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Your Highest Retirement Expenses may be Housing!

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Property Insurance

Property Insurance can vary significantly from several hundred dollars a year to several thousand or more based on where you live and the value of your home.  Major factors influencing your insurance cost include:

  • Home value
  • Home age and construction
  • Contents (furniture, jewelry, etc.)
  • Coastal area location
  • Flood zone area
  • Other hazard factors (e.g. high winds, sink holes, mud slides, fire zone, etc.)

With the many catastrophic weather-related events that our nation has experienced in recent years, you can expect insurance costs to consume an increasing amount of your retirement income.  Consequently, you'll want to thoroughly investigate any local hazards that can influence your insurance cost.  Particularly, if you're interested in coastal living, check the location of your planned new home on FEMA's flood zone maps.  You'll want to stay out of Zone A unless you're willing to pay the price.

Mortgage Payments

Although most people agree that it's highly desirable to pay off your mortgage prior to retirement, more and more retirees are faced with significant housing debt.  The temptation to use the equity in their homes for home improvement projects, vacations, and new cars has caused many to lose sight of the need to eliminate debt burden.  Also, with today's attractive mortgage rates (under 5%) some question whether it's advisable to pay down their mortgage or maintain/build their investment portfolio in hopes of earning returns of over 6 percent.

The obvious answer is to try to enter retirement as debt-free as possible.  This will give you the needed financial flexibility to better live your dreams.

Association Fees

As stated in the Location/Environment page of the Lifestyle section of this website, a retiree is usually no longer tethered to their pre-retirement home and has many choices as to where to live.  A common choice is to purchase a home in a community where property maintenance is provided.  These communities are governed by an Association, managed by a Board of Directors, with an onsite Community Association Manager (AKA Property Manager) responsible for the day-to-day Association affairs.  Associations generally receive payments for their services through property owners' monthly or quarterly Maintenance Assessments (Fees).

One of the most overlooked costs in deciding where to live is Association Fees.  These Fees can run from $100 to $500 or more a month, depending upon amenities and whether you live in a Condominium Association or Homeowners Association (HOA).  Most people make housing decisions based on the price of the home, its location and amenities and don't realize their full cost of ownership until after the sale.

To understand association maintenance fees and what they cover, you first need to understand the distinction between condominium associations and HOAs.  In a condo association, the homeowner owns their individual unit and an undivided share of the common elements; whereas in an HOA, the association owns the common elements.  In a condo association the association is responsible for maintenance and repair of the both the buildings and the common areas.  The unit owner's only responsibility is the floor and wall coverings and the contents (furniture, appliances, etc.) of their unit.  For this reason comparing fees is not an apples-to-apples comparison.

Condo association fees generally pay the cable TV, water, sewage, trash collection, master insurance, landscaping, pest control, security, fire protection, and property management/maintenance bills.  A portion of the fees are set aside and invested as reserve funds for financial protection against the cost of major common replacement items -- concrete restoration, general restoration (pools, lakes, sidewalks, bridges, etc.), elevators, building painting, roof replacement, parking lot paving, generators and irrigation systems.  Maintenance fees also pay the salaries of association employees -- office, maintenance and security staff.

HOA fees include many of the same items as condo associations; however, they do not cover costs to maintain the owner's building nor insurance (wind, property and flood) on the building.  Condo owners only need to carry insurance on the content of their unit, whereas homeowners in an HOA need to insure their home and contents.  Home maintenance and insurance can be costly in an HOA.  All of these factors need to be considered in calculating the total cost of ownership.  What seems like an affordable house may soon become unaffordable once the homeowner starts receiving monthly or quarterly fee assessments.

Condo Docs & HOA Covenants

When Condominiums or HOAs are purchased the new owner receives, from the seller, a set of Documents which govern the Association:

  1. Declaration - The master deed that defines the portions of the development owned by the individual owners and those owned by the Association.  It creates the framework for operating/managing the Association and defines the rights and restrictions of each owner in the Association.
  2. Articles of Incorporation - Bring the Association (i.e., the corporation) into existence and describe its structure.
  3. Plat Plan - Defines what's included in the Association units (if a Condo Association), land and common areas/structures.
  4. By-Laws - Define how the Association operates.
  5. Rules and Regulations - Regulate day-to-day use of the homes/units and common areas.

All purchasers of homes within an HOA or condo Association should familiarize themselves with the content of these documents.  They define the homeowner's property rights, obligations and restrictions as well as the services provided by the Association.  Also the purchaser should request a copy of the Association's "Frequently Asked Questions" or similar document that describes the fee structure and other important considerations.


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Property Taxes

Property Taxes are generally a major factor in retirement and can be higher than Income Taxes for many retirees.  Where to Retire Magazine conducted a survey of the 40 "Havens With Low Property Taxes".  This is their finding:


Taxes on $150,000 Home


Taxes on $300,000 Home

Atlanta, GA

$438

Dothan, AL

$915

Dothan, AL

$548

Wilmington, DE

$1,137

Charleston, SC

$560

Eufaula, AL

$1,217

Cape Cod (Barnstable), MA

$599

Fairhope, AL

$1,227

Hilton Head, SC

$600

Colorado Springs, CO

$1,560

Eufaula, AL

$692

Williamsburg, VA

$1,620

Fairhope, AL

$695

Denver, CO

$1,667

Wilmington, DE

$718

St. George, UT

$1,679

Beaufort, SC

$722

Hilton Head, SC

$1,682

Clemson, SC

$777

Charleston, SC

$1,703

Biloxi, MS

$785

Atlanta, GA

$1,708

Coeur d'Alene, ID

$786

Grand Junction, CO

$1,717

Williamsburg, VA

$810

Crossville, TN

$1,755

Baton Rouge, LA

$819

Silver City, NM

$1,784

Myrtle Beach, SC

$830

Cape May, NJ

$1,817

Denver, CO

$867

Jackson, WY

$1,853

Crossville, TN

$878

Cape Cod (Barnstable), MA

$1,859

Colorado Springs, CO

$883

Santa Fe, NM

$1,914

St. George, UT

$938

Cedar City, UT

$1,959

Grand Junction, CO

$948

Beaufort, SC

$1,985

As you compare the Property Taxes from this chart with what you are paying, you could see a major difference.  For example in Western New York a $300,000 home will cost you over $9,000 in annual Property Taxes, counting School Tax, County Tax and Local Tax.

Property Tax Exemptions

One factor to consider when estimating property taxes is residency (or homestead) exemptions.  Many states offer exemptions (discounts) on property taxes based on residency, age, income and/or other factors.  Residency is an absolute requirement to receive basic exemptions, but other factors can further reduce or eliminate your property tax obligation.  Some of these exemptions are difficult to calculate -- e.g., New York State's School Tax Relief Program (STAR).  Other states provide multiple discounts where a series of factors can add up to yield substantial savings.  For example, Florida provides over $75,000 of exemptions for low-income long-resident seniors and can totally exempt disabled veterans or surviving spouses of veterans from paying property taxes.

Sunshine State Taxes

Then, there's the situation in Florida, the state that's often thought of as a tax haven due to its: lack of a state Income Tax, reasonable Sales Tax (6.0%) and elimination (in 2007) of its Intangible Tax.  However, Florida has the most inequitable property tax system in the nation.  This is due to the "Save Our Homes" cap on Florida property taxes which went into effect in 1995.  The cap limits the increase in the annual assessment of homestead properties in Florida to 3% or the Consumer Price Index, whichever is less.  This cap plus the rapid ramp-up of real estate prices from 2000 through 2006, have resulted in a multi-billion-dollar tax shift from these properties to everyone else -- businesses, rental property, part-time residents, etc.  During these years second home owners saw their property taxes rise 150% while Florida residents experienced a 3% (or less) rise each year.

This means that if you move to Florida and purchase a home, you will be paying significantly higher property taxes than your neighbors that have been longtime Florida residents.  Where there are two identical houses, one could be assessed over twice as much property tax as the other.  This tax burden shift makes Florida property taxes excessively high for new residents and too low for longtime residents, who have depended on Florida government services for many year.

To make matters even worse, Florida legislators' passed Amendment 1 in 2008 which makes a homeowner's total savings from the Save Our Homes cap portable.  With this amendment the total savings produced by the cap on the homesteaded property are transferable to another homesteaded property anywhere in Florida.  Consequently, two Florida residents purchasing a similar home will each pay different property taxes on their new home based upon how long they've been Florida residents.  This provision, which is being challenged in the courts, contributes to further and greater unequal taxation among Florida taxpayers.

Consequently, new and part-time residents, who are needed to keep the Florida economy vibrant and growing, pay disproportionately higher taxes.  These are the same people who support the hotels, restaurants, shops, cultural activities, etc.  Also, they provide employment for many local residents who own the shops/restaurants, rent the apartments, and build/sell the homes.  By penalizing new residents and second home owners, Florida is discouraging further growth and investment by outsiders.  While discouraging these folks, Florida continues to pay millions to lure companies to town that provide far fewer jobs than these people do.