There are many reasons to consider buying a home after the age of 50. It could be time to save some money by downsizing or give into the lure of a warmer community. Or maybe it’s time to invest in a first home.
“It’s never too late,” says Las Vegas real estate agent Merri Perry. “If you buy right, you’ll make money off your home, you may have a tax write-off and, as importantly, you’ll have the pride of owning your own home. I think that buying a home is the best investment that anyone can make, no matter how old they are.”
She goes on to explain that with rentals, the rent could increase after the first year, depending on the lease agreement. “This can be especially difficult if you’re living on a fixed income,” she says.
Homeownership can also mean extra options when the going gets tough. “A lot of people lost their jobs with COVID,” Perry says. “When you own a home, you might be eligible for a forbearance, or you can refinance or even bring in a renter to help pay the mortgage.”
For those who haven’t purchased a home in a while, or maybe ever, here are some things to take into consideration.
Figuring out the cash situation
Perry, who has been in the real estate business for more than 30 years, says while everybody is looking for something different in a home, the first thing they need to do is figure out the money. She connects her clients with a lender to discuss their finances, what they qualify for, and what kind of monthly payment they can comfortably manage. This is especially important for those living on a fixed income.
Part of that conversation will involve figuring out what they need for a down payment and closing costs. “If they’re a veteran, there are programs out there so they don’t have to come up with down payment money,” she says. “Veterans and others also have options like the Nevada Housing Division’s Home Is Possible program.”
Knowing exactly what a buyer can afford makes the home shopping process much easier, as it helps narrow down their search.
Wants vs. needs
While figuring out the finances, it’s also important for older homebuyers to understand what they want (and need) in their new home. The key is to think long and hard about what really matters, as there’s a good chance this will be the last home they buy. Real estate agents like Perry help their clients consider all of their options by asking the right questions, while also discussing concerns like mobility in old age.
“If they’re older, I’ll recommend a one-story home,” she says. “And if they really want a two-story, we try to make sure there’s a master bedroom on the first floor,”
Here are some things to consider:
- Stairs: These are probably the most important element to think about. As Perry points out, a one-story home is much easier to navigate, and at the very least, one entrance should be accessible and stair-free. Reno homeowner Stephanie Kruse shares, “When I listed my condo, the upstairs master bedroom was hard for older people to swallow. And after five orthopedic surgeries, I can understand where they’re coming from.”
- Universal design: Also called barrier-free design, this encompasses elements that make the home more accessible to older people and those with disabilities. While we may not necessarily want to think about the limitations age will place upon us, figuring it out ahead of time will make it easier and less expensive. Architectural Digest offers an abundance of ideas, including adequate lighting, slip-resistant flooring, and accessible storage and workspaces. While shower grip handles can be added later, widening doors and hallways are much bigger (and more expensive) projects.
- Location: “If they’re not driving, we need to make sure the home is on a bus line, and close to healthcare facilities, pharmacies, gyms, grocery stores and other places they’ll need to go,” Perry says.
- Think small: Once the kids are gone, do we really need the extra family room and bedrooms? “I went from a 2,500 sq. ft. two-story house to a 1,400 sq. ft. manufactured home in a gated community in Carson City,” says Sherry Scaffidi. “Front lawn and snow removal are included and it’s a low maintenance yard.”
- Except when you have to think big: While some of us are true empty nesters, without boomerang kids coming back into the home, there are also the holidays and other visits to consider. Do you need a guest room? More than one? And when the unthinkable happens, like, say, a global pandemic, it could be good to have extra room for family. As Lynn Blackhart shares, “Our two kids came back to quarantine here because we have more space than their two-bedroom apartments.”
- Mother-In-Law quarters: Speaking of guests, having a stand-alone space could make it easier to take care of an aging parent or bring in a caregiver. It could also become a rental or Airbnb to make some extra money.
- Low maintenance yard: Though some of us enjoy digging around in the dirt, others don’t. Consider how much time you want to spend in your yard as you’re choosing your new home, and if you’d rather spend that time doing something else. “The less time I have to spend on (or in) the property, the better,” shares John Shelton. “I have places to go, and I don’t want my house to cost much time or money to maintain.”
Related: Home Sweet…Condo
Turnkey: The same applies to the interior. If you’re not keen on laying down new granite or installing windows, and you don’t want to pay someone else to do it, try to find a home that is already how you want it. “The first home we bought, it was just a matter of being able get a home and fix it up as we went along,” shares Las Vegas transplant Heidi DeVaney. “This time we wanted everything already done for us.”
However, sometimes it’s easier to pay to have an improvement made if it’s the right house for you otherwise. Perry shares the story of a 57-year-old man who recently moved to Southern Nevada. “We found the perfect house, but he had specified that he didn’t want carpet,” she says. “I had a handyman meet him there with laminate samples, and it was a simple fix to get all the carpet ripped out and laminate laid down before he moved in.”
- To HOA or not to HOA: “We bought out our first home in our 50s,” said Kris DeRose. “Because we waited so long, we had no interest in having an HOA tell us what we could do with our one and only home.” Of course, HOAs exist for a reason, so if you would prefer someone else tell your across-the-street neighbor he has to park his boat somewhere else, this option could be for you.
If you’re ready to look for your new home, start by consulting with a HIP-qualified real estate agent and lender. And visit the Home Is Possible buyer webpage to find the program that’s the best fit for you and your specific situation.