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Get your home ready for retirement

By Jennie L. Phipps ·
Thursday, July 12, 2012
Posted: 5 pm ET

A big part of retirement planning is figuring out where to live in retirement. If you plan to stay put, here are six things to do to get your home ready for the day you hang up your work boots.

  1. Pay off your mortgage. Don't use up all your retirement nest egg, but if you can find some spare cash, apply it to your mortgage. You'll need far less income in retirement if you don't have to pay that big bill, especially if you're taking money out of a tax-advantaged account. If you pull money out of your 401(k), you'll have to take enough out to pay both the mortgages and the income taxes on the retirement money.
  2. Refinance if you can't pay it off. Mortgage interest rates are at record lows, and new programs even let people who are underwater or close to it refinance. Try to shorten your payoff, so you're done by the time you hit 70.
  3. Adjust your taxes. Many communities have lower tax rates for people who are older than 65. If you qualify for the senior rate, make sure you're getting it by calling or dropping in at the office of the official who handles taxes in your town. Visiting the office in person may give you other money-saving ideas that sometimes aren't well publicized.
  4. Appeal your tax rate. Look online, or ask your neighbors what they are paying. If you find your rate is out of line, then consider an official appeal. You can do it yourself -- pick up the necessary paperwork at the municipal tax office -- or hire a real estate professional to help.
  5. Do your chores. Home maintenance takes money -- and even if you're hiring people to do the work -- time and energy that you may not want to devote in retirement. Before you stop getting a paycheck, get some of the expensive projects done. Make sure your home is well insulated and has a reasonably new and leak-free roof. Replace windows that aren't air tight and inefficient appliances. Install safety features such as grab bars in the bathroom. You might also consider making your landscaping as maintenance-free as possible.
  6. Consider more extensive remodeling. The National Association of Home Builders offers its members an aging-in-place certification, which demonstrates that these builders and remodelers are adept at making homes safe and accessible for older residents. These pros specialize in adding "granny suites." Adding an elevator is another popular project, which can cost as little as $4,000 for a simple single-person, one-story lift.
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