As you head towards the end of your working life, you may be wondering whether you have enough saved to last through retirement. There are many opinions on how much people should have stashed away before retiring – some experts say you'll need at least $1 million, while others claim it's a multiple of your final salary.
If you're anything like most Americans, you have far less than experts say you should in savings. The situation isn't hopeless, however. Many retirees have another, often-overlooked asset that can be a source of retirement funds – your home. According to the U.S. Census, home equity makes up 76 percent of the net worth for people over the age of 70.
If you're approaching or already in retirement, you may want to consider how your home could help sustain your lifestyle.
So should you sell your home to pay for retirement? Let's consider your options.
Option #1: Don't sell
If you own your home outright or are close to doing so, you may be thinking that holding on to it is the most economical thing to do. However, even if you own your home, living there is not really "free." There's the cost of maintaining the house, property taxes, homeowners insurance, homeowners association (HOA) fees, yard work, and utilities. Plus, there's always the risk of an unexpected, expensive repair or the need to pay for renovations that enable to you keep living there comfortably as you age.
These actual and potential costs need to be accounted for as you move into fixed-income living. And you can always tap into some of your equity to pay for large repairs or renovations, but you'll need to consider the monthly payment and how it fits with your budget.
Option #2: Sell and move
Another option is to sell your home and buy a less expensive property or become a renter. In either case, excess cash from the sale can be invested to generate returns.
If your home is worth enough, the sales proceeds could sustain you for many years in retirement, especially if invested wisely to make a return. In retirement, you're likely to be less concerned about proximity to schools so you can move to a less expensive area or a more walkable neighborhood, but don't forget the importance of staying close to your social network.
Moving won't always lower your cost of living, however. You may find that you want a newer home with more amenities, which means that even if you move into a smaller home it may not necessarily be less expensive. Before you start preparing your home to sell, think hard on where else you would want to live and research home prices and rents in that neighborhood. You might find that unless you're willing to compromise on location, size or features, you won't save much by selling your home and downsizing or renting.
Option #3: Sell and stay
Your final option may just combine the best of both worlds – selling your home and leasing it back.
Success in retirement isn't just about financial metrics. According to the AARP, 77% of Americans age 50 and older would like to live in their community as long as possible. The Stanford Center on Longevity points to three components for successful living in old age: healthy living, financial security, and social engagement. Remaining in your home and community may help you keep ties with your social network. That along with having a liquid source of assets may help you enjoy a longer, healthier retirement.
The bottom line
When you're younger, owning a home can be a great investment, as it often acts as a forced-savings vehicle and provides appreciation potential. However, in retirement, growth takes a back seat to income.
If you need extra funds to cover your expenses in retirement, don't overlook the equity in your home. You may feel an emotional pull toward holding on to your home, but don't let emotion lead to living on less than you really need during retirement. If you don't have enough saved for retirement, tapping your home's equity should be factored into your financial plan.