One reason home ownership is becoming more challenging in retirement is that more people are still paying off mortgages during their so-called golden years. About 30 percent of Americans over age 65 had a mortgage in 2011, up from 22 percent in 2001, according to a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau analysis of Census Bureau data.
As a result, housing costs start eating up more of seniors' income as they age. A report by the National Housing Conference's Center for Housing Policy found that one-fourth of households with at least one resident who's 85 years or older spent at least half their income on housing, compared with one-sixth of households headed by people under age 65.
Then there are home repairs. Many of the most common emergency repairs are not cheap. Tom Rusin, CEO of HomeServe, estimated the cost of a new heating system at over $6,000. Replacing a new water heater costs about $1,100 on average, he said.
Making home modifications can also add up. MetLife calculates that two grab bars can be had for $250, but adding a ramp to a home can cost $1,600 to $3,200 and remodeling a bathroom can run from $3,500 to $35,000.
Curtis has worked with several clients refitting their homes so they can age in place, and she estimates that the changes "can cost potentially upwards of $20,000 to $30,000 or more, depending on how extensive they get."
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In addition, property taxes and utility costs generally head in only one direction—up. Average state and local property taxes nationwide rose nearly 19 percent between 2006 and 2010, according to the Tax Foundation.
And as people age, they will likely need some in-home care, said Sandy Markwood, CEO of the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging. "Sometimes people start out needing in-home support or chore services a couple hours a week. Then over time that increase. Then they need transportation services. Then they need home-delivered meals," she said. "These are cheaper to provide in a home than in an institutional setting, but all of these things start adding up over time."
The rule of thumb is that a comfortable retirement requires an income of at least 70 percent of preretirement income. But an analysis of Census Bureau data by Interest.com, a personal finance website owned by Bankrate, found that in 49 out of 50 states, retirees' income was 50 to 60 percent of the income of those ages 45 to 64. (Seniors in Nevada squeaked by with median income at 70.78 percent of the younger group's.)
In addition, incomes tend to decline in retirement. Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies found in a study last year that the median income of households aged 55–59 in 2012 was more than $5,000 lower than that of households aged 45–49, with the disparity widening to $15,000 between households in their late 50s and those in their late 60s. And the Transamerica study found that 42 percent of respondents in their 50s expected their standard of living to decline in retirement.
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