On the House: Discontent on over-55 offerings

I can easily gauge whether a column has struck a nerve by the number of e-mails waiting for me when I get home from church on Sunday.

The topic this time was: Where are retiring baby boomers going to live, and why is no one building houses they want and can afford?

Reader Claire Gawinowicz of Oreland had broached the question, and I put in my two cents.

Nearly 120 readers e-mailed and called in the ensuing five days with their opinions. Here are some of them:

"I thought I was the only boomer looking to downsize and having a great deal of difficulty finding something that we can comfortably afford and still be able to enjoy our retirement," said Isabel Day Jones of West Chester.

"We do not want a McMansion, nor do we necessarily want or need the amenities that come with these 55-plus communities, not to mention full staircases, lofts, double-car garages, and community rooms.

"This used to be the time to 'simplify' our lives," she added.

Hannelore Repetto in Garnet Valley retired eight years ago from a 100-year-old house to a new two-bedroom/two-bath, open-floor-plan "luxury" residence.

Her complaint: "For an over-55 community, the builder made 'aging in place' kind of hard - three steps up from garage to house, two concrete steps from street to house, no railings, no grab bars in showers, a tub so big and deep that you need a stepstool to get in and out, regular windows that go up and down that you can't reach to clean without a ladder, and in the houses with lofts, lights and smoke alarms 20 feet up in the air.

"Why can't builders be more thoughtful about these things?" she asked.

When the industry started making a lot of noise about so-called universal-design issues like the ones Repetto described, a local over-55 builder told me he wasn't doing any because he didn't want buyers to think about getting old.

It didn't occur to him that was why people were buying these houses - odd, because most of these builders aren't spring chickens.

Sue Bruno of Mount Laurel asked the $64 million question:

"Even if we could afford or want larger homes, where is the second income coming from to pay that huge mortgage?

"Seniors shouldn't be forced to start all over again," Bruno said. "I always thought it would get easier as you aged and paid your dues along the way; but sadly, it's not.

"Even if you find a home you can afford, you have to pray that the taxes aren't too high and calculate if you can afford them when you finally do collect Social Security," she added.

Builders "are out of touch with reality," Anne Fraser said.

"I am hopeful that this attitude will develop and spread quickly as we need more options sooner rather than later," Fraser said. "If we are offered affordable and efficient living options, we free up affordable family housing for the generation that follows us."

 


On the House: Town by Town

In the Sunday Business section, Alan J. Heavens takes a look at real estate and life throughout the region. This week's focus: Wayne Junction.


Contact Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472, aheavens@phillynews.com or @alheavens at Twitter.

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