The Big Move: I’m a single, high-earning 52-year-old looking for a more stable lifestyle. Am I too old to buy a home?

United States

Dear MarketWatch,

Like many people during COVID, I reevaluated what I really want my quality of life to be. I’ve lived in big cities making a high salary, but I’m single and have been intimidated by homeownership only having one income source (my job).

I’m 52, a renter, and have around $ 230,000 in retirement, brokerage and savings accounts. I pared back my lifestyle, and I’m now saving $ 5,000 a month to play a bit of catch up.  I’ve been advised to consider real estate as part of my investment strategy.  I have little debt beyond a car note ($ 300 a month) and a 750 credit score. Should I buy a home or invest in a property like a condo near a resort?

I am yearning for a more stable lifestyle as I age, and my family all own homes, so they are pressuring me to buy something near them in a lower-cost market. With remote working, this is now a feasible option. I would look at a 15- or 20-year mortgage either way given my age.


Too old to buy?

‘The Big Move’ is a MarketWatch column looking at the ins and outs of real estate, from navigating the search for a new home to applying for a mortgage.

Do you have a question about buying or selling a home? Do you want to know where your next move should be? Email Jacob Passy at

Dear too old,

Ah, the Great American Dream of a single-family home with the white picket fence. It can serve as a worthwhile goal for people to hold onto as they delve into their careers and squirrel away pennies here and there. As you put it, owning a home offers some stability — there’s no pesky landlord to hike the rent — and it’s an asset we can pass onto our children or loved ones, creating an important path to generational wealth.

But too often, the dream of owning a home also becomes a cudgel that punishes us for perceived misgivings. Younger generations are derided for not pursuing homeownership earlier in life — setting aside the fact that home prices today are at all-time highs, making it less feasible for many. Inevitably, many of us get caught trying to keep up with the Joneses, and that can be a risky path for the financially unprepared.

Many of us get caught trying to keep up with the Joneses, and that can be a risky path for the financially unprepared.

I read a tinge of regret in your letter — and I hope that you give yourself a pat on the back for the choices you made. For all the benefits homeownership provides, it’s not something to take lightly. You were right to second guess whether to take on such a major financial burden with only one income to rely on. And in most major cities across the country, being a renter and investing your money into other asset classes is a better gamble than buying a home, given how high property prices are. You’ve got a strong credit score and aren’t carrying debt.

In short, you’re doing well for yourself. So, if you take any of the advice I give you to heart, do take this: Cut yourself a break.

As to whether or not owning a home is important along your financial journey, that will depend on who you ask. How do I know? Well, I asked a bunch of certified financial planners that very question, and got a wide range of responses.

“I do not believe that homeownership is a critical part of a financial journey, although the ability to cover housing costs is,” said Marco Rimassa, president and founder of financial advisory firm CFE Financial in Katy, Texas.

His colleague, certified financial Michael Metzger, founder of Lifepoint Financial Design in San Luis Obispo, Calif., said almost the precise opposite. “Homeownership is a vital part of the journey for financial freedom and opportunity,” Metzger said, adding that “not only does it help teach good financial habits and forced long-term perspective, but there are many financial benefits that stem from homeownership.”

What should you do? There’s little sense, I would argue, in buying a home just to say you own a home in your case. Let’s say you buy a condo in Florida to have a real-estate asset in your arsenal. Sure, you might use it for a vacation or two each year, but the costs of owning it may add up to more than you’d pay for a unit on Airbnb ABNB, +0.38%. Sure, you could rent it out, but being a long-distance landlord isn’t easy. You may end up needing to hire a company to manage the property for you — yet another expense.

Being a long-distance landlord isn’t easy. You may end up needing to hire a company to manage the property for you — representing another expense.

The money you’d end up spending on that condo is money that arguably would better serve you by staying in your retirement savings. Sure, the condo could appreciate in value over time, but it’s not guaranteed to outperform the stock market in just the decade or so you have until you hit the typical retirement age.

If you want to have a bit more variety in your investment portfolio, fractional real-estate investing or buying shares of a real-estate investment trust might be a better way of giving yourself some exposure to real estate without all the burdens that come with actually owning a property yourself.

My answer is different, though, if you want to live near your family in a lower-cost market. The down payment you’d need to purchase a home in someplace like Kentucky or Tennessee is far less than somewhere like New York or Boston. These are the parts of the country where buying is better than renting, studies regularly show.

So if you can afford the down payment, plus the cost of a monthly mortgage payment, taxes, insurance and maintenance, then buying a home likely is the right choice financially. Plus, living closer to family as someone who is single could come in handy as you age and need help in your later years.

Whatever decision you make, I would make it with the same approach you’ve taken throughout your career until now. You’ve not lead yourself astray up until this point, so keep it up. I wish you the best of luck as you approach this next, exciting chapter.