Older Americans Staying in Homes Longer, Hesitant to Sell

A March 2011 report from Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies shows that many seniors who had planned to retire and move to a different home deferred that decision after the recent financial crisis took a toll on both the equity in their homes and their retirement accounts. Mobility rates, or the rate at which households report having moved, have declined for the senior population as a result.

The report states that mobility rates have been trending downward since the mid-1980s, and that the chance of a homeowner moving any given year decreased from about 10% (between 1986-87) to 5.5% for 2007-08.

“The 2008-2009 national economic recession further accelerated the downward trend in mobility because so many owners were left underwater (or nearly so) on their mortgages, making it difficult for households to move,” the report states. “Mobility rates among older owners posted the sharpest drop.”

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According to one figure, the mobility rate among those aged 55 or older dropped 37.5% between 2005 and 2009.

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“Many seniors who planned to retire and move to a different home deferred that decision after the recent financial crisis took a toll on both the equity in their homes and their retirement accounts,” the report says. However, the study goes on to say that many of those who had owned their homes for long periods of time “had paid down significant amounts of debt,” meaning they would still have home equity and be candidates for a reverse mortgage.

Tabulated results from a 1995-2007 American Housing Survey show that 62% of the 75 and older crowd had been residing in the same home for 20 or more years. And, the report says, these homes are typically less valuable since older homeowners are less likely to remodel their homes to modern standards or expectations. This, in addition to a depressed housing market, makes it less likely that seniors will find it worthwhile to sell their home, but more likely that they may want to obtain a reverse mortgage.

Although the baby boomer generation generally lives in newer (and thus more valuable) housing, trends suggest that as they near retirement age, they may have more incentive to remain in their homes to stay close to grandchildren or continue to work, and less incentive to move because of their home’s decreased value in the overall market.

“In the near-term, we are likely to see mobility rates remain below their long-term trend,” the report states. “Until house prices begin to recover, a large share of the population will continue to owe more on their mortgage than their house is worth, limiting their ability to move.”

View the report.

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  • Whenever there is an average, there wil rarely be times when results will be average.  Most will be within a predictable range of falling above or below the average.  This is a period of a longer term than normal of less mobility. 

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