When it comes to planning for our elder years, savvy future retirees crunch the numbers, pore over their 401(k)s and IRAs, learn about their Social Security payout and maybe seek out the financial advice of a professional.

Still, the foundation for most retirement plans is the home. But what place to call home during retirement? An active adult community in a sunshine state? A continuing care retirement community? Turns out that for most people the answer is staying right where they are now. (The jargon term is age-in-place.)

Like everything else concerned with the retirement years, it takes planning to turn the goal of aging-in-place into an economical and practical decision. That was a major message I took away from the recent Aging in America annual conference in Washington.

Let’s say you’re thinking about a remodeling project. You might want to consider using “universal design” features during the renovation. Universal design are easy-to-use appliances and other design elements for the home that helps in aging-in-place. Examples of universal design are replacing door knobs with handles (comfortable for arthritic hands) and installing European showers with no lip (easier wheelchair access).

Home sharing is an option that has been gathering momentum. More aging homeowners are turning empty rooms in their home into an income earning asset. Some of these rentals are short-term through a service like Airbnb. Other aging homeowners are welcoming roommates. Either way, the economics are compelling. And you get to stay in your home.

Another alternative to consider is remaining in the neighborhood but moving into a smaller place. The savings from running a smaller home — perhaps a condominium or townhouse — compound over time. Smaller homes are also easier to maintain (or the service is contracted out).

That said, aging-in-place is somewhat of a misleading catchphrase. Homeowners are really aging-in-community or aging-in-neighborhood. Part of the planning process should include investigating what kinds of community services are available in your area as you age and at what cost. How easy is it to get to work (many retirees work part time), the grocery store and the doctor? How close is your network of family, friends and acquaintances?

There are many living choices available to people as they age but, with planning, many will be able to age comfortably at home.


Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor, “Marketplace,” commentator, Minnesota Public Radio.