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Real estate Q&A: Widow's equity in condo can be better than money in the bank

Gary M. Singer, Sun Sentinel on

Published in Home and Consumer News

Q: I am an 86-year-old widow. I own a townhouse with stairs, which are becoming difficult. I must dip into savings to pay taxes and insurance. I might need those savings for a nursing home some day. I'm thinking of selling and buying a less-expensive condo with costs I can manage with my retirement income. But now I hear that renting and investing may be better than buying and building equity. But rents are high, too. Any thoughts?

--Mary

A: It's impossible to "call" the market and know when it will top or shift. For the time being, renting is less expensive than buying a home, from the prospective of starting with nothing. But this is not the dilemma that you're facing. It appears that you have equity in your home, and your cost of living each month is less than what it will cost to rent something similar elsewhere.

People's opinions may differ, but here's what I would do: Sell the current townhome and buy a less-expensive and easier-to-maintain condo using the equity from your townhome without taking out a new mortgage.

Then save any remaining equity from the sale to pay taxes, insurance and any emergencies that come up. Your taxes and insurance will be less than what you are paying now, and you will have some savings.

If you need to move into a retirement home later, you can always sell the condo. It likely will have appreciated more than your money would have sitting in a savings account.

If you own the condo and need money later to continue living in it, there's always the possibility of getting a reverse mortgage. Having equity in the condo can be better than money in the bank because if you are renting and your money runs out, you will be without savings and without options.

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Of course, every situation is nuanced, so you should carefully consider your next move, taking into consideration all aspects of your individual situation.

About The Writer

Gary M. Singer is a Florida attorney and board-certified as an expert in real estate law by the Florida Bar. He practices real estate, business litigation and contract law from his office in Sunrise, Fla. He is the chairman of the Real Estate Section of the Broward County Bar Association and is a co-host of the weekly radio show Legal News and Review. He frequently consults on general real estate matters and trends in Florida with various companies across the nation. Send him questions online at www.sunsentinel.com/askpro or follow him on Twitter @GarySingerLaw.

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