The Problem with a “Forever Home” Mindset in Retirement

It's nice to become comfortable where we live. But holding onto a "forever home" mindset too long can be problematic in retirement. My parents lived in their first home for more than 50 years. But they stayed too long. 

They thought the house would be their forever home for most of their lives, but also didn’t think they’d live so long into retirement. 

It’s been a year since they’ve settled into a more suitable home, and now that the weight of the constant home maintenance and upcoming move is off their shoulders, their lives are more peaceful.

Several RBD and HumbleDollar readers responded to my articles on this topic last year with similar stories. One person told me their mother lived in the same home for 70 years. 

Two of my extended family members — one in their late 80s and the other in his mid-90s (60+ years in the same house) — finally moved out of what they thought were forever homes this past year, and it triggered new conversations with Mrs. RBD about our situation.

When Mrs. RBD and I bought our first home in 2011, we expected to “upgrade” in five to ten years. But here we are 13 years later with no plans to leave. 

Are we developing a forever home mindset, too?

Father Knows Best

I remember a conversation with my Dad when we moved into our current home.

As I pointed out everything we didn’t like about it — the sloped backyard, galley kitchen, windowless bathrooms — he predicted we’d eventually look past all the imperfections and get comfortable.

From his experience, living in a great neighborhood outweighs living in a dream house.

This has come true. We are comfortable because, despite its imperfections, our house has the right number of bedrooms, bathrooms, office space, and ample indoor and outdoor space for our family. It’s 95% the right home for us, and the neighborhood is darn close to perfect.

A subtle mention of living elsewhere causes our kids to gasp. Why would we leave everything we’ve ever known?

The financials look good, too. We have 16 years left on a 2.75% mortgage and a 35% loan-to-value ratio. We could sell and walk away with $500,000 or more for a different house.

But where would we go? Newer houses nearby are getting way too expensive. And trade a 2.75% mortgage for 7%? No thanks! 

When I think back to the discomfort I endured as a budget backpacker and the poverty observed during my year in SE Asia and Latin America, the idea of wanting something bigger and more ideal is borderline absurd.

Yet, this can’t be our forever home, can it?

The Problem with a “Forever Home” Mindset

Aging in place” is preferred by almost 80% of people over 50. This preference is particularly pragmatic when the house’s interior is appropriate and family support is available.

But believing that staying put is always best is shortsighted.

Ignoring future scenarios that may require alternate housing can lead to significant problems.

Problems like: 

  • Mobility challenges — Stairs, a steep driveway, laundry or bathroom on different floors from the main living space or bedroom can become challenging as nimbleness decreases, gradually or suddenly.
  • Clutter—The number of possessions in a home can make moving more daunting and physically taxing, thus deterring people from moving. 
  • Loneliness — Living isolated in a large home can be lonely compared to living in a smaller home in a community of peers.
  • Financial insufficiency — The financial implications of moving are substantial.
  • Unnecessary costs — Larger older homes have higher maintenance expenses, siphoning funds away from leisure and financial security.

Housing is a critical part of retirement planning that can easily be overlooked. A financial advisor will typically ask if you plan to stay in your home and review the financial implications. But they won’t evaluate the home for suitability.

That job falls on the homeowner and loved ones, who can help to identify housing issues long before they become a problem. 

Planning to stay in your home “for as long as possible” is not a plan. What’s suitable and comfortable today may not remain so in the future.

How to Avoid Housing Problems in Retirement

I’ve watched neighbors and family members stay in what they thought would be their forever homes for too long. The longer that belief holds, the more difficult it is to rectify housing deficiencies when needed.

Unfortunately, injury, disability, or other health issues can hasten the need to move. Homes can suddenly become unlivable, leading to accelerated timelines, rushed decisions, and limited housing choices. 

Assisted living facilities can’t always accommodate new residents, leading to a housing gap where a loved one’s housing may be in limbo. Temporary solutions can be stressful and expensive. 

A better plan is to assume you’ll need to move and start planning as early as possible.

Planning doesn’t mean scanning Redfin for the next opportunity. It means preparing to move years ahead of time while you’re still healthy and independent. 

Some examples of ways to prepare for a retirement move include:

  • Financial preparations
  • Mental preparations
  • Home repairs and updates
  • Decluttering
  • Scenario visualizations (what happens if I can’t do stairs anymore?)

Start thinking about various scenarios years before moving becomes necessary. Develop a reasonable timeline and plan, so you’re ready when you identify the ideal housing opportunity.

Moving sooner is better than too late. 

Conclusion

I have friends in their 40s claiming to live in their forever homes now, disregarding the potential problems they may encounter as they age. 

I’m 49, and our current house might work for us for another 30 or more years. But we won’t stay that long.

We’re comfortable now in a great house where our kids can have a memorable childhood among classmates and neighbors who make our lives more fulfilling.

But the enchantment of neighborhood Easter egg hunts and Halloween parades starts to fade in the teenage years. And by the time they’ve left to build their own lives, Mrs. RBD and I will move on. 

A bigger home won’t make sense. But a newer, smarter home that suits our needs is out there. It will have one-floor living space, minimal yard work, and enough space for visitors or a long-term guest or two.

We’re already considering the scenarios under which we’ll transition out of this home and recognize that our next may not be our last.

Featured photo via DepositPhotos used under license. 


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4 Comments

  1. Hi Craig,

    Have you considered putting your online video course about DIY investing for retirement on YouTube?

    1. I’m exploring the idea at this point. Hoping to get some feedback from subscribers who read about this in today’s email. It would be a paid video course hosted on a digital course website that would not be publicly available on YouTube. However, continuing to provide free YouTube content will remain priority. If there’s significant interest in the video course, I will create it.

  2. Adam B Anderson says:

    Great article! I dealt with this with my mom who lived in her 2 story old home for 62 years. I kept trying to get her to see what the future was looking like given her declining health. She did not want to go and it was a long process and We got her into assisted living just in time and hopefully she can have some success there.

  3. kevinmchugh50 says:

    My parents lived in their “Forever Home” for 53 years. This home was fantastic for raising a family but did not meet their needs as they aged. Steep driveway, concrete steps at the front and rear entryway, stairs to the basement and the upstairs. Even with a electric stairlift it was dangerous as their strength declined. When they hit their 80’s it became very clear this home which they loved, no longer met their needs. However emotionally it became even more difficult to consider a change. This article is good in that you need to move into the home in advance of the need. The older you get the harder it is to relocate both mentally and physically. Eventually, my parents moved into assisted living, and this has met and exceeded their needs, however, had they chosen to relocate to 1 level living after the kids all moved out, it would have made it possible to extend how long they stayed in their own home.