Some people rent in retirement because they don't have much choice: They can't afford to own houses. But financial planners say renting can make more sense than owning in some circumstances, even for retirees who can afford the costs of homeownership.
Renting offers flexibility as well as freedom from all the chores and expenses of maintaining a house. Renting also could provide built-in communities for socializing, as well as accessible housing features such as one-floor living, which can help people age in place. People who are "house rich and cash poor" can sell their houses and use the equity to fund a more comfortable lifestyle.
"While retirees often don't want to rent, it can be a smarter decision for a number of reasons," says certified financial planner Lisa A.K. Kirchenbauer of Arlington, Va.
If you're moving to a new area, financial planners often recommend renting first to get a better feel for the advantages and disadvantages of various neighborhoods. You'll need time to find new doctors, check out entertainment venues, locate favorite restaurants and otherwise set up your support services, says Delia Fernandez, a certified financial planner in Los Alamitos, Calif.
"It makes sense to rent for maybe even a year so you can really dig into the community and figure out what's going to be the right fit for you," she says.
Renting is often smart if you expect to move again within a few years. Buying and selling houses is expensive, and your house may not rise in value fast enough to offset those costs.
AGE MORE SAFELY
Few houses are truly accessible to people who have mobility problems or other age-related disabilities, and adapting your current house could be prohibitively expensive. Newer apartment buildings could offer ramps, elevators, one-floor living and other amenities to keep you safe as you age.
Social isolation and loneliness are other risks to consider, since these can have a huge negative impact on older people's health, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Apartments can provide a community of people who can socialize and watch out for one another. Rental communities for older adults often offer organized activities and classes to help people connect, says Sara DeSantis, a personal finance educator in Denver.
Another option, for those who can afford it, is a continuing care retirement community that allows you to stay in one place even if you later need higher levels of care. People typically move into one of these facilities when they're healthy and can live independently, with the promise that they can access assisted living, skilled nursing and sometimes memory care services as they age.
Such communities typically charge a hefty one-time entrance fee -- the average was $379,606 in the fourth quarter of 2022, according to the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care, a research group. Residents also pay monthly fees that typically increase with the level of care. The average monthly rent was $4,364, the investment center found.
TAP MORE EQUITY
Many people hit retirement age without enough savings and need to use their home equity to supplement their income, says certified financial planner Nicholas Bunio of Berwyn, Pa. Two common ways of tapping equity — selling a house and buying a less expensive one, or using a reverse mortgage — may not free up enough cash to substantially improve their situations, Bunio notes.
"If you sell the house and rent, you have this big pile of cash to help cover the rent plus anything extra," Bunio says.
COPING WITH UNCERTAINTY
Many retirees understandably fear the possibility of big rent increases when they're on a fixed income. But retirees should keep in mind that rents aren't the only housing costs that are subject to inflation. Even when you have a fixed-rate mortgage, chances are good that your property taxes, homeowners insurance and costs to maintain and repair your property increase every year as well, says Crystal Cox, a certified financial planner in Madison, Wis.
Renters can ameliorate the risk of rent increases somewhat by opting for longer leases, Bunio says. So-called "mom and pop" landlords may be more amenable to negotiating rent than large corporations, and being a star tenant also can help, Fernandez notes.
"Landlords like people who keep up their property, and they like people who make any maintenance easy," Fernandez says.
Another potential worry is the possibility of eviction. Even if you can keep up with the rent, a landlord could end your tenancy by selling the building, for example.
But homeowners aren't immune to potential dislocations, DeSantis notes. Many older people must move into assisted living facilities because they're no longer safe in their homes. She recommends people consider moving to more supportive housing while they still have the health and energy to manage the transition.
"Make that decision earlier, instead of it being forced upon you," DeSantis says.
Liz Weston is a columnist at NerdWallet, a certified financial planner and author of "Your Credit Score."