"We can't disparage your age either way, whether you're 21 or 91."
That said, Bonarrigo suggests that if anyone is going be at a disadvantage because of age, it'll probably be the 21-year-old, because that person is unlikely to have much of a credit history.
For some people, affordability and money aren't the issue. It's all about quality of life — that white picket fence and the tire swing.
Bill Gilligan of Somerville, Mass., retired from the Catholic priesthood in 1990 and finished his working life as a state employee.
Why people buy
Gilligan bought his first house five years ago when he was 64 and sold it last December in order to move into another house with his partner. He says of his time living solo in that first house: "I really felt grounded, and I felt at home. I also was proud. That's the word. I was proud of having my own home."
Sand voices a similar sentiment. "I just love our neighborhood," he says. "It's very quiet here, and this is our house. It's just a nice feeling to live in something that's ours."
It might seem that a mortgage is the last thing one would want at a time when many boomers and those in their 70s and 80s are trying to simplify their lives. But people are living longer, and having a place of their own can convey a very secure feeling.
Then there is the thought that went through my grandmother's mind: Wouldn't it be nice to have a place that you don't just call home, but really is home?
Finally, there is the feeling that the flexibility of renting is just fine — until it isn't. Ann Cassin, 69, and her husband, Jim, 77, used to live in Washington, D.C. They continued to rent because they could explore different areas in the city and different houses until they decided where and what would be best for them to live in. When they retired in Gainesville, Fla., they thought it would be nice to finally plant some roots.
And did their family members think they were crazy to buy a house at their age? Quite the opposite. Says Ann: "Everybody thought we were crazy for years — for renting."
Geoff Williams writes about business and personal finance. He lives in Loveland, Ohio.