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Ashford: Selling your home could boost your nest egg — but is it worth it?

By KATE ASHFORD of NerdWallet
Published: March 18, 2024, 8:09am

A 2023 report from investment firm Vanguard estimates that about a quarter of Americans age 60 and over could move to a cheaper housing market and use the equity in their homes to upsize their retirement savings — making retirement more secure and enjoyable.

Those with home prices near the national median could have cleared about $99,000 in equity, on average, in 2019 (the year the data was gathered). Homeowners in top-priced markets could have cleared an impressive $346,000, on average.

“We’re at a peak of where housing prices have been, ever, in history,” says Matthew Gottshall, a certified financial planner in Westlake, Ohio. “It’s been more and more common for people to weigh the option of, ‘Do I downsize? Do I take the equity that’s grown in my house?’”

Here are the steps to take as you consider the option.


Selling (and potentially downsizing ) your home and pocketing the equity is a good strategy in a market where you can make it work. This is easier in pricier housing areas, when you may be able to trade your high-value home for a smaller place in a more affordable market. Vanguard’s analysis noted that relocators in California, for instance, were more successful at clearing equity in their homes than those in lower-priced markets like New Mexico and Texas.

Selling property also isn’t a slam-dunk task. “Just because you want $800,000 for your home, the market may not care,” says Andrew Herzog, a CFP in Plano, Texas. “You may be in the mood to move, but if nobody wants to buy your place in the first place, you’ve got nothing.”

Additionally, you have to make sure you can afford to buy a replacement home that you like. Check home prices in your desired location before putting the “For Sale” sign out.

“My parents — the price of their house has gone up fairly substantially, but everything they want to sell and move into has increased even faster,” Gottshall says.


Make sure you understand property taxes and the basic costs of living in your desired locale, as well as the costs for selling your home. (Hint: The real estate agent commission is generally about 5.5%.) Also, if you’re picking up a mortgage on the new home, there will be closing costs, and rates are probably higher than they were when you last purchased property. All these numbers could chip away at your net sale profit.

Stay informed on what is happening in Clark County, WA and beyond for only

“We’re at a place where 30-year mortgages are at 6.5% to 7%,” Gottshall says. “It could very well mean your monthly payment on a much lower-priced house is almost equivalent to the home that you’re in right now.”

In an area with a very low cost of living, do some digging to make sure you understand what to expect from the municipality. Are the streets and sidewalks maintained? How is garbage collected? Is the fire department responsive?

“I had one client who had a beautiful home on the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” says Ralph Bender, a CFP in Temecula, California. “I said, ‘Wow, you must like it, you basically pay no taxes down there,’ and he said ‘Yes, but you get no services either.’”


Keeping your house could mean maintaining a big yard, replacing an old roof and managing a second-story primary bedroom into your later years. Selling gives you a chance to downsize your responsibilities and look for something that makes it easier to age in place.

“You have people with these four- and five-bedroom houses that no longer have kids staying with them,” Gottshall says. Moving to a home with less to clean and fewer stairs can make it easier to stay in your home long term.


You don’t necessarily have to move closer to loved ones — but it’s helpful. Bender recalls a client who moved with his wife to South Carolina because they liked to golf. When the client died, his wife moved back to California because she didn’t know anyone in the area.

“There’s got to be a support network for the family,” Bender says. A community, he says, encourages social participation and contributes to overall longevity.


If you’re buying in a new city, visit in every season to ensure you like the area year-round, even in the snow or blazing sun. Vacation there if you can.

“Every area has its negatives,” Bender says. “You have to find out what they are before you move there and be prepared to deal with them.”

Hazel Secco, a CFP in Hoboken, New Jersey, remembers clients who moved from New Jersey to North Carolina and found that the lifestyle wasn’t what they expected. “I think they were visualizing and thinking about the difference theoretically, but I don’t think they fully grasped the implications,” Secco says. “They had to come back after selling the North Carolina (house), so it just ended up costing so much more.”


This column was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. The content is for educational and informational purposes and does not constitute investment advice. Kate Ashford is a columnist at NerdWallet. Email: kashford@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @kateashford.


NerdWallet: 3 steps to downsize in a hurry https://bit.ly/nerdwallet-3-steps-to-downsize