Is It Finally a Good Time to Buy Your Retirement Dream Home?

If Airbnb owners decide to sell because of a drop-off in revenue, home buyers could find some good deals, though borrowing costs could still be prohibitive.

A lakeside home is lit up on night, its lights reflecting on the surface of the water.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

I don't know about you, but over the last few years, at just about every barbecue or dinner party I find myself at, the conversation inevitably turns to how high real estate prices have gotten. And just as quickly, the blame is laid at the feet of Airbnb — the short-term rental platform that gives people alternatives to traditional hotels and motels. People blame other people who snap up properties to use as Airbnbs, edging out ordinary home buyers, such as those itching to buy their retirement dream home, and contributing to the affordability crisis.

That may be about to change. In early July, a tweet by Reventure Consulting CEO and housing analyst Nick Gerli went viral when he suggested that Airbnb revenues had fallen off a cliff. “The collapse is real,” Gerli tweeted.

According to him, hot markets like Phoenix and Austin are particularly hard-hit. If true, could this mean disillusioned Airbnb hosts will start dumping their properties, creating buying opportunities for frustrated home buyers?

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Retirement dreams in sight?

Exorbitant housing prices have forced many Americans to put off buying the retirement home of their dreams. The S&P/Case Schiller U.S. National Home Price Index is up 41% since March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit.

Obviously, there are a lot of factors that have contributed to the housing unaffordability crisis, and Airbnb is just one of them. By some estimates, short-term rentals contribute only 1% to 4% to the overall real estate price increases. Still, forced selling in some very desirable markets could lead to deals, and buyers who've been on the sidelines could soon have a good opportunity.

But before you leap, make sure you understand the dynamics of today's real estate market. Things may have changed from the last time you were a property buyer. Here are a few things to consider.

The end of free money

Cheaper home prices are great for real estate buyers. But they've been coupled with much, much higher mortgage rates, which in many cases negate any savings on price. The national average for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage in mid-August was 7.09%, a far cry from the 2.5% mortgage rates we saw in 2021.

The last time rates were this high was late 2000. Given that it took more than 20 years for mortgage rates to reach this point, it may be a long time before interest rates fall below 3% again. You could miss out on deals if you're waiting for lower interest rates.

When interest rates are this high, I advise clients to avoid debt whenever they can. I realize that most people can't buy a home without a mortgage, but taking on debt for a second home or a vacation property is another thing entirely. Think about it: If you're paying over 7% for a mortgage, you'd have to make more than 7% on your investments to make it worthwhile. That's an awfully high hurdle that I'm not sure this market can support.

Cash is always king, especially now

On the other hand, you may be sitting on a pile of cash just waiting for the real estate market to come back down to earth. Maybe you sold a home not too long ago and banked the proceeds. Or perhaps you've been saving for this goal and can pay cash (or make a significant down payment). If that's you, this could be your time.

Being able to buy a home with cash can also make you more attractive to sellers during the buying process. You might be able to close faster than buyers who need to get a mortgage — putting you in a position to negotiate a cash discount.

The combination of potentially more housing supply and higher interest rates could be keeping buyers away, also reducing your competition.

Short-term rentals can still be a good side gig

Some of this talk of Airbnb's demise is hyperbolic, for sure. I still think, for some people, renting out a home to short-term renters can be a lucrative way to supplement retirement income — as long as you do it right. For starters, I wouldn't recommend buying an overpriced property and taking out an expensive mortgage to pay for it. If your bookings are less than you anticipate, it can leave you with an unsustainable financial burden.

That said, being an Airbnb host can be a good way to bring in some additional income or offset the cost of a vacation home. In fact, Airbnb reports that a quarter of its hosts in the U.S. and Canada are retirees. If you've owned your property for a long time and don't have a high monthly mortgage payment, you won't be under the same financial pressure to rent out your place.

Just bear in mind: If your property is in a location with a distinct vacation season, like the beach in summer or a ski resort in winter, you may be able to rent it out only at the same times that you also want to use it. You have to ask yourself what the point of owning it is if you can't enjoy it during prime season.

Plot your next move

Predicting real estate prices and the direction of interest rates is never certain. There are so many factors that determine home values. Who could have predicted that a global pandemic would lead to soaring inflation and out-of-control real estate prices? Still, it's smart to watch where things are headed. Maybe after 11 interest rate hikes, housing is ready to cool, and a drop in Airbnb bookings could lead to more properties on the market?

If you've had your retirement real estate dreams dashed time and again in this overheated market, this could be your opportunity. Just make sure you're realistic about what you can afford and how you'll pay for it.

Securities offered through Cetera Advisor Networks LLC, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investment advisory services offered through CWM, LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor. Cetera Advisor Networks LLC is under separate ownership from any other named entity. Carson Partners, a division of CWM, LLC, is a nationwide partnership of advisors, address 14600 Branch St. Omaha, NE 68154. Erin is a non-registered associate of Cetera Advisor Networks LLC. 

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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.

Erin Wood, CFP®, CRPC®, FBSⓇ
Senior Vice President, Financial Planning, Carson Group

Erin Wood is the Senior Vice President of Financial Planning at Carson Group, where she develops strategies to help families achieve their financial goals. She holds Certified Financial Planner, Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor and Certified Financial Behavior Specialist designations.