A Right-Sized Home for You: A Guide for Seniors

There’s a lot to think about when looking for the right home, including factors like price, location and square footage. If you’re a senior, there are other things to take into consideration. You need to think about your lifestyle, health, and mobility—things that can have a significant effect on how you’ll live in the years to come. Downsizing may be the goal of many older adults these days, but sometimes circumstances dictate a different approach.

Getting around

Seniors often experience diminished mobility as they grow older. With that in mind, it’s a good idea to think ahead and look for a home with an open floor plan and plenty of clearance in halls (at least 36 inches across) and doorways (at least 32 inches wide). A walker or wheelchair may not be necessary for you, but there’s nothing wrong with making sure you have adequate space in which to move around. Emphasize single-level homes in your search so that stairs don’t become an obstacle in years to come, and look for level transitions between rooms.

Number of rooms

If you expect family members will be staying with you from time to time, make sure there are enough bedrooms to accommodate everyone, along with a rec room for the grandkids. But be careful not to take on too much square footage so that cleaning and maintenance don’t become burdensome. A finished basement or a guest suite over the garage may be an ideal solution for your needs.

VA loans

Are you or your partner a veteran? If so, a VA loan can give you the financial advantage you need to get the home you want without paying a lot for private mortgage insurance or a large down payment. And you can get better rates through the VA than you could expect from a conventional or FHA loan agreement. Always do plenty of research on the best mortgage option for your situation before signing a loan agreement.

Financing options

There are no restrictions on home financing options for seniors who qualify and can show proof of a regular and sufficient income. Whether you opt for a conventional or reverse mortgage, think carefully about the length of your mortgage loan term. A standard 30-year agreement may be too long for some senior homeowners.

If you’re concerned about your ability to qualify for a favorable mortgage loan, bear in mind that some of the largest mortgage providers allow seniors to use “imputed income” from retirement funds, IRAs and other retirement assets in order to qualify for a loan. In other words, seniors can use the balances in these accounts to supplement earnings (on paper) without taking out any actual funds.

Financial advice

A financial advisor can make it easier to find the best deal for your situation. If hiring an advisor doesn’t fit your budget, there are many free credit and debt management services and programs. Credit counseling is a good place to start. A recent Ohio State University study found that people who received credit counseling reduced debt by nearly $6,000 in the first year and a half.

Senior real estate specialists

Look for a real estate agent who has experience meeting the special needs of senior homebuyers. Senior real estate specialists have additional training working with older adults, and many have earned an SRES designation. The National Association of Realtors can help put you in touch with a senior real estate specialist.

Be careful to right-size your home and mortgage agreement. They should suit your current and anticipated lifestyle needs. Finding a home that meets your physical requirements without overextending your budget ensures you’ve set yourself up comfortably for the next chapter.

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