As the daughter of two nonagenarians (90-something-year-olds), I spend a lot of time with old people whom I refer to as elders. Sometimes people aged 55 to 100 get lumped together as senior citizens, but when we discuss the housing needs of this group, we see how diverse they are. This group lives in all types of housing, including tents in homeless camps.
I don’t like to think of my own home as senior housing but, technically, it is because it houses at least one senior (and an older person too). My house is pretty much like any other house, and it is the same house we lived in when I was in my late twenties.
As our population ages, our future begins to look old. The fastest growing group of homeless people are over 55 years old. (And 55 isn’t really old, especially for people who live into their 90s — it’s more like middle age when it comes to life expectancy.)
The future is old
Last winter when the weather was bad and business was slow, I took SRES (Senior Real Estate Specialist) classes through the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and earned an SRES designation because I believe the future is old. I learned more about older Americans, housing options and housing trends.
Baby boomers are the fastest growing group of renters, and they happen to be renting in the same amenity-rich buildings designed to attract millennials. Five million baby boomers will rent their next home by 2020, according to Freddie Mac. That could translate into a lot of listings.
Adding value for elderly clients
Housing needs do not change for everyone, and there isn’t a magic age at which they change. The most attractive option for many elders is to age in place. People who want to plan ahead for their golden years will need to know what year they are going to die and what they are going to die of. Without that information, there is a wide range of possibilities for what could happen in old age.
Real estate professionals who want to add value or who just want to be good neighbors should learn about housing opportunities for the elderly and be aware of what the options are in their own communities. A few of those options include:
Senior apartments for those who are over 55. These homes should not be confused with assisted living, which usually includes meals and other services that can be added on for a fee.
Senior cooperatives. The way a cooperative works is the senior buys shares and, in return, gets to use an apartment in a community where everyone is 55 or older. When it is time to sell, the co-op often buys the shares back.
House sharing. This option is becoming more popular. House sharing means seniors live together, sharing the kitchen and other common areas. Sometimes people can hang onto larger houses they love by bringing in some roommates.
Multi-generational housing. This option is growing in popularity with a couple (or a few) generations sharing one house. Finding a house that is suitable can be a challenge, but the right houses do exist — and sometimes a little remodeling helps.
Reverse mortgages. Real estate professionals should understand reverse mortgages. They are not a scam; they can make it possible for elders to stay in their home longer; and they can be used to purchase a home. (See the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 10 things you should know about reverse mortgages.)
Housing with memory care. This is a kind of hybrid housing. It is assisted living with a lot of supervision. People with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia may need to be guided to the dining area every day and told when it is bedtime and they may need help choosing what to wear and getting dressed. Smaller group homes are also used for memory care.
Nursing homes. For those who need a lot of care, there is what we commonly refer to as a nursing home. It is a skilled nursing facility with 24/7 nursing care, but in some parts of the country, there are nursing homes that provide a lower level of care.
Nursing homes are very expensive, and they struggle to find the staff (particularly aides) who provide most of the hands-on daily care. Right now, young immigrants are providing a lot of the care. I don’t know of anyone who ever chose to live in a nursing home, but it is the only option for some.
The state of the elders
People live longer than ever before, but they don’t seem to live better or healthier.
Last summer I worked with some seniors who were “upsizing.” They bought a larger home on acreage in a rural area so they could have their home and business in one place. The 10-acre lot included outbuildings for storing business equipment; and inside the house, there are two offices — one for her and one for him. The arrangement is saving them money and has some tax advantages.
When working with people who are in their 70s or beyond, it is unwise to assume they need to live in a home that is all on one level or that they need or want to live in a community that is especially designed for seniors.
Assuming that elders in their 80s and 90s do not use the internet or have smartphones, computers or tablets and do not make purchases or pay bills over the internet is a big mistake. Computers and smartphones are no longer just for young people and are even used in nursing homes among the oldest of the old.
I remember one octogenarian (someone aged 80-89) telling me that he did not want to live with other old people. He wanted to live among people who still had jobs, and he wanted to live in a walkable area so that he would not need to drive everywhere.
He and his wife moved from the suburbs into a densely populated walkable downtown area. They ordered anything they could not buy in the neighborhood online and had it delivered.
Another 80-something-year-old opted to move to senior apartments before she went totally blind because it seemed safer and easier than continuing in her two-story town house.
Working through challenges
The biggest challenges I have seen in working with seniors who want to sell their home is dealing with all of the stuff they have (if they have owned the home for decades) and dealing with repairs.
Knowing how to get just about anything fixed and knowing about how much it will cost can make the difference between getting the listing and not getting the listing. I like to let homesellers know that homes can be sold without making any repairs at all.
If they don’t want to be in the home while it is on the market, a reverse mortgage can help them purchase another home before they sell their current home.
Knowing how to get rid of excess belongings is also a useful skill — but keep in mind some people won’t want to get rid of anything. There are experts who can go through people’s belongings and help them decide what to get rid of.
The most important thing to understand about working with seniors is that people called seniors could have been born in 1963 or in 1913, or in any year in between. It is a large and diverse group of people. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for housing.
There are people in their 90s living in walk-up apartments and they are doing just fine. In fact, the exercise might be helping them stay strong and healthy.
Some seniors move to live closer to grandchildren, while other seniors have no grandchildren or children.
If you are looking for a new career, or just a new direction in your real estate career, consider the many opportunities providing goods, services, housing or technology to people who are over 65. This is the fastest-growing age group in the U.S. and may be underserved when it comes to both technology and housing.