For senior homebuyers, golden years offer freedom and choice

For homebuyers, golden years offer much freedom and choice

When Georgia, 61, and Bob Bowie, 74, started looking for a home that would suit their lifestyle and accommodate visits from their large family, they had their sights set on a ranch. But, finding few options in the price range and neighborhoods they were targeting, their Realtors, Renee Clark and her son Lee Clark, both brokers at @properties in Barrington, stumbled on a perfect fit in an unexpected place: a townhouse in Hawthorn Woods Country Club.

"It's the best of both worlds," said Georgia. "We looked at 50-plus communities but didn't like the cookie-cutter homes. This townhouse offers the environment we were looking for and the amenities we wanted for ourselves and our grandkids. Plus, there's a range of ages among homeowners here - from young families just starting out to empty-nesters like us - and that adds to the vibrancy of the neighborhood."

As the Bowies' experience suggests, there are more options and services available for senior homebuyers than ever before. But navigating the market and the bevy of available choices - including home sharing, cohousing, niche communities, multigenerational housing and village models - can be overwhelming.

"There are many, many options," said Jennifer Prell, founder of Paxem Inc., a senior move-management and relocation company, and president of Edlerworks, a free senior housing and care resource network.

"Whether you are ready to downsize your home or feel unsure about where to even begin, you should know you don't have to do it alone," she said.

When it comes to decisions about where and how to live during retirement, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. A recent study by Merrill Lynch revealed two in three retirees will move at least once. And, despite the perception that empty-nesters are looking for smaller homes, Merrill Lynch found that when these retirees move only half choose to downsize.

Getting help

Despite the many housing options available to older adults today, some older adults still struggle.

"Most people stay in their homes too long, leave everything to their kids and inadvertently create chaos," Prell said. "That's not the best approach. There's a lifetime of stuff in that house."

This could be because many seniors may not be aware of the extra services available to them. As baby boomers age, an entire service industry has emerged to meet their needs, especially in the housing sector. Senior relocation experts and senior move managers, such as Prell, offer services ranging from estate sales to staging. And Realtors can become certified Seniors Real Estate Specialists, a designation from the National Association of Realtors for those with advanced knowledge and compassion for homebuyers over the age of 50.

"Many seniors may not realize their Realtors can do more than sell their home," said Terry Anderson, a broker associate with KoenigRubloff Realty Group in Glenview.

Recently, Anderson and her team worked with the family of an elderly Niles woman in her 80s. She was no longer able to care for the home she was living in and her environment had become unsafe.

With a clear directive from the homeowner to sell as quickly as possible, Anderson and her team set to work cleaning out years of accumulated belongings. The home went under contract just 27 hours after it came on the market. The total time it took, from clean out to sale: two weeks.

"I am always happy to roll up my sleeves and help a client, but seniors should know they can talk to a Realtor well in advance of a sale," said Anderson. "We can point them to services and professionals who can help them clear out their homes a little at time in the years before they move. Doing it in steps rather than all at once can be more manageable."

Finding the right home

Coal City residents Sandra Clark, 73, and husband Gary, 77, are in the process of looking for a home closer to their daughter and grandson in Elgin. But leaving their community and the large two-story home they built on 1½ acres is a daunting prospect.

"We hate to leave the area," Sandra said. "This is our home. But the land is getting to be too much to care for on our own and our daughter wants us closer."

The search hasn't been easy. The Clarks have been working with Realtor Sue Wiskowski-Fair, a broker at Realty Executives Premiere in Aurora, for so long that Sandra joked to her "if you want to give up on us, you are free to do so."

Not a chance, said Wiskowski-Fair.

"People typically think Realtors are only there to sell homes, but what we really are doing is helping our clients find the right home."

Recently, the Clarks liked a home in Huntley enough that they were ready to make an offer, but Wiskowski-Fair saw trouble: stairs.

"I knew Gary was already having trouble with stairs, and I couldn't let the Clarks purchase a home I knew wouldn't fit their needs," said Wiskowski-Fair. "So I talked them out of it. We're still on the hunt."

The Clark's experience is typical, said Realtor Renee Clark. "For seniors, it may take several showings of different kinds of properties before a clear picture of must-haves takes shape."

But for those ready to consider moving, the first "downsize," as Prell calls it, should be to a simpler life in a condominium community or a ranch.

"In an ideal world, you would downsize at 60 to a smaller, more manageable home where you can age in place comfortably for the foreseeable future. As needed, you can bring in services such as housekeeping, cooking and yard work when you can no longer handle them on your own," Prell said.

"Then, when the time is right, you can make your next - and likely final - move to assisted living."

There are many other models available, as well. For example, group homes are residential communities of four to 10 seniors who live together and share services such as housekeepers or chefs. Some such communities are intentional, meaning that seniors have come together to purchase a home.

Others are unintentional. For seniors who can't afford to live by themselves or can't move into designated senior housing, they may choose to move in with family.

But for seniors whose adult children no longer live nearby, the choice, as Prell sees it, is easy: "Pick a state and go."

Retiring to new roles

For Kiran Chaturvedi, that state was Maryland. After 27 years as the senior services coordinator at the Barn of Schaumburg, Kiran decided it was time to move.

"I have enjoyed a full life, but it was time to do something different, to help my daughter and be with my granddaughter," said Kiran.

Now Kiran, a longtime resident of Hoffman Estates, calls Westminster, Maryland, home. And living just three miles from her daughter and granddaughter means that she can impart cultural traditions from her Indian heritage.

Meanwhile, back in Hoffman Estates, Kiran's husband, Mahendra, recently sold the couple's home with the help of Linda Dressler, a broker at RE/MAX Suburban in Schaumburg. He will be joining Kiran in Maryland after his retirement next month.

Townhouse living decided to be the right choice when Bob and Georgia Bowie decided to downsize to Hawthorn Woods Country Club.
  Bob Bowie of Hawthorn Woods recently relocated from a single-family home to a a townhouse in Hawthorn Woods Country Club. Gilbert R. Boucher II/

For more on senior housing options

What: Free Senior Resource Rally, featuring seminars and a vendor fair, addressing the needs of those age 50 and older

When: 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Thursday, May 28

Where: Mainstreet Organization of Realtors' headquarters, 6655 Main St. in Downers Grove

Who: MORe's Senior Services Task Force, in celebration of Older Americans Month

Cost: Free. Refreshments provided.

Visit: <a href=""></a>

Seminar sessions include:

• Real Estate Market Myth Busters

• Elder Law and the Do's and Don'ts of Power of Attorney

• Medicare/Medicaid 101

• Senior Fraud Protection and Prevention

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