Investor Alert

Help Me Retire

March 1, 2021, 6:36 p.m. EST

I’m a 74-year-old widower in a five-bedroom house just making monthly payments and no retirement nest egg — should I sell or rent out my home?

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Alessandra Malito


I’m a 74 year-old widower bouncing around in the five-bedroom house that was home to my late wife, and our two — now grown — boys since 1995.  

Just three years into our mortgage, my wife was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. She fought for 12 years with a debilitating illness, during which she was forced to retire. Caring for her, I was summarily fired from my job. A lawsuit ensued out of which I received a small settlement that went to medical and living expenses.

Fortunately we had solid health insurance that helped see my wife through her final years of surgeries, chemo and endless procedures. However our retirement funds were tapped and more or less decimated. She passed in 2010. 

The outcome for me as the surviving spouse is this: I still own our home with a $1,650 monthly payment. I have three income sources: a beneficiary pension from my wife of $2,350 monthly, my own pension of $850 monthly and Social Security of $1,550 monthly. With cuts in my living expenses, I am able to balance income and outflow pretty well, but without any sort of retirement nest egg to lean on. 

The picture is not completely bleak. I continue to be fortunate to have lifetime certified retiree health care for myself. My home has recovered from the housing crash and there’s perhaps $200,000 in equity above the mortgage balance. I cannot refinance in order to access that equity without doubling (or more) my current mortgage payment. To summarize, I’m “flush” month to month with my health care covered in perpetuity. 

Should I move out and lease the home, living in a rental house or apartment? In the current rental market, I’ve been assured by Realtors that I could lease my home to others for $3,500 to $4,000 monthly. With apartment rates locally in the $1,500-1,700 range, I could create a new income stream from leasing out my home, which would allow me to build a solid emergency fund. Possibly even enough to start a small investment fund for future years. 

Or should I simply sell the home? That idea would have me banking the $200,000 of equity. Then I could use some of the funds for a down payment on a smaller residence in a less expensive community.

Thank you for your consideration. 


See: I’m 64, single, considering retirement after fighting cancer — I have $1.6 million. Should I retire?  

Dear K.T., 

Thanks so much for writing. You seem to have many options, but you’ll have to ask yourself some important questions first, financial advisers said. 

So often, housing expenses are one of the largest expenses for retirees, and choosing to stay in the same home you’ve lived in for decades versus downsizing to somewhere else could make or break a budget. But, as with most things related to money, the answer will be especially personal for you. 

Even beyond the finances — we’ll get to that in a moment — ask yourself what you really want out of the next 5, 10, 15 years. You might already have the answer. After 26 years in that home, there might be an emotional attachment to it, but do you actually want to live in it or keep it to make extra income in rent? Would the back-and-forth of working with tenants while still managing the home be worth more than selling it and moving elsewhere? Is there a reason you don’t want to give it up, maybe because of the history in that home? 

Choosing to rent it out could bring you extra income, as you said, but it might also bring headaches.  

“I do not like the thought of a 74-year-old being a landlord for a five-bedroom home,” said Victoria Fillet-Konrad, a financial adviser at Roosevelt Wealth Management. “He will be responsible for repairs and upkeep and if he is not lucky, he could get very bad tenants. Then there is the possibility of the house being empty for a period of time.” Vacancy could affect your cash flow, and thus, your own comfort. 

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