As Realtors, we need to stay on top of housing issues, and just about every social issue can become a housing issue.
Aging is an example of an issue that affects housing, yet seems to be barely on our radar as we continue to work through short sales and foreclosures and work hard to attract first-time homebuyers.
Retiring and moving to a warmer climate or an apartment isn’t for everyone. There are more people who want to age in place. Aging in place is about staying put, or getting rid of the huge house in the ‘burbs and moving into something smaller after the children leave home.
Some of us plan to continue working until we are well over 70 if at all possible, and want to live in areas where there is work. I remember working with a couple who were in their 70s who wanted to move into a smaller home with fewer steps and a smaller yard, or no yard at all. When I suggested 55-plus housing, they told me that they did not want to live with old people.
They ended up buying a one-story condo near downtown. They are now in their mid-80s, and staying put. It’s cost-effective for them to stay put, as their home is paid for. But they need some services due to health problems. They get Meals On Wheels, and are using the block nurse program and some housekeeping services.
Last year, after having trouble with their car, they gave up driving. They order their groceries over the Internet and have them delivered. They are able to get most of what they need through the Internet.
They can walk to the local farmers market and local restaurants. They use a combinations of cabs, rides from relatives and walking to get around, and have access to public transportation.
You will sometimes hear a neighborhood or building where a large segment of the residents are older adults who intend to spend the rest of their lives there referred to as a "naturally occurring retirement community," or NORC.
Instead of seniors moving to places where there are more services, the services come to them; there are nonprofit organizations cropping up to help seniors age in place. These are partnerships between the private sector, churches and the public services. They become the go-to place for finding services. Some services are expensive, and others are free.
As a Realtor, I have learned to not make too many assumptions about how or where people want to live based on their age. Each person is unique, and there isn’t any cookie-cutter approach to retirement or aging.
This year I have had the pleasure of working with older couples who plan to retire in place, and who decided to move into the city where they can get more services and live in a smaller home that is closer to work.
The neighborhood that I live in has an above-average percentage of people in their 80s. Many of these people are still in the same home that they were in 40 years ago.
It isn’t all pretty. More than 60 percent of the seniors in my community are living alone — many with no transportation. Depression and loneliness are common challenges.
It is more expensive to live alone, and some seniors look for roommates, which is also creating a cottage industry of companies and individuals who find compatible roommates for seniors. Economics may also trigger a demand for multigenerational housing and agents who can help families who want to live together.
When it is time to sell the home, it is because the senior who lives in the NORC has moved to a nursing home or some kind of assisted living — or has died. The Realtor usually ends up working with the family of the seller. As agents, we can market our services to the families, and they are looking for help.
Agents working on their 2013 business plans might want to do some research on senior housing and senior housing issues in their neighborhoods or areas of business. There might be some opportunities that other agents are not pursuing as they focus on first-time homebuyers and those move-up buyers who used to be more common during the housing boom.
At the very least, all real estate agents need to be familiar with "NORC" and should also understand the migration patterns and demographics in their own community. The NORC movement is likely to pick up steam as boomers age, and it will generate opportunities for real estate agents.
Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.
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