3 Questions Before Buying a Second Home

If you're thinking of purchasing an additional retirement home in a down market, consider these points first.


You probably don't need me telling you how bad the real estate market is. I'm sure you already know by now and I can personally attest to it. I've had my own home on the market for, get this, almost two years without any buyers. Yeah, it's bad out there.

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The upside to the down real estate market is that if you're looking to buy, you can find a ton of great bargains. Many people are actually buying retirement homes with cash, even if they're years away from retirement. After all, if you can buy a nice house for as low as $25,000, why wouldn't you jump on the opportunity now before prices start rising again? There's really never been a better time to buy a home, especially a retirement home.

So if you're thinking about buying a retirement home while prices for real estate are rock bottom, here are some things you should consider before closing the deal.

1. Do You Want to Live In a Community?

Many retirees love the convenience of retirement communities because most of these communities offer on-site health care (even on-site doctors), shopping assistance, organized events, and security. There's also the added benefit of living together with people your own age. On the other hand, plenty of people want to live in their own home, in a neighborhood full of diverse people from all age groups. Whatever your preference, make sure you think about both options carefully before buying a retirement home and investing in real estate.

2. Consider Your Future Abilities

If you decide to buy a home in a regular neighborhood, it's important to look critically at the house itself. For instance, you may be able to bound up the front steps now, but 10 years from now those same steps might present a serious health risk.

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Some smaller details, like doorknobs and lighting, can easily be adjusted as you age and your physical capabilities change. But other, more important details, like home improvements related to your home's layout, will be far more costly to fix later on. You'll still want to get a professional home inspection done, but here are the most important things you should look at specific to a retirement home:

  • Stairs: How many stairs do you have to go up to get to the front door? Will you have to climb stairs to do laundry or get to your bedroom? An ideal retirement home should have one-floor living capabilities, meaning bedroom, laundry, bathroom and kitchen facilities are all on the first floor.
  • Yard: You may want a large yard now to tend a home garden in. But who will care for the yard as you get older?
  • Doorways: Are the doorways wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair or walker? Again, you may not have or need one now, but what about in the years to come?
  • Neighborhood: How safe is the neighborhood? What kind of people live there now? It's impossible to predict how a neighborhood will change over the years, but if the area is relatively close to a bad part of town, there's a risk things could change for the worse. There are measures you can use to prevent home burglary, but moving into a safer neighborhood is one of the best ways to reduce the risk of break ins and crime.
  • Size: The bigger your home, the more space you're going to have to clean, heat and cool. It will be a real challenge making your home energy efficient. Consider this carefully before you invest in a sprawling McMansion.
  • Location: How close is this home to a grocery store, library or post office? How far will you have to drive to get to your doctor, or to an emergency room? Are there hiking trails, tennis courts or golf courses nearby to stay active?
  • 3. Consider Your Family

    The older you get, the more you're going to depend on your family to help care for you. How far is this home from your loved ones? Will you have an extra guest room for when they come visit? If your family members or caregivers live out of state, or several hours away, you might want to think twice before you invest in a new home. Remember, just because you don't need their help now doesn't mean you won't in the future.

    What are your thoughts on buying a retirement home now while the real estate market is down? Have you or someone you know gone through with the process? What are some other factors to consider?

    Heather Levin is a contributor for a few of the top personal finance blogs including Money Crashers and The Greenest Dollar. Three things that she's passionate about in life are saving money, saving the environment, and being happy.