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Should You Rent or Own in Retirement?

How to make this key decision in today’s unusual housing market

"If you're moving to a new city, it might make sense to rent initially," to try out the new locale, says Jed Kolko, chief economist at another real estate website, "You might not know what neighborhood works best for you. It's expensive to change your mind after you buy."

Don't worry about missing low mortgage rates while you rent. The Federal Reserve has made it "quite clear that they intend to keep interest rates generally at these extraordinarily low levels," Crellin says. "We shouldn't see anything more than modest flux in mortgage rate for the next couple of years."

4. How's your cash flow?

Another consideration is your income stream — and whether it's steady or volatile, Humphries says. If you've got an income stream that's more unpredictable, locking into a long-term arrangement like a mortgage payment is not the best idea. You can accommodate volatile income with a rental. You can also do it by purchasing less house than you know you can afford — thereby giving yourself some wiggle room.

5. Do you value freedom or control?

This is the last question to consider, and it's an important one, says Trulia's Kolko. Being a renter has its advantages. The landlord is responsible for fixing many of your problems and handling much of the month-to-month maintenance. You are free from those challenges, just as you are free to leave at the end of your lease. (By the same token, the landlord is free not to renew with you.)

As an owner, you have more responsibility but you also have control over your space. You want to install a sound system or ceiling fans? You want to paint the front door red? No problem. Notes Kolko: "It's very much a personal choice."

Jean Chatzky, best-selling author, journalist and money editor at NBC's Today, is AARP's new financial ambassador. With additional reporting by Arielle O'Shea.

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