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October 03, 2016


Why is the choice between staying put and moving to a retirement community? Why not just downsize? That's what my wife and I did about 9 years ago when we moved from a 3,400 square foot house in Candalaria where we raised our 3 kids (now mostly gone) to an 1,800 square foot house near South Salem High School. I feel liberated from all the maintenance chores I used to have to deal with. We like living in a diverse neighborhood with young neighbors with kids. I like my involvement with my neighborhood association, and I can ride my bike downtown. I plan never to move to a retirement community. I don't want to be with a bunch of people who are mostly just like me. I hope to always be in a neighborhood where most of the people are not like me.

Jim, downsizing certainly is another option. But pretty much the same objections can be made to a "don't wait to downsize" argument. Meaning, so long as we're happy where we are, it doesn't seem to make sense to move to a smaller house that is easier to take care of.

I guess it comes down to the balance of forces. You obviously were more pulled to move to a smaller house in a different area, than to remain where you were. So I gather you were responding to forces in the present moment, not thinking "when we're older, we'll be glad we moved."

Diverse neighborhoods with mixtures of young and old also are more appealing to us than a 55+ community. Likely we'll move to such a neighborhood when, or if, we want to leave our current home. It's just really tough to envision doing that right now, given how much we like being immersed in nature and privacy.

Just over a few hills west of your place is a little community called Prospect Hill.
We moved here 26 years ago. Every single "old-timer" that lived here when we arrived has lived in their home until the day they died. None of them had a pack of illegals doing their yard work every week; they did it all themselves.
If one wants to remain mobile and healthy, exercise is very important. The land provides opportunity for regular exercise.
I have known people that moved from their home and soon found themselves bathed in deep regret.
One couple returned a few times to their former place to remind the new owners that they want to buy it back if they ever decide to move. The new owners finally had to tell them to stop bugging them.
If we sold our place, I would hate myself every single rising day.
That isn't going to happen.
The grass is NOT greener on the other side. There is no place like home!

One factor not mentioned that I think should be added to the mix is the financial risk of property ownership in an increasingly fragile economic system that is becoming more volatile as the crossing of environmental limits continues to make itself felt in ways large and small. A working age person can absorb a lot more volatility risk than someone on a fixed income, even a very generous one (because people tend to spend to their income -- few pensioners live below their means and keep adding to their nest eggs).

As we saw in 2006-2010, some "truths" that "everybody knew" -- like real estate doesn't crash nationally -- are not true and actually reflect a unique post-WWII period of unparalleled and unrepeatable affluence. The problem is if your economic gut-level feelings were shaped in what turned out to be a uniquely friendly period, your instincts can really cause you to overlook the risks when the world returns to a harsher normal.

The sprawl lobby pretends that everyone should own a house, but boy is that not the case. There are times -- especially for elders -- when the capacity to shoulder the risks that come with title to property is greatly diminished, in large part because of the shorter time horizon you have to work with if the value crashes suddenly.

If your 3200 ft^2 behemoth is all paid off, that reduces the risk considerably. But if it's not, you should be including in your calculations about the future how you will feel if its value drops precipitously because of some unpredictable thing -- if you wind up underwater on it, still owing more than it's worth, will you still want to be making the payments on such a place? Do you have the liquidity to accept a loss and move elsewhere if not?

I have no idea what the final answer is for you, but I do know that too few people appreciate how painful it is when a lifetime of propaganda about the "forced savings" benefits of "owning your own home" turns out to be nonsense.

John Gear, Very good advice!
However, Brian has lived in his house for 26 years.
I have lived in our house for 26 years.
Anyone that has lived in their house for 26 years and owes a single penny of mortgage is an idiot.
Frame your argument 50 ways to Sunday.
But ZERO debt will always serve you well.

I would love to find just the type of community you are talking about (The Aging Hippie One not the retirement one ) I spent a good number of my full time working years as a builder representative. During this time I designed just for fun a small "downsized" community that gave you the comfort of neighbors while maintaining a sense of privacy for each homeowner, a plan for health care assistance when necessary and a small community gathering space with multiple uses including some commercial if the land zoning would allow it. Here is where you could have your brew pub, coffee house, movie house and maybe a little retail spot for the artisans in the neighborhood.

I have lived in two planned "active adult" retirement communities in two different states and they basically have the same flaws. Yes, all the activities are there (golf pickleball, zumba, card making and mahjong) and the landscapers take care of the yard and there are rules, oh so many rules, HOWEVER, unless you are the super social, gossipy, shallow type don't do it !! Sorry to sound so harsh but I truly believe all the people you couldn't stand in high school gravitate to these places. I am not at all saying that everyone who lives in these communities is like that but MOST who join all of the clubs (even the word is cliquey) have those tendencies . It is truly like dying a slow death !! I traveled up and down the East Coast this summer looking for the alternative type community you write about . I have not found one yet so I am considering a summer rv place in New England (summers are so very hot in the South) and a small base house in the South in the winter...yes the quintessential snow bird only a little more soulful if you will. I wish something like you write about would finally come to fruition. Scream it from the rooftops if someone comes across such a place meanwhile I am getting my little house that I love ready to sell and I am getting the hell out of "retirement bliss" never ever to return !!

Hi Brian

My wife and I are in our sixties and we live in a small house with a decent size garden
I love pottering about the place and love gardening.

I call it my lock up and go as we travel a lot. We are physically fit, enjoy walks and do the gym thrice a week. Life is a ball speaking of which I would love to dance and sing again

We have a few close friends with shared interest. I would find it very hard to live in a retirement village. I told my friends and family that should my wife die before I do ..I would do voluntary work in some exotic island where I could live out my days

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