'Transfer of wealth' won't save housing

Dire straits forces consumers to make tough choices

By Inman News Feed
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Dec. 15, 2010

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Dire straits forces consumers to make tough choices

Tom Kelly
Inman News™

There are those who believe that housing markets will soon recover and that the reported "transfer of wealth" from more frugal (and thus more affluent) parents will pull the baby boomers -- and their children -- through all financial difficulty.

It most likely will not be enough. Foreclosures continue to rise; more lurk just under the surface; and the transfer of wealth will probably help only the wealthy. In addition, people are living longer (including parents) and assets will be stretched further into their lifetime before being left to the kids. And, the folks' house probably isn't worth what it used to be.

Another factor that has entered the big picture is the tug of monthly expenses other than for housing. The cost of living has risen exponentially in recent years despite the recession. Although baby boomers have experienced the highest income growth of any generation, the level of expenses has grown for all age groups, including:

Health care: Cost of new treatments, pressure on resources, lack of comprehensive employer benefits and pharmaceutical company greed have elevated the cost of health care over the past decade. Payments have sometimes come from savings accounts, reducing funds earmarked for retirement. 

Caring for parents: People are living longer. They stay longer in nursing homes and longer on prescription drugs and other medications. This puts a strain on household bank accounts. A growing number of adults who are now caring for their aging parents while supporting their own children give their household's current financial situation a negative rating, and they are having to make tough financial decisions and cutbacks.

A 2010 study conducted by Zogby International and Generation Mortgage Co. revealed that the "Sandwich Generation" -- those baby boomers who are now "sandwiched" between obligations to kids and parents -- has been forced to make serious cuts in their spending habits to survive during the recession.

Seventy-three percent have decreased spending on entertainment, recreation or eating out. Moreover, 43 percent have decreased overall spending on food or groceries and three out of five of those polled say it is difficult to be a caregiver for their parents and/or in-laws while financially supporting their children.

School tuition: Raising children has proven to be incredibly expensive in recent years. School tuition has increased. Subsidizing the lifestyles of children at college, their book costs and other general fees are usually underestimated.

Basics: Food, gas for your car, home energy and other similar expenses continue to rise.

All of the above are examples why people on low incomes have found it nearly impossible to save. What is curious is the number of high-income families that also are dipping into their 401(k)s and pensions plans just to make ends meet. Past purchases of cool cars, luxury vacations and designer clothes have eaten up money that could have been saved and invested for retirement.

"The Wealth of the Baby Boom Cohorts After the Collapse of the Housing Bubble," a 2009 study compiled by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, revealed a key statistic. The report indicates that 30 percent of homeowners between the ages of 45 and 54 are in negative equity and thus struggling to keep up with mortgage repayments.

These owners would also have to come out of pocket to pay their lender should they decide to sell their homes. Similarly, 18 percent of consumers in the 55 to 64 age range are also in negative equity and do not classify their home as an asset any longer.

"This analysis indicates that the loss of wealth due to the collapse of the housing bubble and the plunge in the stock market will make the baby boomers far more dependent on Social Security and Medicare than prior generations," wrote Dean Baker and David Rosnick, authors of the study.

"While it will be desirable to develop more secure mechanisms for workers to save for retirement in the future, the baby boom generation for the most part has insufficient time remaining before retirement to accumulate substantial savings. Therefore, they will be largely dependent on social insurance programs to support them in retirement."

Employment, saving and investing patterns must change -- not only for the soon-retirement-age boomers but for all consumers seeking a comfortable later life.

Tom Kelly's book "Cashing In on a Second Home in Central America: How to Buy, Rent and Profit in the World's Bargain Zone" was written with Mitch Creekmore,  senior vice president of Stewart International, and Jeff Hornberger, the National Association of Realtors' international market development manager. The book is available in retail stores, on Amazon.com and on tomkelly.com.

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