For decades “empty nest syndrome” has often been described as a time of sadness, loneliness and loss of purpose. Yet when I meet with clients whose kids have recently “flown the coop,” that old definition just doesn’t apply. Sure, many miss having their young ones at home, but most view this passage as their time to soar.
Traveling, taking courses, and staying fit, these “parents without progeny” are relishing the greater freedom and relaxed level of responsibility. They are also looking to create a lower maintenance life. According to a recent AARP study, 60% of Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) are planning to change their living arrangements – nearly a quarter plan to do so before they retire.
Wise to Downsize
Once the kids leave, a couple may come to view their trophy house as more of an albatross. For many, it may be the largest asset they have, and downsizing helps them unlock its value and reallocate that equity toward retirement, travel or tuition.
A 4,800 square foot colonial in the neighborhood with the best schools might have made sense for a family of five, but those tens of thousands of dollars per year they’re spending on mortgage payments, property taxes, home and grounds maintenance and energy costs, could better be invested elsewhere.
Many homeowners are waiting to sell until the housing market turns around, but with more than half of the 72 million boomers looking to downsize over the next few years, the supply of homes may well grow larger, making them even harder to sell down the road.
Big expensive homes generally are not the best investment. Sellers need to realize that any possible increase in value they may gain by holding on would be reduced by the home’s carrying costs. In the meantime, they would miss out on the opportunity to earn additional income and appreciation through other investments. Also, keep in mind that while your sales price may be lower than you’d like, your purchase price for a new home may also be lower as well.
Migrate to a Lower Cost of Living Area
To stretch their retirement savings, many boomers are moving to less expensive ‒ and usually warmer ‒ parts of the country. Surveys by AARP still show Florida and Arizona as favorite retirement spots. But college towns like Las Cruces, New Mexico; Fort Collins, Colorado, and Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill, North Carolina, also have become popular due to the cultural, intellectual and recreational opportunities they offer. If you are open to relocation and are looking for your “dream town,” go to www.bestplaces.net to compare real estate prices and cost of living data for virtually all cities and towns in the US.
Flock to a 55+ Community
If you’re looking to get out from under the burden of home ownership and into some new social and recreational opportunities, an over-55 active adult community may be for you. According to a study by the MetLife Mature Market Institute, the number of households living in over-55 communities has been increasing steadily, due in part to the Baby Boomers who began turning 55 in 2001. What’s more, the study found that those who moved to over-55 communities report the greatest satisfaction with their living arrangements, rating their homes and communities a nine on a one-to-ten scale.
One of the best things about 55+ communities is the wide variety of services, amenities and activities on-site. Be it tennis, golf, swimming or working out at the fitness center, you can choose the lifestyle you want, and of course other residents may well share your interests. To get a good snapshot of life at many of these over-55 communities, go to www.privatecommunities.com.
Before you buy, though, ask for an invitation to lunch or dinner to get a good first taste. If you like it, see if you can take a short vacation onsite so that you can really get to know the place. Come in different seasons and preferably outside office hours so you can talk with the residents about what it’s like living there and what they think of the organization and the management team.
Consider a CCRC
Sixty may be the new 40, but it’s never too early to start planning for your future health needs. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 70 percent of Americans age 65 and older will require some form of long-term care. For that reason, older boomers may want to start looking into continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) as an option.
CCRCs put independent living, assisted living and nursing care all on one campus. This system allows residents to move to their own home or apartment and live an independent lifestyle with the option to transfer to other parts of the campus as their needs change.
Good CCRCs are in high demand, and as Baby Boomers continue to age, increasing numbers of people will be vying for admission. If you wait until your first health crisis to apply, you may not get in. Many retirement communities require members to pass thorough physical and mental health screenings and may reject applicants with major health issues. Even facilities that accept people in declining health only do so on a space-available basis; some only deem residents eligible for their full-life option after they’ve lived there 90 days and proven themselves.
CCRCs vary in quality and by the features and amenities offered. Some are in country club or resort-like settings others resemble urban high-rise living. Be aware: These facilities are not cheap, their contract terms can be complex, and many facets of the agreement are negotiable. If you are considering a CCRC, it’s a good idea to enlist the help of a registered investment advisor or certified financial planner to ensure it is well-capitalized and to help you align your expectations with those of the CCRC so that you can negotiate an optimal package.
Try a Little LTC
As popular as CCRCs have been with their parents, Boomers may reject the notion of living there, because they want a more age-diverse environment. Many don’t think of themselves as “old” and want to be among younger people. No matter how invincible they feel, however, they should consider adding Long Term Care (LTC) insurance to their financial portfolio. According to Consumer Reports, the average age at which most people sign up for LTC coverage is 61. If you wait much longer than that, you run into insurability (and affordability) issues. One out of four policy applicants in their 60s don't pass the required physical; two out of four people in their 70s fail.
Don’t Wing It
Once your nest empties, it’s a good time to take advantage of your greater flexibility to re-prioritize and re-evaluate your goals and dreams. Seek the guidance of a trusted financial professional to help put together a plan for your future and your new-found freedom.
Data Sources: AARP; Consumer Reports; Money; Department of Health and Human Services; www.medicare.gov; MetLife Mature Market Institute
The information in this article is general in nature and may not apply to your own financial situation. Please consult your own professional estate, tax, and/or financial advisor regarding this information and your own personal financial needs. For a complete disclosure statement, please see my biography.