How seniors can unlock home equity

By Sheryl Smolkin

Results of Manulife Bank of Canada’s Debt Survey revealed that nearly one in five homeowners expect to access home equity to supplement their retirement income with 10% of respondents planning to downsize and use the excess equity to provide retirement income.

That got me thinking about what options are available to retirees who want to unlock the value of their home to live on when they stop working.

  1. Sell high, buy low
    Of course, the most obvious alternative is to sell your home in a metropolitan area where real estate prices are high and retire to a smaller, less expensive community. For example, it will cost you a lot more to purchase or rent a house in Saskatoon or Regina than if you retire to Rosetown or Wadena.
  2. Downsize
    If you own a large suburban property with the traditional three or four bedrooms and multiple bathrooms, you may want to downsize and simplify. Again, the amount of equity you can unlock will depend on where you are currently living, where you want to move and how much smaller you are prepared to go.
  3. Rent instead
    Even if you have always owned your own home, you may be ready to let someone else worry about escalating taxes, furnace repairs, mowing the lawn and shoveling snow. Investing the proceeds of sale of your home and renting an apartment or a house can give you freedom from those responsibilities, particularly if you want to be able to just lock the door and take off on short notice for parts unknown.The downside is that you get what you pay for. Quality rental stock is in short supply in many areas and the nicer the apartment or house, the higher the rent. Furthermore, rents will increase over time and you may have to move again when your lease is up. You also will not be able to do structural renovations or decorate a rented property in the same way as your own home.
  4. Become a landlord
    Can your single family home be converted into a multi-unit dwelling? If you live in a desirable area and you do a tasteful renovation, the rental income will quickly pay for itself and leave you with a stream of income to supplement your retirement savings.The HGTV show Income Property typically focuses on young couples trying to get into their first home, but there is no reason why a similar strategy cannot work equally-well for seniors who want to age in place. An extra bonus is that if you need live-in care later in life, the apartment can be reclaimed for the use of a caregiver.
  5. Home equity line of credit
    A home equity line of credit, or HELOC, is a revolving line of credit secured by your home at a much lower interest rate than a traditional line of credit. The operation of a HELOC is discussed on ratehub.ca. In Canada, your HELOC cannot exceed 65% of your home’s value. However, it’s also important to remember that your outstanding mortgage loan balance + your HELOC cannot equal more than 80% of the value of your home.You must pay at least the interest owing every month and you can also make extra payments of principle at your discretion. We have a HELOC which came in very handy several times when family members bought and sold property and needed funds to finance a purchase before the sale of their previous homes had closed.
  6. Reverse mortgage
    A reverse mortgage is a home loan that provides cash payments based on home equity. Homeowners normally defer payment of the loan until they die, sell, or move out of the home. CHIP is the only Canadian financial institution that currently offers reverse mortgages. The Pros and Cons of a Reverse Mortgage are discussed in detail in an excellent guest blog by Tricia French on Retire Happy. Reverse mortgages allow clients over 55 to access up to 50% of their home’s value. Payments from a reverse mortgage are tax-free income, so your income-tested benefits such as OAS and GIS will not be affected.You can repay the loan at any time and the amount you owe can never exceed the value of your property. You and your beneficiaries also will not be responsible for any shortfall if interest rates increase and housing values drop.Nevertheless, interest will quickly grow on the amount you have borrowed and start up fees can be thousands of dollars. A reverse mortgage can quickly erode the money you have available when you eventually sell and therefore the size of the estate you can eventually leave to your children.
  7. Sell ‘n Stay
    I recently learned about a new concept called Sell ‘n Stay where seniors can sell their home to an investor and lease it back for 10 years or even for life. Unlike a reverse mortgage, the homeowner can access 100% of the equity in their home. The concept, developed by Real Estate Agent Saskia Wyngaard, is currently only available in Ontario.Market value of the house is determined by comparing sales of similar homes that have sold recently in the same neighborhood. The house is offered for sale through an exclusive listing without open houses or staging. Exposure is limited to buyers who are interested in purchasing an investment property with an in-place A+ tenant.The new owner pays for taxes, insurance and repairs. The previous owner pays market rent of about 5% of the value of the house, renter’s insurance and utilities. Since 2013 Wyngaard has been involved in 15 such arrangements with lease backs of 10 years.

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Whatever method you choose to unlock equity in your home to supplement your retirement, the optimum situation is to pay off your mortgage before you retire. This will give you the most flexibility to plan for life after work without the burden of paying off debt.

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