Buying Your Dream Home Later in Life

Elderly black couple smiling into the camera while standing in from of their home. The woman places her palms on the man’s torso while the leans on him.

Buying your newly built dream home later life makes sense, particularly if you are downsizing or want to have a separate suite for guests, adult children or aging parents.

Most homebuyers have a “dream house” that includes everything they want, whether it’s a new kitchen, open floor plan, lots of bedrooms and bathrooms or all that and more.

So, how can you buy your dream house, whether you are in your 40s, 50s or 60s?

The answer might be as simple as deciding to go for it, says Tom Page, vice president of iStar, a community developer in Richmond, Va., and general manager of Magnolia Green, a residential community in Moseley, Va.

“When people are buying in their 20s and 30s, there’s a dream house that they’d like, but they can’t afford it,” Page says. “In their 40s and 50s, they’ve got the money, and they say, ‘Let’s go buy that nice house.’“

Better, Newer, Smaller

That said, Priscilla Schumacher, director of sales and marketing at Edward R. James Cos, a homebuilder headquartered in Glenview, Ill., cautions against the idea of a “dream home” because it’s not always what people assume it is.

She says some buyers move out of a very costly or large residence into a dream home that better fits their needs in terms of design, finishes and amenities. The new home might offer an updated kitchen, open living room, main-level master bedroom, new flooring, carpets and counters and community services like landscape maintenance and snow removal.

“They’re looking for the home to be their way, (even though) they definitely still have the kids in mind for when they come to visit,” Schumacher says. “Instead of a garage filled with bikes and hockey equipment, it’s just enough room for two very nice vehicles.”

The trend is evident in the data. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, newly built houses grew steadily in size from 1,660 square feet, on average, in 1973 to an average 2,521 square feet in 2007. The trend line then flattened out even after the U.S. economic recovery began. The average new home size of 2,687 square feet, recorded in 2015, could be a sweet spot for many of today’s buyers.

Saying “No” to Remodeling

The alternative to buying your dream home is trying to remodel your existing house to be what you really want. Page says that approach doesn’t appeal to many current homeowners.

“A lot of times, they have a 20-year-old home that just starts to feel old,” he says. “Rather than upgrading it, a lot of people take the easier route and buy something new.”

Remodeling industry studies have shown year after year that very few remodeling projects recoup their full value at the time of resale. Instead, most homeowners take a loss on their improvements.

Relocating Bedrooms

Brett Whitmore, co-owner of Whitmore Homes, a family-owned custom homebuilder in Grand Rapids, Mich., says his company has hit on a floor plan that works well for today’s “dream home” buyers.

Rather than put three or four bedrooms on a ranch-style home’s first floor, Whitmore puts what he describes as “a nice big master suite” along with a “nice-sized living room and nice open kitchen” on the main floor. The basement is turned into a finished lower-level walk-out that’s equipped as separate living quarters.

“You can afford that nice big-sized kitchen, that fireplace in your master bedroom, those nicer features you’ve always dreamed of because the footprint of your house is slightly smaller,” Whitmore says. “Having the open concept and removing the extra bedrooms on the main floor opens up more space.”

Whitmore advises buyers to think about their future, as well present, needs when they buy their dream home. That means asking for features like zero-step front entrances, wider doorways, plenty of lighting and larger showers.

“Don’t just think about the now when you’re healthy and fit,” Whitmore says. “Think about the future 25 years down the road when you’re not so healthy and fit.”

The Big Decision

Despite the allure of their dream home, some buyers hesitate because they’re not ready to make the transition or one spouse is ready, while the other is still emotionally attached to their current home, Schumacher says.

When they’re both ready, they often act quickly.

“Those who’ve talked it through and are on the same page don’t take long to make a decision once they know they want to make a move,” Schumacher says.

For some, watching their friends move prompts them to make a decision, sometimes to buy a home in the very same community.

“Once they get through the process,” Schumacher says, “they’re so excited and appreciative that they want to invite (their friends over). They come back and tell us, ‘We’re so glad we did this.’ ”
Marcie Geffner is an award-winning freelance reporter, book editor and blogger whose work has been published by a long list of financial, mortgage and banking websites, trade magazines and newspapers. You can find her on Google+.

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