Friday, November 14, 2008

Senior Living

Room to grow old
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Nov. 14, 2008 – The region’s bad real estate market at least is having one positive side benefit.Businesses that help South Florida homeowners “age in place” – or stay in their homes as long as possible – are gaining popularity with seniors and their adult children as more elders choose not to move into assisted living facilities.Unable to sell their homes, seniors are deciding they can’t afford assisted care, where they’ll pay $2,000 to $5,000 a month, or continuing care communities, where entrance fees range from $75,000 to $200,000.

But for the price of a few months in an assisted living facility, they can hire a contractor to swap out their door knobs for easy-to-push levers, lower their kitchen counters so they don’t have to bend when cooking, or widen their doorways so a wheelchair can pass through.These “universal design” fixes are popular with forward-thinking Baby Boomers as well and are increasingly included in new construction.Contractors now can become certified aging-in-place specialists, or CAPS, through a credentialing process created by the National Association of Home Builders and AARP. The program was started in 2000, and housing industry groups say they’ve had more inquires from remodelers.

The CAPS designation “is popular in our state, as we have a large number of senior citizens,” said Edie Ousley, spokeswoman with the Florida Home Builders Association. “We are getting a lot more requests for information about it.”There are 85 CAPS contractors in Florida, with seven in Broward and Palm Beach counties.Higher-end assisted living facilities and continuing care retirement communities in South Florida and elsewhere have seen their occupancy rates drop over the past year.William Varian, a Naples general contractor, became interested in senior-friendly construction when he built a guesthouse for his 92-year-old grandmother. He got the CAPS certification six years ago.Varian said aging-in-place retrofits are an increasing percentage of his business; he did about seven such jobs in 2003, compared with 16 last year. He’s working on two projects in South Florida: rebuilding one house to accommodate a man with limited mobility and renovating another for an older couple. His average retrofit job runs about $8,000.The biggest problem homeowners usually face? “Things involving the bathroom, like getting in and out of the tub,” Varian said, who often works with a nurse or physical therapist to determine what his clients need. Grab bars are a common fix, “although some people think they look institutional,” he said. “But I found one model that’s extremely decorative, with towel bars and toilet paper holders to match. I used it for younger clients, too.”

AARP housing research shows 83 percent of older Americans want to stay in their homes until the end of their lives, if possible.The sluggish economy has reinforced those desires. A recent AARP survey of 1,002 people age 45 and older showed three in 10 homeowners pinched by tight times were making changes to their homes in order to live there longer.It’s a challenge, however, to manage chronic medical conditions and provide necessities such as transportation and meals when a senior remains at home. Some turn to care-management firms, such as Rona Bartelstone Associates in Fort Lauderdale, to line up specialists and arrange at-home services.Executive Director Susan Fleischer said the company is working with two families who could not sell their homes and whose adult children could not afford their assisted living expenses. “With today’s economic situation, it only will get worse,” Fleischer said.

Others are trying a new concept: creating a community concierge who coordinates services for seniors living in specific neighborhoods.The best-known example is the “village model,” pioneered by Beacon Hill Village in 2002. Residents of the Beacon Hill neighborhood in Boston, who range in age from 52 to 100, pay $100 to $850 annually for a village membership. That hires a village staff, which plans social activities, gets discounted rates from home health companies, and arranges for rides and shopping.There now are 13 villages in seven states, all governed by member boards.© 2008 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.

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