Retirement Living Options

June 3, 2010

By Heather Compton and Dennis Blas

Q How do we decide where we are going to live in retirement and when should we make the move?

A Spring has finally come to our city and Dennis and I are in are in serious spring cleaning mode.  We like to spruce up our home and garden each Spring but this year we have a compelling reason and focus for this agenda – we are moving come Fall.

Retirement Living Options

It’s a natural evolution many of us face as we age, sometimes several times.  We consider selling our present home if it costs too much to maintain on a limited retirement income, or if we require the capital to live on. We might switch to a “lock-and-leave” arrangement to allow us to travel without worry about the house being checked, the yard maintained and the sidewalks shovelled. We may simply be ready to downsize or move to another location or country. Statistics show a large percentage of us simply stay put.

Factors to Consider when Choosing Retirement Housing

Former clients have upsized, downsized, moved to different provinces and different countries, lived as snow birds or had long-term home exchanges. Those who have done their homework know it’s about more than finances and they have looked at access to cultural and entertainment activities, education opportunities, nature, recreation facilities, personal growth opportunities, healthcare facilities, work and volunteer opportunities and the people they love and want to spend time with. They have considered the cultural flavour and types of people, the geography and affordability and climate.

It is also important to look at the needs your home is required to serve and to open your mind to all the different ways those needs might be served. We love to entertain friends and family so a large dining area is important and Dennis definitely needs a garage to tinker in so no apartment condos for us just yet.  My clients have chosen many interesting options. Some of them got wrapped up in marketing campaigns that depicted a fantasy life in a faraway exotic location only to discover that what they really wanted was proximity to family and long-standing social ties. Some of these things you won’t know until you take the leap and try it out.  What we know from aging parents and neighbours is that it is important to look ahead and make the move while you still have some energy and resilience to cope with the changes.

Choose a House You Can Afford on Your Retirement Budget

At any life stage or age it’s important to “right size” your home – buying no more home than you can realistically afford to own mortgage free in a reasonable time frame and pay for the maintenance and upkeep of even when you no longer have a salary coming in.  Too many homeowners get lulled into the fantasy of a “McMansion” only to realize what a cash flow sink hole it is when a regular paycheque is no longer coming through the door.

How much space do you need to be happy?  We all know happiness and elbow room are not necessarily related!  I asked clients how many bathrooms and bedrooms were in their present home and how many were in the home they grew up in.  We seem to think we must “biggie size” too many things in our culture.

Our objectives for our move were to reduce not just the costs but also the time and energy commitment to home maintenance and upkeep.  We also intend to pull some money off the table to direct to lifestyle, travel and other objectives.  Tread carefully here!  I saw many clients downsize just to turn around and put all those funds back into new sofas, towels, dinnerware – the whole enchilada.  How could they cart their old stuff into this swanky new space?  It’s an interesting dilemma now that the shoes are on my feet!

Our new space is smaller than our existing home so we must pick and choose among our belongings.  What do we choose to take forward and what to leave behind, recycle, or pass on to others?  The move is certainly a call to be aware of just how much stuff we own but it’s a useful exercise even if we weren’t facing a move.  What do we own that no longer serves us?  What do we cherish or find beautiful or useful? What are we willing to give space to?  How much baggage do we really require to experience abundance, sufficiency or enough?  As I contemplate throwing something away I’m forced to examine where is “away”?

I’ve asked “how does this serve me?” to make my decisions but much to my surprise what started out as a way to sort through “stuff” has taken on a larger life.  My view has expanded to include habits, relationships and old ways of thinking – do they still serve me and do they serve my new community?  And what is my community – is it the immediate neighbours or neighbourhood or at this age and stage of my life should I be stepping up to a larger and more inclusive worldview?

As a financial advisor I saw that aging clients gradually shifted their focus from acquiring to contribution and legacy and I find myself in that mode now.  I like it!

About the Authors: Heather Compton has presented seminars on financial and retirement lifestyle issues for over 30 years. She retired as Vice President and Senior Investment Advisor with a major financial services company. Heather and husband Dennis Blas co-present retirement seminars for a variety of corporate clients and are the co-authors of Retirement Rocks! Canadian Boomers Invest in Life. You can find their book online or in independent bookstores. See more of their advice at Retirement Rocks.

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