Four Reasons to Rent When You Downsize for Retirement

Renting is great when you want to test-drive a location, or you want more predictable costs. It might be easier for family relationships in the long run, too.

An older couple sit on the balcony of their high-rise and enjoy a meal.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

I know: You’re a homeowner. You’ve owned a home for 40 years. You’d rather pay your mortgage than someone else’s. I have heard it before. And, sometimes, I agree.

When I finished college, I moved to Philadelphia. It was a city that I knew very little about outside of its snowball-throwing football fans. I moved where most recent college grads do: Manayunk. A year later, I moved again. A year later, my company moved me to Virginia. The point is that when life is shifting quickly, it makes sense to have housing that is flexible enough to shift with it. I find the retirement downsize to be one of those times.

If you are selling your “forever home” and figuring out what’s next, here are four good reasons to rent:

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1. You can try (the neighborhood) before you buy.

If you’re moving to a new location, a Google search of “best neighborhoods in (fill in the blank) for retirees” probably isn’t sufficient. My retired dad loves the walkability of his neighborhood. My retired father-in-law loves the privacy his neighborhood offers him. I worked with two couples who bought and sold, sold and bought, all during COVID. This eliminated almost 25% of the equity they originally had. It turned out that the places they loved to vacation weren’t as appealing when they moved there.

This option is admittedly easier in urban locations than it is in rural ones. It’s possible that the home style, layout or location is only available for purchase. That said, there are a number of companies, such as AMH (formerly American Homes 4 Rent), that are attempting to institutionalize single-family rentals. In the future, the rental experience may be more consistent across the country.

2. Your costs are more predictable.

Initial homeownership costs tend to be unpredictable. The third home I bought required three new basement floors within the first year due to flooding. We weren’t even in the majority of new buyers who waive inspection on purchase. When you rent, you can reliably plan your costs during your lease term. The flip side of this is that you have no control upon renewal of the lease and may find yourself moving again.

3. Your home is turnkey, or move-in ready.

We often think of turnkey in terms of moving in. You “turn the key” and your move-in is complete. I view the benefit of renting as being turnkey more based on the fact that you can “turn the key” and leave.

It is rare that I come across a retiree who doesn’t have travel as a major line item in their annual budget. When I leave my own home for vacations, I check the HVAC, sump pump and outside drains, and I make sure my dog is taken care of. Renters have to think only about their dog.

4. Your kids won’t fight (as much).

Several years ago, I was teaching a course to a local group of estate attorneys. One of the attendees, a well-respected trust and estate attorney, claimed he had never handled an estate with three or more children where there wasn’t conflict. I can attest to the fact that the center of the conflict is often the real estate. Michael wants to hang on to the property so all the grandkids have a place to gather. Katie wants to turn it into a rental to increase passive income. Sean wants to sell it because he needs the cash.

People incorrectly assume that real estate is more tax-friendly to inherit than a more liquid taxable investment account. This is incorrect. Both are considered capital assets that should receive a “step-up” in basis at death. (You can read more about this issue in the article Your Home Would Be a Terrible Inheritance for Your Kids.)

The reality of all this is that your financial situation and the life you want to lead should dictate whether you rent or own. The Financial Planning Association published extensive research in six different markets to try to figure out which was more advantageous. It was inconclusive.

To be clear, I am not for one over the other. I am for being open-minded. I am against the idea that all of us should count on this scenario: “You get married, you buy a house, you have kids, you die happy.” Life is more complicated than that.

In my column Four Reasons to Buy When You Downsize for Retirement, I give you the four reasons to own your home in retirement.

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This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

Evan T. Beach, CFP®, AWMA®
President, Exit 59 Advisory

After graduating from the University of Delaware and Georgetown University, I pursued a career in financial planning. At age 26, I earned my CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ certification.  I also hold the IRS Enrolled Agent license, which allows for a unique approach to planning that can be beneficial to retirees and those selling their businesses, who are eager to minimize lifetime taxes and maximize income.