Senior apartments as advertised on the website of retirement living community Ashby Ponds in Loudoun County, Virginia.
Senior apartments as advertised on the website of retirement living community Ashby Ponds in Loudoun County, Virginia.

Carmen Perry decided to rent rather than buy immediately after she divorced her husband and sold the family home. The 67-year-old realtor sees definite advantages to living in a space owned by someone else.

"If something breaks or something needs to be replaced, water heater or whatever, I just call the company who does the management for the owner and they come and fix it for me," Perry says. "And that is great, especially when I lived in a very large house with a lot of maintenance. Now, I don’t have any of those responsibilities, and I like that.”

Perry is not alone among older Americans who are opting out of buying. The number of renters over the age of 60 jumped 43 percent in large American cities between 2000 and 2017, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data.

Virginia realtor Carmen Perry, 67, currently rents
Virginia realtor Carmen Perry, 67, currently rents but is considering buying. (Photo courtesy Carmen Perry)

By contrast, the number of renters between the ages of 35 and 59 grew just 17 percent during the same time period, and the number of renters under the age of 34 increased 7 percent, according to apartment search website RENTCafe, which conducted the analysis focusing on cities with populations of at least 100,000.

RENTCafe finds renting is gaining popularity among older Americans for a variety of reasons.

"They might have to do with empty-nesters finding themselves in a big home that they no longer need nor are able to maintain," RENTCafe researcher Florentina Sarac told VOA via email. "Seniors also appreciate having the possibility to pack their bags and relocate whenever they want or need to in order to be closer to family."

The American population is aging. Every day for the next decade, 10,000 Americans are expected to turn 65 years old. This 60-plus group is growing so fast that it helped push the national median age to 38.1 in 2017, the oldest it has ever been.

And many rental communities are ready to cater to this older age group. 

"From 24-hour-available maintenance, to social activities and attractive amenities geared toward a healthy and active lifestyle," says Sarac. "Along with free access to gyms and social clubs, renting also offers security with many properties being gated."

However, Perry isn't completely sold on renting despite the advice she recently received from a financial advisor.

"I am divided," she says. "Maybe because of my age I should not buy anymore is what he advised me. I am personally not convinced that is the best option.”

Perry misses being able to customize her living space, such as choosing her own appliances and fixtures. She also wonders whether she is wasting money.

She says money paid to a landlord provides shelter, but paying a mortgage loan on a property you will own gives you shelter, as well as an investment that often makes money for the homeowner.

While Perry isn't sure she'll be in rental housing long-term, RENTCafe believes the older-renter trend will continue, and projects that seniors will make up 31 percent of the total number of renters by 2035.

Those numbers suggest the rental market might have to make adjustments to meet the needs of this older demographic in terms of amenities and affordability.

"Above everything else, safety must take center stage when designing these rental communities and all homes should allow older renters to have an independent life for as long as possible," says Sarac. "Moreover, renters of all ages would appreciate being within walking distance of entertainment spots, such as restaurants, supermarkets, and shopping centers."

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