People 55 and older now account for 42 percent of the growth in U.S. renter households.

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A few years ago, with the kids grown and gone, Laurin and Ron Jacobson looked around their huge, aging South Tampa house and decided it was time to sell.

“It was an old 1960s home that kept falling apart, and we were going through our money like crazy fixing it up,’‘ Laurin Jacobson recalled. “We said, ‘You know what, we’re going back to renting like we did in our teens and early 20s.’ ”

Now in their 60s, they’re leasing a three-story town house with a rooftop terrace and a “great-looking handyman” who fixes anything that goes wrong.

“It’s heaven,” Jacobson said.

In another part of Tampa, 66-year-old Rose Peters relaxes on the balcony of her apartment as she sips red wine, watches a sunset and extols the benefits of renting. Foremost among them:

“If somebody said, ‘Hey, Rose, let’s go to Timbuktu,’ I don’t have to deal with a house.’”

The United States is increasingly a nation of renters — the share of rental households is at a 20-year high, a recent Harvard study found. Many of today’s renters cannot afford a house and have no choice or are in the younger age groups that traditionally make up a major part of the rental population.

But Peters and the Jacobsons represent an increasingly common breed of renter — those in their later years who can afford to own but prefer to rent. People 55 and older now account for 42 percent of the growth in U.S. renter households. One of every three new renter households has enough income to afford a home yet has opted to rent.

“We’re seeing in many new apartment communities that a large percentage (of tenants) have been baby boomers who are moving out of a large home or moving away from homeownership,’‘ said Joseph Beaudoin, a Tampa broker with Cushman & Wakefield, who specializes in multifamily housing. “It’s really not surprising — 10 years ago that’s all we talked about, the baby boomers, and now that’s actually coming to fruition.’‘

Meanwhile, as boomers join millennials as renters, homeownership has dropped to its lowest level since 1989. It now stands as 63.7 percent, down from 69.1 percent near the peak of the real-estate bubble.

A large part of that decline is due to people who lost their homes in the crash. But it also is due to financially comfortable couples like Edward Dyl, a former AT&T executive, and his wife, Laurie, who worked for Merrill Lynch.

Now retired, the Dyls made such a good profit selling their New Jersey home that they paid cash in 2003 for a house in New Port Richey to be near relatives. But with both kids out of college and working elsewhere, they decided they no longer needed a big family home with a pool they did not use and a lawn they were tired of cutting.

“The other thing, in New Port Richey, we were tired of driving every time we wanted to go out to eat. Plus there are not a lot of nice restaurants to have a nice meal with wine,” said Edward Dyl, 69. They often headed to downtown St. Petersburg and grew smitten with it.

The Dyls are paying just under $2,500 a month to rent a three-bedroom apartment in downtown St. Petersburg. They figure they are earning enough on their investments — including the money they kept by not buying — to essentially live rent-free for now.

Peters also likes the freedom of renting.

Her apartment is a $1,200 one bedroom with wraparound balcony in New Tampa.

“This place is all upgraded, and if there are any issues I just call maintenance,” Peters said.

Whether they rent or buy, older people pondering a move need to consider their lifestyle, their interests and their medical needs, says Kathleen Rehl, 69, a financial planner who is selling her Land O’Lakes home and buying a condo in downtown St. Petersburg.

If buying to be close to grandchildren, people should think about what happens if the kids’ parents decide to move. “Maybe you’re not sure if your son is going to stay in Chicago or move to San Diego, then what would you do?” Rehl said. If renting from an individual owner, they need to consider that the owner might sell or sock them with a big rent increase.

That’s a dilemma that Laurin and Ron Jacobson could face.

They rent from an investor-owner. They’ve turned the third floor into a studio for Ron, an emergency-room physician. Laurinhosts wine and cheese parties in a private patio garden on the ground level.

For this, they pay $3,200 a month. They have a neighbor who is paying $3,500.

“Rent is not cheap,” Laurin said. “If it keeps going up and up, we might have to buy. But right now we’re settled in with renting and loving it.”