Downsizing baby boomers face key decision: is it better to rent or to buy?
A Census Bureau’s survey found a 3 per cent jump in the number of adults ages 55 to 64 moving into D.C. between 2010 and 2015 jumped 3pc, compared with a 2pc increase among those between 30 to 34
After 20 years of a car-centric lifestyle in a large house in Bethesda, Maryland, and nearly a decade of lobbying her husband, Roxanne Littner achieved her goal of moving into the District of Columbia.
“My husband was more attached to the house than I was, and wanted to stay longer, but when we had a plumbing issue and the basement flooded, I put my foot down and set a date to sell our house in a year,” Littner says. “We started looking downtown at different neighbourhoods and couldn’t find anything we wanted to buy with 1,500 square feet or more that we liked and that wasn’t outrageously expensive.”
Littner and her husband, ophthalmologist Roy Rubinfeld, opted to move into an apartment in the Kennedy-Warren in Northwest Washington. They quickly discovered that the services provided and the freedom from maintenance suited their lifestyle.
“It seems to make financial sense to rent, because we don’t pay high condo fees or have to pay for repairs,” Littner says. “We own a second home in Italy, and renting gives us the flexibility to be gone for months at a time if we want, since we know the Kennedy-Warren staff will take care of our place in the city.”
The rent-or-buy decision is more commonly thought of as a dilemma for young professionals establishing their households, not people approaching retirement. But whether it’s a financially savvy decision or simply the only solution when they can’t find a suitable place to buy, some baby boomers are choosing to rent an apartment downtown when they downsize.
“Many of our clients who are at or near retirement like the idea of downsizing and moving into the city or closer to the city, and they assume it will be less expensive than maintaining a large home,” says Laly Kassa, managing director of financial planning at Chevy Chase Trust in Bethesda.
“The reality is that it’s just as expensive to move closer to the city to an area that’s walkable and close to transit. Some are opting to buy, and some are opting to rent, but the decision is unique to each client.”
According to a 2016 Freddie Mac survey of boomers, most those 55 and older plan to stay in their homes during retirement. Among those who plan to move, one in five say they will sell their home and buy a new one, while one in 10 say they will sell their home and rent when they move. Data from TenantCloud, a property management software service, shows that nearly one-third of all urban applications are for renters over age 60.
Barbara Manard said she loved her three-storey home in Chevy Chase, Maryland, but always planned to “right-size” and move downtown someday.
“I love the country and the city, and spent about two years looking at open houses in both environments,” Manard says. “I eventually focused on the Cathedral Heights area in Northwest D.C. because I was attracted by the idea of ageing in the city where it’s easier to bump into lots of people and establish a social network. Living someplace walkable is more and more attractive to me.”
Manard rented an apartment for six months while she sold her house and found the right condo to buy.
“I liked renting for a while, but eventually it started to feel like a hotel since it wasn’t really mine,” Manard says. “Financially, I felt it was better to have some assets in D.C. real estate, and I wanted the security of knowing my housing payment and not worrying that the rent might increase.”
Although the District of Columbia definitely draws millennials, baby boomers are also moving downtown. According to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, there was a 3 per cent jump in the number of adults ages 55 to 64 moving into D.C. between 2010 and 2015, compared with a 2 per cent increase among people ages 30 to 34, and a 3 per cent decline among people ages 25 to 29 during the same period.