Once you’ve paid for your house, how much will it cost you?
This is a crucial issue for anyone looking ahead to retirement. The more expensive your home, the more of a drain it’ll likely be in terms of property taxes, maintenance, homeowners insurance and more.
Suppose you own a home that, in addition to any mortgage payment, costs $1,000 a month. You then get a fat pay raise, prompting you to trade up to a larger house, which has double the monthly expenses.
Result: If you stay in the larger home during retirement, you’ll need to come up with $2,000 a month, equal to $24,000 a year. Based on a 4% annual portfolio withdrawal rate, that would mean $600,000 in retirement savings just to pay your housing costs, versus $300,000 for the smaller home.
“I’ve always been an advocate of modest homes,” says Charles Farrell, chief executive of Denver’s Northstar Investment Advisors and author of “Your Money Ratios.” A large house “means higher costs in retirement and it makes it more difficult to save while you’re working.”
Whatever price you pay for a house, it’ll often end up costing you at least 2½ times as much over the long term, Farrell reckons. Say you buy a $500,000 home, put down $100,000 and borrow the other $400,000.
You’ll pay back the $400,000 with that portion of every mortgage payment that goes toward principal. In addition, you might cough up another $250,000 or so in interest, even after figuring in the tax deduction. This assumes a 4.5% 30-year fixed-rate mortgage and a 25% federal income-tax bracket. Add that to the purchase price and you’re up to $750,000.
On top of that, Farrell figures the house might cost $20,000 to $25,000 a year, between property taxes, insurance, maintenance and occasional improvements. To generate that income in retirement, you might need $500,000 in savings, and probably more once you figure in the taxes on any investment gains. That brings the total tab to $1.25 million, or 2½ times the purchase price.
Farrell’s estimate for housing costs might strike some readers as high. It’s easy enough to get a handle on property taxes and insurance. Annual property taxes typically run 1% to 2% of a home’s value, while insurance might equal 0.5%.
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