Rent or buy? When you’re getting up in years it’s a very good question

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BARBARA BALLINGER AND MARGARET CRANE, Special For The Jewish Light

The desire to own fewer things in our lives can be seen with the current decline in luxury spending or spending in general, and the cult success of listening to the decluttering superstar author Marie Kondo.

Whether we buy fewer possessions or just bid thanks and adieu to things we already own that fail to spark continued joy in our lives, all signs point to the fact that for many of us aged 50 plus-and especially over 70, it’s time to move on–and with less stuff.

As we shed possessions after each of us was on our own, both of us had to decide what to do with our too-large homes, decide where to live and whether to buy again or rent, and let someone else take care of and own the property.

Renting seemed so easy and a nice return to what we did when first married and when life was far simpler. Then, we each saved up and owned homes. We redecorated to our taste, added on, changed flooring, moved walls. Barbara remodeled three kitchens. We got remodeling out of our systems…or so we thought.

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Our decisions whether to rent or to buy at our latest stage weren’t based solely on economics. Circumstances played a role as well as the amount of stuff each of us owned. We had to pare down regardless of where we moved. Fewer things of higher quality, yes, but also things that we simply used less often, didn’t adore, and took up space in our closets, living rooms, kitchens and other spaces.

These things also depleted our paychecks, as well as our psyches. “Should I buy this?” we often debated. We could use that mental time for writing another article or blog or reading to kids, learning to salsa, planning a trip.

To start shedding and maybe renting rather than buying required readjusting our mindsets. The little voices of our parents were in heads: “If you buy, you build up equity. Renting is just throwing money away.” Really? we wondered. Was their thinking, perhaps, outdated? At our stage in life and at our somewhat advanced ages, wasn’t it more important to clear our lives of responsibility and enjoy artful simplicity? Wasn’t it worth a try? Our children then also would have fewer items to contend with and keep, donate, dump or sell.

Once Margaret sold her home after living there 37 years, she wasn’t sure whether to buy again or rent. She looked at rentals. Many were very nice and filled with amenities of pools, gyms and coffee stations. However, when her mother said she should move into her empty condo in a wonderful area of St. Louis County, MO., she didn’t hesitate to accept the offer.

After Margaret’s mother passed away, she bought the property from her siblings. It was a good price, had been her parents’ home for nearly 20 years, and she was already somewhat settled in the apartment and area. She wasn’t convinced at the time that it would be her last home, but initially it offered many pluses for her lifestyle.

At the end of 2018, Margaret decided to sell and relocate East to be closer to her older son and two sisters. It took her almost a year to organize the move and downsize. But it was worth it. She loved the idea of the excitement of living in New York City. She found a darling apartment to rent and moved in the fall of 2019. The pandemic, which came six months after her move, made living there hard since she was isolated from others. Then, inflation made costs so much higher than in her former St. Louis and rents when sky high.

Before her current year’s lease is up, she hopes to move to pare her expenses. But she’s just starting the process and debating whether she’ll continue to rent or buy and in which neighborhood she’ll land since the city offers so many options.

Barbara, too, was up and down about what to do when it came to where to move and whether to buy or rent after her protracted, expensive divorce. She rented while trying to decide where she wanted to settle after her house sold. After testing several places in the East closer to her family than her Midwest homes where she spent 31 years of married life, she found a charming, bucolic village in Upstate New York, two hours north of Manhattan.

Now, 12 1/2 years later, like a romance that has its ups and downs, she wonders how long she’ll stay in her 1797 home. She loves it and its highly walkable location, as do her daughters, their spouses and kids. She’s made most of the improvements it needed, including adding central air upstairs, updating bathrooms, adding good energy efficient insulation, good tuckpointing on chimneys, replacing downspouts and gutters and making the garden a joyful place to unwind. She’s not yet ready to leave and the house works wonderfully well when her kids or friends visit. But some day, not yet, she knows it may be better to be in a one-level slightly smaller home or condo, if one becomes available in an equally good location.

For now, her house continues to be a good investment and partner to aging in place. She knows she has no desire to go back to big city living.

Here are the decisions, whether to rent or buy, two women we know have made:

Pat, a widow, sold her beautiful suburban ranch immediately after her spouse died and bought a rundown bungalow her daughter owned in the city. Big mistake. It wasn’t a smart purchase and she realized that in order to sell it and get out, she’d have to do extensive remodeling. Fast forward five years, she sold the bungalow to one of her daughters but not until she bought another small single family home in an upscale burb which for now, is fine.

Before buying, she toyed with the idea of renting, but nothing appealing popped up on the market in an area she wanted that she could afford. She had the money from the sale of the bungalow so figured why not buy something else. Interest rates were low, and she was able to get a good loan and the interest on the loan provides a nice tax deduction.

On the other hand, “Lauren,” who lives in the Midwest, decided after her second divorce, it was time to rent, more prudent for someone her age-early 60s, and unsure whether she’d stay put. She found a great 1,800 square foot rental in a good area that’s on the top floor of a mid-century duplex and loves the convenience, the freedom, and the lack of maintenance. If something breaks, she calls the landlord and it’s fixed. The ceiling leaked and the owner had to put on a new roof and fix the plaster ceiling. And when she leaves town to visit her kids in other cities, she just closes the door and walks away.

Here’s our list; use it to weigh your own decision:

Pros and cons of renting v. buying:

–Get a tax deduction on interest from the loan if you buy.

–You can do what you want to the property whether it’s a single-family home or a condo–as long as changes in the latter are approved by the condo board.

–When it’s yours, you can build up equity and you can pass it on to your heirs,

–You can rent a house and some condos out on Airbnb, VBRO and other sharing sites if you need extra income and are in a desirable location.

— You will likely have more expensive homeowners’ insurance to pay if you own than rent

–You will incur property taxes if you own and they can go up, up, up;

–You will have closing costs and mortgage insurance to pay if you own;

–You will have to share your financial information if you buy in a condo or coop building with the board studying every investment, and then you must also provide recommendations and await approval–like joining a club or sorority;

–Assessments may go up and sometimes dramatically if you buy in a condo or coop and you may also have the equivalent of an HOA;

–If you rent, you just have to get approved and sign a lease;

–You’re more likely to become friendlier with neighbors and others in a building if you own rather than rent and in a house if you own since it’s a higher rate who leave after a year or two in an apartment;

–You can test the waters of home ownership these days with a new option-moving into a build-to-rent house, which are springing up all over the country;

–You may face uncertain finances with renting since rents go up usually yearly, too;

–If problems arise in an apartment such as a leaky faucet, the landlord handles and pays for the maintenance;

–If you rent, you can use the equity from the house or condo sold in other investments like the stock market;

–You’re more likely to personalize your surroundings if you own rather than rent since some landlords won’t let you paint the dining room red unless you promise to paint it white again when you leave;

–At the end of the day, you can simply close the door and go away without worrying about whether leaves or snow piles up if you rent.

No matter what you decide to do, each of us bases the decision after 50 in different ways. Close your eyes and choose what will make you most happy and at home. And remember that nothing has to be forever.