Dreams of retirement have traditionally included moving hundreds or even thousands of miles away to exotic locations, golf courses and endless summer days. The reality, however, is that more Americans are staying put during retirement out of necessity or the desire to remain in a familiar environment. According to an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data by Richard W. Johnson, Director of the Urban Institute's Program on Retirement Policy, only 1.6% of retirees between the ages of 55 and 65 moved across state lines in 2010. The remaining 98.4% either stayed in their existing homes or made in-state moves.
SEE: Retirement Planning
The decades following World War II saw plummeting poverty rates in the aging population because of the introduction of Social Security and Medicare, and due to the abundance of employer defined-benefit pension plans. This influx of retirement money made it possible - and normal - for people to move to sunny spots during retirement. Current economic conditions, as well as changing views on the definition of a successful retirement, are leading more people to stay put during retirement.
There are many reasons to stay put - or "age in place" - during retirement, some of which are due to necessity while others can be attributed to choice. The 2008 financial and falling real estate prices have made it challenging for some to sell their existing homes, limiting alternatives during retirement. Many pre-retirees who counted on selling a home and using the proceeds to purchase a smaller home or condominium during retirement have been left with a tough choice: sell the home for much less than anticipated, or stay put.
Retirees also remain in the existing homes, or at least the area, out of choice. Established professional, social and family networks may be difficult to give up. Professional connections may help retirees secure part-time or less stressful full-time work during the retirement years. Social networks provide important opportunities for people to remain active in both physical and mental terms. An established circle of friends is, for many, an invaluable component of a successful and happy retirement. And family, of course, is also a consideration. It is often difficult to move away with children, grand-children and great-grand-kids in the area. While it is enjoyable to spend time with family and spoil the grand-kids, children often move into an important and active role in the care of aging parents.
By the time the retirement years roll around, many people also have an established and trusted group of service providers – from local doctors and hospitals, to car mechanics and salon professionals. In certain situations, these providers may cross into the "staying put out of necessity" category, particularly doctors of chronic medical conditions. By staying put during retirement, all of the necessary and important relationships – professional, social and service – are in place and familiar.
Considerations When Staying Put
While "planning for retirement" often refers to saving financially for the golden years – making investments, balancing portfolios and the like – planning also needs to involve taking care of the human side of retirement.
Maintaining - or adapting - a healthy lifestyle is an important and often overlooked part of retirement planning. The old adage "use it or lose it" is especially relevant to physical and mental activity. A study published by Oxford University Press 2009 on behalf of The Gerontological Society of America found that people who are nearing retirement age show the highest rates of weight gain and obesity. Studies also have shown that mental decline is not inevitable as we age: keeping the brain active through mental stimulation improves memory and other brain functions.
Being proactive about health - by eating well, getting physical activity, and seeking mental stimulation - can lead to happier retirement years. Like most plans, it is best to write down realistic goals and determine an approach for meeting the goals – and share the goals with friends and family. Without a written plan, it is easy for things like healthy eating and exercise to fall to the way side.
Even if retirees are planning on staying put, some may be interested in downsizing. Moving into a smaller home nearby may be a smart move financially, but can also greatly reduce the amount of time, money and effort that is spent on routine household maintenance and inevitable repairs. In addition, an important part of downsizing is that it often involves moving to a single story ranch-style home or condominium (condominium buildings are often several – or dozens – of stories high, but each floor can be accessed by elevators). Eliminating stairs from the home may be a matter of convenience or need.
Condominiums are especially attractive to retirees because they eliminate many of the chores that accompany homeownership, such as raking leaves, mowing the lawn, cleaning the gutters and sealing the driveway. While the owner is responsible for the maintenance within his or her individual condominium unit, the condominium association is responsible for the maintenance and repairs for all common areas, including basements, elevators, halls, lobbies, HVAC systems, community facilities and land on which the building stands. In addition, condominiums often provide a sense of community and services that cater specifically to retirees and seniors.
Having a functional, comfortable place to call home is as important during retirement years as it was the working years, perhaps even more so. Retirees and their families may make the following considerations when turning a home into an "age in place" setting:
- Evaluate needs
- Determine what home modifications are needed to allow staying put during retirement
- Identify care resources (including family, friends or paid services) to provide assistance, if and when necessary
- Determine the costs of modifications and care resources
Home modifications may include:
- Turning a downstairs room, such as a den, into a bedroom
- Installing a stair glide to assist with getting from one level to another
- Installing ramps to enter/exit the home
- Widening doors and hallways to accommodate wheelchairs
- Remodeling bathrooms to include grab bars and specialized tubs for bathing
- Assistive technology, such as a Personal Emergency Response System (PERS)
The Bottom Line
Despite the fact that many people still dream about retiring in an exotic location, aging in place - or staying put during retirement - has many benefits and is an increasingly popular retirement approach. Being able to maintain relationships that were developed over decades - including professional, social and service networks - and staying close to family are important considerations when deciding to stay put during retirement.