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As you get older and your needs change, where you decide to live can shift as well. Knowing your options can help you choose the best path when the time comes.

In this guide

Considering where to spend your retirement years

When you’re deciding where to live in your retirement years, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Your personal and family circumstances

It helps to be clear about your personal and family circumstances and future lifestyle preferences. Consider if living close to your family is important, or having your pets move with you is. You may have health issues that onsite medical facilities could help with. Whether you drive or need to have amenities in walking distance can also weigh in your decision.

The costs and your budget

For most of us, cost is going to be one of the biggest factors in deciding where to live in retirement. More money, more choices – but too many can paralyse our decision making, too. To simplify, it’s important to understand the initial and ongoing costs for each of your options.

For living in your own home, there’s not much of an upfront cost because you’re already there, but there will be ongoing improvement and maintenance costs, as well as mortgage payments if you’re not yet mortgage-free.

For a retirement village, you’d want to understand the costs of entry, costs while you are there, and exit costs. You must be comfortable with how the arrangements will affect your finances.

You can use our Sorted tools to work out how much money you need for the lifestyle you want. Our retirement calculator is built for this purpose.

The many possibilities for retirement living

Living in your own home can be a comfortable option, although you may find yourself ‘asset rich, cash poor’ if all your money is tied up in your property and not available to you to live on. To adapt your home to retirement living, and to free up retirement money to provide an income, you could choose to:

  • Modify your house with ramps and rails and get home-help – but take into consideration the costs of doing so.
  • Take in a boarder or have your family or friends move in – that way you have some companionship and security, and possibly some help in the home as well.
  • Subdivide your property and either sell off a section or build a rental unit.
  • Use a reverse mortgage to release the equity in your home while you live in it. For more on this option, see the section on reverse mortgages in our retirement planning guide.

The Centre for Research, Evaluation and Social Assessment has developed a research-based decision-support tool to help you think through how you want to use your home to live in or to move on in the future.

Take time to make these kinds of decisions – you need to think about what you need to live a good life when older. If you’re moving house, you need to consider the costs of moving – legal fees, real estate agent fees and the move itself.

Or if you’d rather not move, you could consider being a part of a ‘virtual retirement village’ – a network of friendship and support. Here’s an example.

Some retirees opt to sell the family home and downsize to a smaller home that’s closer to facilities. Apartments and townhouses often provide security and less maintenance.

The ongoing costs are typically rates, insurance, body corporate fees and property maintenance.

A smaller home can tick the boxes of less maintenance in a property that is more modern, smaller and warmer. Private ownership means you can enjoy capital gains and fund your needs later in life.

Renting can be a good short-term solution, and for many it is their only option. It helps manage your outgoings and skips paying for maintenance, rates and some bills.

But if it draws out for longer periods, it can bring some uncertainty to your retirement years, especially if the property you’re renting changes ownership.

Here are tools available to help you rent successfully as an older tenant.

Kainga kaumātua is a Māori way of living, centred on a collective and supportive marae structure, upheld by whakapapa and cultural values. Kaumātua relish the experience of living and spending their retirement years on hapū land.

They share a deep connection to the whenua and each other, through their history of where they’ve come from, and how they've been raised. And there’s lots to do on the marae for kaumātua, from being involved in kapa haka practises to high-profile pōwhiri for international visitors.

Here’s more on Kainga Kaumātua from Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei.

A papakāinga can be an ideal solution for retirement housing, as it can include affordable rentals, owner-occupied houses, or private housing on whenua Māori. A papakāinga is a community of three or more houses on Māori land, which can be:

  • Māori Freehold Land registered in the Māori Land Court as a Māori title
  • Land in general title where it once was Māori title
  • Land in the process or intention of being converted back into Māori title
  • Land considered to be Māori ‘customary’ land with clear and demonstrated tikanga, history or other matters of significance (such as land that is adjacent to a marae).

The Māori Housing Network provides information, advice and identify potential sources of funding for papakāinga housing. For more, see Te Puni Kokiri’s webpage.

The co-housing option is a group of private dwellings – typically between 12–32 households – that are intentionally clustered together to share facilities and resources sustainably. The communities are created and managed by their residents, who organise activities together.

The most famous of these is the Earthsong Eco-Neighbourhood in Auckland, and there are other rural and urban communities in development. Here’s more about co-housing.

Lifestyle villages are communities, generally for those over 50, where you own your property. Residents typically manage activities themselves by forming committees. The owners/managers provide and look after the infrastructure, and there are usually body corporate fees to cover costs.

In contrast with retirement villages, these lifestyle villages:

  • Allow you to enjoy the capital gain when it is sold. (With retirement villages, you generally don’t own the unit, but buy a license to occupy it.)
  • Are not governed by the Retirement Villages Act.

Moving into a retirement village is different from buying a house. The financial arrangements are more complex. Retirement villages vary in their accommodation and facilities, services, support and care, legal and financial structures, philosophy and management.

Choosing to move into a retirement village is no small thing, as it has long-term personal and financial consequences.

The most common form of legal title with retirement villages is a ‘licence to occupy’. This gives residents the right to live in the unit, but they don’t own the actual unit. In many cases, residents do not share in any capital gain when they leave or transfer within the village.

Here’s our guide for when you’re thinking of moving into a retirement village.

Public housing can also be an option for retirees. These units are supplied by Kāinga Ora and community housing providers (public-private partnerships with the local council, often administered by Ministry of Social Development).

Public housing stock is limited and waiting lists can be long. To find out if you qualify for government-subsidised social housing, contact MSD Senior Services on 0800 552 002.

This option provides some services to support you to live independently at home in the community. For example, it could be shared housing that includes meals, such as Abbeyfield.

At times retirement villages can also provide rental accommodation with the option to purchase additional support. See the Eldernet website for a list of this type of assisted living accommodation.

Residential care is an option if you have high dependency needs and have been needs-assessed as requiring long-term care.

Rest homes are different from retirement villages and subject to different legislative requirements. Many retirement villages have care facilities co-located on their sites. Residential care is the care provided in a rest home, private hospital or dementia facility. If you think you need residential care, the first stage is to have a needs assessment – this applies even if you're in a public hospital.

The needs assessment will also indicate whether you may be eligible to apply for a Residential Care Subsidy. If you apply and qualify, the subsidy and most of your NZ Super will be used to pay for your care, leaving just a small amount of personal money to spend.

For more information:

Who can help with retirement living decisions?


Community Law – free legal help throughout New Zealand

The New Zealand Law Society – Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa


Sorted’s guide to getting money advice

MoneyTalks – free helpline with support from financial mentors

Work and Income – Accommodation Supplement information


Age Concern

Citizens Advice Bureau

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