- The Washington Times - Friday, November 9, 2001

Baby boomers might not consider themselves part of the "aging" population, but the fact is that much of the boomer generation is eligible for membership in AARP, formerly the American Association of Retired Persons. The expansion of active-adult residential communities and assisted-living facilities in the Washington area in the past decade may be another signal that the population is, indeed, aging, a process that will affect the economy in many areas, including real estate.

The Census Bureau reports that in 1999, people age 65 or older represented 12.7 percent of the national population. By 2030, that group is projected to make up 20 percent of the population and number 70 million, more than twice the number of just two years ago.

The older population is expected to expand particularly rapidly between 2010 and 2030.

These expectations are driving developers to plan housing that will appeal to people in the retirement phase of their lives. Even today, an increasing number of senior citizens are making housing decisions that affect the local housing market.

Some Realtors say home sales by seniors are providing significant additional inventory for the current tight market.

"A significant part of our market in Northern Virginia, maybe 25 [percent] to 33 percent in some neighborhoods, are seniors selling their homes and moving either out of the area or into retirement homes," says George Creed, associate broker with Weichert Realtors in Vienna. "What we're seeing in Falls Church, Arlington and Vienna is the graying of neighborhoods as the population ages and then the greening of neighborhoods as younger people with children begin to buy those same homes to raise their families."

Seniors choose a variety of places to move, including some area retirement communities and others in warmer locales, such as Florida, Arizona and the Carolinas. Making the decision to sell the family home and move has become a little easier as the "active adult" lifestyle has received increasing publicity and acceptance.

"Seniors selling their homes represent a significant share of the local market," says Joyce Talley, a Realtor with Weichert Realtors in Springfield. "Lots of people used to feel they had to stay forever in their home whether they wanted the responsibility or not, but now they feel comfortable making the decision to move someplace else that needs less work.

"Fifteen years ago, another Realtor and I tried to convince developers to build a group of low-maintenance houses with one-level living that would appeal to older people, but we couldn't get anyone interested," she says. "Now there are more places like that which answer the needs of seniors. Lots of young folks are able to buy a home [who] couldn't previously own one because interest rates are low and seniors are selling their homes. It's a natural process of moving up."

Appealing residential communities exclusively available to people 55 and older, such as Leisure World of Virginia and Leisure World of Maryland, Greenspring Village in Springfield and Heritage Hunt in Haymarket, among others, have prompted a trend of seniors moving out of their homes at a younger age.

Realtor Gwen Young of RE/MAX One in Bowie points out, however, that some area seniors hang onto their homes when they decide to move for rental income, or to pass on to their children.

"Lots of baby boomers are deciding as they get older to move into an active-adult community, but a number of them are choosing to keep their homes for passive income. They are renting them and hiring a management company to do the maintenance and landlord work," Mrs. Young says. "Some of them are keeping their property so they have something to pass on to their grown children. I'm not seeing a lot of homes coming into the market because of our aging population, except sometimes younger adults who have inherited these homes decide they don't want to live in them. Sometimes they'll sell the home to provide income for taking care of their parents as they age."

Yet even when homes are passed from one generation to another, it can increase inventory, industry observers say. The younger generation might need to sell a current home to move into the one owned by their parents.

A decision to sell the family home of 30 years or more is not made lightly by anyone. Usually the owners, sometimes along with other family members, make the decision based on health issues or simply the desire to live a low-maintenance lifestyle.

"There comes a time when people don't want to do yardwork anymore, and they're tired of cleaning the gutters and worrying about home-maintenance chores," says Jackie Mixson, a Realtor with RE/MAX in Springfield. "It costs too much to hire someone to do this maintenance work, and people want to be free to play.

"Another reason people sometimes choose to move into a retirement community is for companionship," Mrs. Mixson says. "People who are widowed or who have lived alone for a long time often decide they would rather live in a place with some planned group activities and interesting people. Eating alone gets to be a chore, and people often don't eat well when they live alone. It's been proven that human beings are pack animals that do better together. Sometimes people have concerns about their future independence and don't want to wait for their children to have to take care of them, so they will move into retirement housing where they can be independent now but cared for later."

According to Mr. Creed, "There are basically two types of retired people. The younger ones in their late 50s and early 60s are moving to places like Florida and the Carolinas to live, and the older ones are often moving to real retirement homes. So when they decide to sell depends on where they are in life. The younger ones are selling because they want to live in a resort area and can do it when they are ready to retire and can make enough money on the house. The older ones don't want to cook meals anymore and want to be taken care of more."

Health concerns often enter the decision-making process, too.

"A lot of families decide to sell the family home after one spouse has a heart attack or stroke, and they want to limit the activity level and the need to climb stairs," Mrs. Talley says. "Health concerns and wanting to get rid of home maintenance are the two main reasons seniors decide to sell."

Home maintenance may be a reason older people choose to sell their home, but it's also a reason younger people may choose to buy one of their properties.

"A lot of the seniors we're talking about now are Depression-era people who were taught to take care of things," Mrs. Mixson points out. "Nine times out of 10, their homes are so clean you could eat off the floor. Maybe they will have some weird shag carpet in the home, but the roof will be in perfect condition, and so will the furnace. Thirty-one years of maintenance is more important than updating the decor. Some of the homes I've sold have already had some improvements or additions done over the years because the families have expected to stay in the home for a long, long time. They've been taught to buy quality and to take care of it."

Mrs. Young says, "The condition of these older homes is often surprisingly good, since a lot of older people put a lot of time and money into maintaining their homes. Sometimes a home won't be in great shape, but that's usually where there have been money problems."

Mr. Creed agrees that some homes seniors are selling are in excellent condition but says others are less appealing.

"Homes that were built 20 or 30 years ago or more can be pretty dated looking," he says. "I've had people tell me that they have a great house to sell, that it was a model home. But it was the model in 1965, and tastes have changed a bit. Some people don't want to put too much money into their home when they are getting ready to sell it because they want as much money as possible for their retirement. With the market as tight as it has been, I've seen buyers willing to forgo a home inspection in order to get a house in a certain neighborhood. But, realistically, an older home will sell for a lower price if it needs a new roof, a new furnace or major work. The price depends on the market and the condition of the house."

Mrs. Talley often consults with seniors and their families who may be considering selling their home and finds one of the biggest steps to take is getting rid of their accumulated belongings.

"Once they've decided to sell, we need to help them figure out what to do with all the furniture and clutter they've gathered for 30 years or more," Mrs. Talley says. "Sometimes I'll bring in a furniture consultant who can help us decide what furniture can go to the new home and what should be given away or sold. I had one family who asked me to come over once a week for a while to help them gradually get rid of stuff. Once the home is cleared out, people can see that the condition of these older homes is usually pretty good."

As of 1996, almost 14 percent of the population of Washington was older than 65 and a little more than 11 percent of the statewide populations of Maryland and Virginia were in that age bracket. As the 21st century progresses, the aging population of these local areas is anticipated to become an even greater proportion of the population. The choices made by these senior citizens as to when and where to move will spur the graying and greening of many Washington-area neighborhoods.

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