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Stay or go? The aging homeowner’s dilemma


We had a big decision to make. The shrubs in front had become overgrown and ratty-looking. Several trees were now too close to the house. We worried that they might fall on the roof in the next hurricane. Because of the shade, the backyard garden was getting less than three hours of sun on a good day. The arborist’s pricey estimate to fix these issues gave us reason to question whether we would be staying in this house long enough to justify the expense. This is a common dilemma for seniors who live in older homes.

Like many seniors, my wife, Judy, and I are constantly reviewing our options for the future: Should we stay here or sell the property and go to a smaller, newer place?

Staying in place

We could easily live here for the foreseeable future. We are in good health and able to manage financially. Maintaining the house and the yard is a lot of work, but, even on our modest fixed income, we can afford to hire others to help with cleaning, maintenance, shoveling, and mowing.

At the same time, we are mindful of the effect gravity has on aging knees, hips, and other joints. All three bedrooms and the full bathroom are on the second floor, which we see as a potential problem if either of us starts having difficulty climbing stairs. The laundry is down in the basement — another source of concern.


We could overcome these obstacles by installing stair lifts. Also, there are several organizations in the area that are devoted to supporting seniors who want to stay in their homes. Supermarkets have online shopping and delivery. We live less than a mile from our HMO provider and it's a short ride to a good hospital. Our friends and family live nearby. We like our neighbors. We love our porch and yard. The thought of pulling up roots, emptying closets, packing our years of accumulated "stuff," and moving somewhere else is daunting.

Selling and moving

This is the more adventurous option, to be sure. This plan involves selling our home, cashing in on an investment that has appreciated considerably over the years. Theoretically, we would have a pile of money to spend on our next home. One idea is to use the proceeds to buy two homes — a winter place in Florida or Arizona and a summer one somewhere here in New England, possibly on Cape Cod.


Also, there are numerous senior-living communities within a few hours' drive from here. The idea of living in a luxury unit in a beautiful setting is very appealing, with everything new and spotless, not to mention amenities, such as a fitness center and pool. We can picture such a life, free from the demands of daily upkeep.

But there is a price for convenience. The most affordable communities are farther away, thus we would have to forgo frequent visits with friends and family. Then there is the pesky problem of association fees.

Over the past few years, we have spent considerable time looking at real estate ads and searching listings in surrounding towns to see what alternatives exist. Who wouldn't love to be in a more modern home with new stuff, fewer stairs, and less maintenance?

You would think that it would be a no-brainer: Find a nice senior community. Buy a condo and move in. Forget about mowing the lawn, painting the trim, and shoveling the driveway. But I am reluctant to give up the freedoms that I enjoy as a stand-alone-house owner. I rebel at the idea of a condo association deciding every bush and plant on my patio and the size of my screen porch.

The prospect of downsizing — buying a home in a less expensive location and then renovating it — does not excite us either. At my age, the idea of starting over with a strange garden or going through the chaos of a reconstruction project is not appealing.


Decisions, decisions. There is a sense of irony here. As a retired business-systems analyst, I always thought of myself as a problem solver who could make optimal decisions between competing choices. Running the numbers, determining the best ratio between cost and benefit, was pretty straightforward.

But, in retrospect, those were easy decisions; someone else would be living with the results. This dilemma is personal. Suddenly, the impersonal numbers do not represent the facts of our lives. They cannot measure our happiness, nor can they quantify our hopes for the future. I feel angst.

Judge Judy breaks the impasse with a verdict. She says, "Call the arborist and ask when he can start the work."

That settles it. We're staying.

Send comments to denoonan@aol.com.