Skip to main content
rob carrick

Above all other financial considerations for baby boomers in 2016 is what to do with the family home.

Downsize soon, decide to stick around for a few more years, or commit to staying until they carry you out. What you decide to do matters less than the fact that you spend some time thinking about how best to deploy the financial windfall of long-term home ownership over the past few decades.

It's no coincidence I raise this point at a time when the stock markets are having one of their periodic ugly spells. Stocks, as ever, are volatile. Housing in some parts of the country has been a no-drama wealth creator for decades. In Toronto and Vancouver, long-term home owners have enjoyed what will go down as a historic example of people making huge amounts of money simply by showing up (i.e. buying a house).

One of the biggest financial mistakes people make on an ongoing basis is to set their expectations for returns by what has happened recently. Right now, you're probably thinking that housing looks a lot better than stocks. It's understandable, but wrong. If you had a bunch of money to invest, the place to put it would be the stock market, not the housing market.

Stocks go up and down over time according to factors such as the state of the economy and corporate profits, commodity prices and global geopolitics. Housing also has its cycles, but this is only apparent right now in an Alberta market that has been negatively affected by low energy prices. Housing appears to be strong in Toronto and Vancouver, while many other cities show modestly higher or flat prices.

Even boomers who believe all the propaganda saying housing prices will rise indefinitely have to least consider the alternative. If you want to make a bet on endless strength in housing, make it an informed wager. It's sheer negligence not to play around with various possible outcomes for housing and seeing how they affect your financial future.

Start with a simple calculator we created a while back, when housing prices were lower than they are today. Use it to see how the value of your home would change under a few different levels of price decreases and increases.

Next, try our interactive Downsize Your Home worksheet to see how fluctuations in the price of your family home will affect your finances when you move to a smaller home.

Let this analysis guide your decision about whether to stay in the family home, or sell to lock in price gains. Of course, lifestyle considerations are huge in this discussion. But you need to weigh them against the importance of getting the maximum value out of your home.

Boomers with pensions and ample retirement savings can afford to take their chances with real estate market fluctuations and stay in their home. But a lot of people will need that home equity. They'll want to have something left over after they downsize to put into their retirement savings or use for big purchases like a new car or travel.

It's true the cost of condos and townhouses would be affected as well if real estate prices stagnated or fell. But you'll feel the sting of your house value falling more than you'll enjoy the price cut of the cheaper home you downsize into.

If you value every dollar of equity in your home, there's a strong case for selling now. Sacrifice future gains to protect what you already have. Or, plan to stick around for at least another 10-plus years, which should be long enough to traverse a market decline in the next while.

Aim to have your head straight about your house so that you don't react to a downturn by trying to sell. Other boomers will be doing the same thing, and that will further weigh on the market.

Heard about how a shortage of houses for sale in Toronto is a prime reason for soaring prices? Just a sniff of a market decline would fix that by bringing long-time owners into the market to lock down their price gains.

As they head into retirement, boomers will have to make a hundred decisions about their investments, taxes, the financial security of their own parents and kids. Tying into all these matters is the question of what to do about the family home. Get on it now, boomers.