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retirement and rrsps

Some seniors say they have thought about selling their homes to generate retirement income.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Almost one quarter of Canadians say they are looking to their homes as the primary source of retirement income, according to new research.

Twenty-four per cent of respondents to Sun Life Financial's annual "unretirement" survey said they agree with the statement, "My residential real estate will serve as my primary source of retirement income."

Another 17 per cent said they don't know and 59 per cent said they disagree.

"We were really quite surprised to see such a high percentage of Canadians thinking of using their homes as a primary income source of retirement and another 17 per cent saying they weren't quite sure," Kevin Dougherty, president of Sun Life Financial Canada, said in an interview.

"The fact is that many people don't have access to pension plans at work," he said. Many also do not have significant personal savings, making home equity more attractive, he added.

But real estate is a volatile asset class and can't be counted on to sustain high values forever, Mr. Dougherty cautioned.

"It is really quite striking how fast home equity can disappear. One needs to really think through whether that strategy will work and whether it will be enough."

On a slightly more positive note, the average expected retirement age has hit its lowest level in four years: 66, down from a high of 69 in 2011, he said.

Last year, the average retirement age was 67.

Across Canada, 28 per cent of those polled said they expect to be fully retired at age 66, up from 27 per cent in the 2013 survey.

And 27 per cent said they'll be working full-time at 66, up from 26 per cent.

In 2009, the same survey found that more than half of those polled expected to be retired at 66.

On average, Canadians expect 10 per cent of their retirement income to come from home equity, with government plans accounting for the biggest income slice at 30 per cent, followed by 27 per cent from personal savings, 23 per cent coming from employer plans, 5 per cent from inheritance and 6 per cent from other sources.

Of those planning to work past 65, 65 per cent said they figure they will have to while 35 per cent said it will be out of choice.

Another sign of rising optimism: 38 per cent said they are satisfied with their retirement savings, up from 34 per cent last year.

The survey was conducted by Ipsos Reid using online interviews with 3,005 working Canadians between 30 and 65 years of age, from Ipsos' online panel.

The survey is accurate to within plus or minus 2 percentage points had all Canadian adults been polled.