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Golden age of 61 brings feeling of freedom to live wherever you want, report says

Our lives are marked by milestones. When you're young, it could be getting your first driver's license; turning 21 and becoming "legal"; or hitting the big 3-0. Later, maybe it's becoming a grandparent; being eligible for early Social Security at 62 and Medicare at 65; or retiring.

Some people can add age 61 to the list. This unofficial milestone has been dubbed the Freedom Threshold because it is the first time a majority of people say they finally believe they have the choice to live wherever they want. The findings are from "Home in Retirement: More Freedom, New Choices," a new report by Merrill Lynch and research firm Age Wave.

The report showed that very few people younger than 50 feel they can live wherever they want. The confidence begins to grow in the late 50s and continues to rise through the 60s and early 70s.

Gao-Wen Shao, who as director of retirement solutions at Merrill Lynch was involved with the report, says the Freedom Threshold is crossed when a homeowner feels less constrained by demands of kids and work. In many cases, especially on Long Island, where housing prices are high, many older adults have built up considerable equity in their homes, which adds to the feeling of confidence.

Of course, age 61 is not a milestone set in stone. Shao notes that for some, the Freedom Threshold comes later. For others, it never comes at all, usually because of financial concerns.

The report showed that two-thirds of people who have already retired anticipate moving at least once. "The primary reasons why people move are they want to be close to family, they want to reduce their home expenses or they may have had a change in their health status," Shao says.

While conventional wisdom says older adults typically look for a smaller home when they move, the report showed otherwise. About half are downsizing, but about a third are buying bigger houses and about 20 percent are moving to houses of similar sizes, Shao says.

And those staying put are not standing pat. For many, the Freedom Threshold means the independence to make their current house the home they always wanted. Half the money spent on home renovations is by adults 55 and older, so many are adding dream kitchens or upgrading master bedrooms. "They say, 'I'm going to be spending more time in my house, and I want it to be nice,' " Shao says.


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