- The Washington Times - Friday, June 16, 2000

Ask most folks with a little gray in their hair and they'll tell you that while they can't avoid growing old, they want to avoid being alone or poor when they reach the golden years.
Well, their wish may be coming true, according to Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies.
The think tank released its Housing America's Seniors report recently. While overall it bodes well for the graying baby boomers, there are some areas that seniors and housing policy-makers should be aware of in the next few years. Here are some of its findings:
Only about 10 percent of seniors live in age-restricted communities and only a third of these live in settings that provide services.
About 10 percent of seniors move in with someone or have someone move in with them for the express purpose of receiving help with their frailties.
Only half of today's seniors with disabilities have the home modifications they need.
Most seniors lock in their housing choice before they reach age 60. So, many baby boomers are making housing choices today that will last the rest of their lives.
Greater wealth, better health and more experience with long-distance moves may make tomorrow's seniors more mobile and apt to own second homes.
Looking at the above facts, the wise senior homeowner would do well to begin preparing for the golden years long before they get there.
Take the demand for modifications of the current housing pool, for instance. With only half of the disabled 65-plus homeowners having modified their houses properly, that leaves thousands without such items as handrails, grab bars, ramps, elevators or stair lifts that would help them function more easily in their home.
Meanwhile, support services in the home are also in strong and growing demand, according to the report, which can be reviewed on line at www.gsd.harvard.edu/jcenter/. The study points out that new medications and devices allow even those with serious health conditions to avoid institutionalization.
As homeowners get older, obviously their need for assistance increases, as well. For households with at least one person between 70 and 79, 5 percent solicit outside help from an organization or nonrelative. For persons 90 years of age and older, the share receiving such assistance climbs to 20 percent.
What will this type of service require financially? It varies, according to the individual's needs and financial resources. However, the study found that out-of-pocket monthly costs of assisted communities without income restrictions average $1,500.
That figure, however, did not include additional assistance needed by 20 percent of those residents who live in an assisted community. That cost was an additional $1,300 per month.
As the number of baby boomers move into the retirement years, other factors will shape their lives and housing choices as well, such as better health, greater longevity for men, increased wealth, even technological innovation.
With the advent of the Internet and the wider use of this technology by seniors, planning housing choices by the early 50s and 60s will become more common.
One good note for all the guys out there: As men live longer, more seniors will have a spouse present a key factor in the ability to remain in conventional housing.
M. Anthony Carr is director of communications for the Realtor Media Center, a clearinghouse of real estate information for the Washington area. He can be reached at 703/207-3226 or by e-mail at [email protected] For Washington-area home sales data, check out www.nvar.com or www.gcaar.com.

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