To take advantage of the stellar seller’s market, an oncology nurse of 65 just sold the oversized family house where she raised her three kids. Now she’s under time pressure to decide where next to live.
“She’s weighing her options -- which include a new multifloor townhouse or an older one-level rancher. It’s a big decision because she’s looking for a ‘forever house’ where she could stay for 15 to 25 years,” says Richard Harty, the nurse’s real estate broker.
Because she’s currently leading an active life that involves international medical missionary trips, the nurse sees no reason to factor potential health concerns into her home-buying plans. But Harty is urging her to plan ahead for a property where she could age in place.
“It’s very important for all homebuyers -- and especially seniors -- to look at the big picture when selecting a place for the long term. If health problems develop in the future, you don’t want to be forced to move before it’s necessary,” says Harty, president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (naeba.org).
As she ponders her options, the nurse is drawn to the contemporary kitchen and open floor plan of the new townhouse, a vertical property with bedrooms on the second and third floors. Yet she also sees advantages to the rancher, with its first-floor master suite.
“Stairs aren’t an issue for this buyer now. But that could change in the future should she become ill or disabled,” says Harty, who co-owns an independent realty firm in a Chicago suburb.
It’s no secret that those in the baby boomer population cohort have entered their elder years. U.S. Census Bureau statistics project that by 2030, all living boomers -- born between 1946 and 1964 -- will be age 65 or older.
Due to increasing interest among boomers for age-in-place lifestyles, demand for single-level houses is intensifying dramatically.
According to the AARP (aarp.org), nearly 90% of people over age 65 want to live in a single-family home for as long as possible. But to do so, they need a place that’s suitable for their stage in life.
Here are a few pointers for senior homebuyers:
-- Try to anticipate your future housing needs.
Mark Nash, a real estate analyst and author, says it’s always difficult to foresee your housing requirements. Yet he recommends that seniors plan ahead for at least five years.
“That’s crucial if you’re already in your pre-retirement years. Injuries and illness can happen at any age, but they’re especially likely after you’ve hit your 60s to 70s,” says Nash, the author of “1001 Tips for Buying and Selling a Home.”
-- Realize a one-level home could prove a good investment.
With the oldest baby boomers already entering old age, demand is rapidly increasing for single-floor living among pre-retirees and retirees. As a result, Nash says ownership of a one-level house should prove a good investment over time -- so long as it’s located in a desirable neighborhood.
“Particularly in communities where ranch houses are scarce, this could be a good bet. As time goes on, there will be more senior homebuyers who need one-story living,” Nash says.
Nevertheless, he contends that some boomers still prefer to own a spacious two-story house with enough upstairs bedrooms to accommodate family members who stay overnight.
“In their retirement, some folks are practically ‘professional grandparents.’ They’d hate living in a small, one-level house or condo if it had limited space for their kids and grandkids,” Nash says.
-- Consider the advantages of a second-floor “hideaway.”
Due in large measure to the COVID-19 pandemic, an increasing number of adults now telecommute or run a small business from home. And many such home-based workers relish a quiet space where they can retreat when they need solitude to concentrate.
Michael Crowley, who heads an independent realty firm in Spokane, Washington, says that in most cases, a two-story house is better suited to home-based work than a single-level property. Upstairs rooms are usually better separated from the noise and congestion that often surround a first-floor entryway.
Likewise, many owners enjoy the tranquility of an upstairs bedroom where they can pursue a hobby.
-- Avoid buying any property that would need a first-floor addition.
Are you drawn to ownership of a traditional, two-story place but want certainty the property you buy will still serve your needs as you grow older? If so, should you consider buying a vertical house with the intention of building on a first-floor master suite?
“Absolutely not,” Nash says. “Getting an addition put on is a pricey proposition that can take six months or longer and cost far more than anticipated.”
-- Don’t necessarily emulate your elderly parents’ lifestyle.
Were you raised in a family that’s always lived in two-story traditional houses? Then you may be emotionally programmed to seek this type of housing.
In that case, Nash urges you to step away from your comfort zone and at least visit a few ranchers.
“Choosing the optimal place to live isn’t about getting a clone of your parents’ place. It’s about being happy with what’s right for you,” he says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at email@example.com.)