NEW YORK (MainStreet) A new survey sheds light on how consumers would cut housing costs should a major financial hurdle strike, such as unemployment or unexpected medical bills.
In a survey of 2,000 people conducted by Trulia, 48% of respondents said they would downsize to a smaller home or move to a less expensive neighborhood, while 19% would rent out a portion of their house to a roommate.
"Even though the recession has ended and the housing market have been recovering, hardship can come at any time," says Trulia's chief economist Jed Kolko. "It's an important question of what you'll do if you have to cut your housing costs."
The opinions varied based on respondents' age. Those over age 55 were most likely to say they would be willing to downsize, with 40% opting to move to a smaller home or apartment and 17% resorting to moving to a cheaper city.
Some 39% of millennials ages between 18 and 34 said they would downsize and were the age group most open to the idea of taking in a roommate to help cover housing expenses.
Consumers ages 35 to 54 weren't as willing to take the steps needed to cut housing costs, with 35% saying they would move to a smaller property and 12% saying they would move to a more affordable area. "People in this age bracket are more likely to have kids living in the house so they are more tied to where they are," Kolko adds.
On almost every measure of the survey, renters were more willing to take action to cut housing costs than owners, with 43% saying they would downsize and 25% willing to bring in a roommate.
"The cost of moving for renters is lower than owners," Kolko told MainStreet. "If you sell your home you pay closing costs, including a broker's fee and if you are underwater, you might end up taking a loss."
Plus, 4% of owners said they would stay in their current place and stop paying the mortgage, while 3% of renters said they would stop paying rent.
"Owners may feel they have a chance of missing a few payments and then make them up later on, whereas renters might feel like they have fewer chances to miss a payment, before they would be forced to move out," Kolko says.
Still, when financial hardship comes your way, even if you can't cut housing costs, which is likely your largest expense, it's important to make changes to your lifestyle.
"So many people bury their head in the financial sand and become inert because they don't know where to turn," says financial expert Gail Cunningham with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
It may take longer than expected to find a new job, so if you start living off of your credit cards and continue to spend as if you had a job, you're going to amass an unmanageable amount of debt. "Put a moratorium on spending and let creditors know you're in financial distress, as they may be able to help delay debt payments to provide some short term relief," she says.
- Written by Scott Gamm for MainStreet. Gamm is author of MORE MONEY, PLEASE