.

These condemned category 2 houses may even be fit to live in. We don’t really know because the process lacks consistency and transparency. In fact, the city may be violating fair housing laws. I occasionally see houses that are filled with junk and have not been cleaned in years that are not condemned. The system is compliant-driven and lacks transparency.

City inspectors encourage owners of these properties to sell. The new owner would be responsible for the repairs.  Is there an age limit on homeownership?

Eventually, the owners have to sell or it is taken from them by a bank or for back taxes.  Sometimes the vacant property disintegrates to the point where it has to be torn down.

More often than not seniors who have lived in their homes for decades do not want to leave. In fact, I can’t think of anything that is more cruel forcing an elderly person to leave their home.

Homelessness among the elderly used to be rare now it is the fastest-growing group.

There has to be a better way!