Retirement - can you afford it without a house?

Image: MaxPixel

Image: MaxPixel

With home ownership rates decreasing in New Zealand, renting in retirement is fast becoming a reality for a growing number of future retirees. The retirement plans of past generations, which generally included having paid off a house, are no longer going to apply for all. Since superannuation payments only just cover the basics (not including rent), it's time to start thinking of alternative paths to a comfortable retirement. You'll find a few good ideas in the article below, or get in touch with an Apex adviser to chat about your own personal financial plan.

Retirement - can you afford it without a house?

Based on NZ Herald article by Tamsyn Parker

For decades, the path to a comfortable retirement for middle-income Kiwis had three key steps: buy a house, pay it off before retiring, and save hard for as long as possible to amass a decent nest egg.

But soaring home prices are making it harder to get on the property ladder, putting at risk the first step in that well-trod plan.

Younger people are waiting longer to buy their first home and are also having to save for much longer for a deposit.

At the same time, people in older age groups may be locked out of the property market after a divorce or split from a long-term partner, business failure, redundancy or ill health.

New Zealand Superannuation payments are based on covering the bare essentials, such as food and utility bills.

At $450 a week for a single person and $681 per week for a couple -before tax - they were never designed to cover rent or a mortgage.

Right now, home ownership remains strong among the over-65-year-olds.

Census figures from 2013 show three quarters of people in that age group were living in a home they partially or fully owned.

Some of those who don't live in their own home will be in rest home care.

But for the retirees of the future, home ownership is falling.

Between 2001 and 2013, home ownership among people in their 40s fell from 71.5 per cent to 60.8 per cent.

For those in their 30s, it dropped from 56.6 per cent to 43 per cent.

Currently, about 40 per cent of over-65s live off New Zealand Superannuation alone.

Another 20 per cent live off NZ Super and a small amount of savings.

How much more money?

Based on calculations, one financial adviser* says savers would need about $620,000 at retirement to rent a lower quartile three-bedroom home in West Auckland for 30 years, while those who own a home would spend about $110,000 on rates, insurance and maintenance over the same time.

That means saving about $510,000 extra to rent in retirement.

Moving outside Auckland could allow retirees to rent for much less.

He says that at the moment it doesn't make sense to buy a house, as renting is so much cheaper, but things may not always be that way.

"What we are talking about could be a temporary problem," he says.

"In normal conditions we definitely encourage people to buy a house and pay off their mortgage as quickly as possible before retirement."

But right now, he says, the cost of buying - interest, rates and maintenance on top of a mortgage - is much more than paying rent.

"That's partly because rents haven't gone up as fast as property prices."

He suggests that if you are serious about buying, think about the mortgage cost for a house where you want to live and try to put aside the difference between your rent and the mortgage.

"That way you will be saving and you will know if you can actually afford to pay a mortgage.

"After a year or two, you will not only have savings, but will prove you can live on a budget."

While it is cheaper to rent, you should still save like crazy, he says.

"It is quite reasonable to expect house prices might adjust in 10 years and change the dynamics."

And those who do wait to buy will need to quickly get on top of their debt.

Personal finance expert and Herald columnist** also says people should forget about buying a house at the moment and focus on saving.

"I would love to see people not getting too depressed about it," she says.

"Just getting into the mindset that there is another way to do this and it has advantages."

She says renting can offer flexibility and avoids maintenance costs.

She believes people who are saving for the longer term should be in KiwiSaver, and if they are already in a scheme, they can invest extra money in other share-based managed funds.

She says people who go down this route will effectively have to save what they would otherwise have put into a mortgage.

But Matthews is not sure it will be that easy for people to save more.

"I'm not quite so convinced," she says, "the reality is, it is very difficult."

She says people on low incomes aren't going to have the spare money to save more for retirement, and even those with enough income may lack the discipline.

"Are you earning enough to save the extra you need if you can't save enough for a deposit?

"One of the things about a home loan is that it forces that discipline on you. Some people have it and others not so much." - Claire Matthews

Matthews says that with housing becoming less affordable, there will need to be an acceptance that some people will be renting for life, and the rental market will need to reflect that change.

"We haven't moved to that. The reality is, there will be people that have to rent for their whole life and we have to do that," says Matthews.

She says New Zealand needs to change tenancy laws, to ensure greater security of tenancy.

"I can sympathise with people who are tenants and constantly aware that at any time their landlord might turf them out."

Matthews says greater certainty means people will be able to plan better and hopefully save more.

But she admits future retirees are likely to rely more on the government's accommodation supplement.

"It is reasonable to suggest you could see much greater use of that. At least in the short term and possibly the medium term."

Matthews says it's hard to find out exactly how much the supplement is and who is eligible.

"But it is reasonable to suggest that it won't cover rent in Auckland or even in Wellington. So it's not just an Auckland problem."

She says people need to look at the choices they are making.

"Where are they living, can they move to an area with lower rent? It is not straightforward. You have got to look at everything you are doing and say how important is this?

"To what extent do they want to live well now and to hell with retirement? Or scrimp and save now and then have a great retirement?

"The answer is different for everybody," says Matthews, but people need to actively think about these things and she is not sure they are doing that right now.

Another financial adviser*** says the end goal should still be the same: a debt-free home and a pot of money by the time you retire.

"It is just about how you get to that goal."

She says one option is to buy a property you won't live in now, but could live in after retirement.

"There's no reason you can't buy a property and rent it."

There are still cheaper opportunities to buy in Whanganui or other small towns, and "you can find affordable areas even with a 40 per cent deposit."

But she also believes the current property cycle won't last forever, and nor will the current limits on buying.

"There will come a time again where you can buy with a 5 or 10 per cent deposit.

"These are abnormal conditions - it won't last forever.

"There will be a downturn, we just don't know when."

She says current market conditions have spurred the fear of missing out on home ownership, but she believes there will be opportunities in the future.

However that does mean that when people get on the property ladder, they may have to try to put more money into paying off the mortgage sooner, to ensure they are mortgage-free by retirement.

She says it is also about people being realistic in their expectations. For example, some might have to start with just a two-bedroom property, even if they already have a family.

A group she is more concerned about are people in their 50s and 60s who don't own a home and don't have the ability, or time, to pay off a big debt before retirement.

She says divorce, redundancy, illness and business failure also mean a lot of people are approaching retirement without a mortgage-free home.

"They end up with nothing in their 50s."

They may have saved in KiwiSaver but it's not enough to buy a house or support them.

"Basically they are really having to rely on family to help out or keep on working.

"There is a real epidemic of it."

She says that reflects a social shift. In the past, people stayed with the same partner for life, had the same job and less stress so they had fewer major health issues.

And she points out that NZ Super is not about to increase to compensate for housing costs.

"Even just NZ Super is a huge enough burden - [the government is] not going to be increasing it."

David Boyle, group manager of investor education at the Commission for Financial Capability, believes people will still being able to use the current retirement formula -- it will just take longer.

"Getting into a home/paying off your mortgage will be later," he says.

So if you buy a house at 35 and take out a 30-year mortgage to be paid off by 65, you might then have to work until 75 to save extra for retirement.

About 54 per cent of people aged 65 to 69 are still working either part- or full-time, and Boyle says that is likely to grow in the future.

"I suspect many will have to work longer because they need to.

"What we might see is a swing back to people going into a trade or business. The earn as you learn model."

Other people could choose to live outside Auckland, possibly earning less but also facing lower housing costs.

"That is where there is a bit of quid pro quo. If you are looking to buy, you might not need as much to buy a house but may also earn less."

Boyle says the housing issue may just be a blip, meaning the problem won't last forever.

"We are in a property cycle that is quite unique but it could change."

"If interest rates go up, immigration falls. It doesn't mean you can only rent in retirement.

"But if they make that decision they are going to have to save a lot more."

*Simon Hassan, financial advisor
**Mary Holm
***Liz Koh


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