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THE NATION'S HOUSING

Seniors Want to Stay Put, Survey Shows

November 10, 1996|KENNETH R. HARNEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

WASHINGTON — America's senior citizens have a resounding message for home builders and community planners:

Don't try to "downsize" us out of our current homes just because we're over 50 and the kids have flown the coop. We don't care if the bedrooms are sitting empty. If we had to move, we wouldn't want fewer rooms.

Nearly two of every three Americans over 50 would buy the same size home they live in, according to a new national study based on interviews with a cross-section of 1,300 seniors designed to be statistically representative of all Americans who are 50 to 80-plus.

Fourteen percent would buy bigger houses if they had to leave their present homes. Just 17% would opt for smaller size and fewer bedrooms, the sort of empty-nester move that some builders and designers assume is a popular choice.

Conducted by the American Assn. of Retired Persons, the giant Washington-based lobby for seniors, the study sought to pinpoint housing preferences among older Americans looking ahead to the 21st century.

The study found that a remarkable 81% of the population over 50 would prefer to stay put. They don't want to buy or rent anything. They want to stay in the home they live in today for the rest of their lives, and 64% of them expect they'll be able to accomplish that goal no matter how old or physically challenged they get.

And if they do eventually have to move out because of advancing age, seniors don't plan--or apparently don't want--to move in with relatives or friends. Nearly 60% said they'd prefer to move to a residential facility that could provide regular "care services"--ideally either a "small home providing . . . services for a few people" or an apartment building with care services, like an assisted living facility. Just 26% said they'd move in with relatives or friends after leaving their current home.

The new study found growing interest among home-owning seniors in reverse mortgages as a means to supplement income or pay bills.

Reverse mortgages allow property owners over 62 with low or no mortgage debt to convert their frozen equity into cash through open lines of credit or a loan secured by the home. Unlike other types of debt, reverse mortgages generally don't have to be paid off until the owner moves or dies.

Although the vast majority (73%) of seniors without reverse mortgages would decline to consider obtaining one, 27% said they would. This is nearly double the 15% of seniors who expressed such interest in a similar AARP survey just four years ago.

Other findings of the new housing study:

* Seniors generally don't want to move to, or live in, neighborhoods populated mainly by other seniors. More than three-quarters (76%) say they want "people of all ages" to live near them, and 13% said they'd rather be surrounded by fellow seniors.

* Don't look to senior homeowners to spearhead local property tax-cutting campaigns. More than (52%) of those surveyed said they think their current level of property taxation "is about right," compared to 42% who said they think their property taxes are too high. Yet 62% of these home-owning seniors reported that in recent years, their property tax burdens have grown either substantially or moderately.

* Nearly two out of three senior homeowners (63%) have paid off their mortgages, while 36% still have outstanding mortgage debt. (The remaining 1% of respondents weren't sure.)

* Despite being financially better off as a group than younger Americans, significant numbers of seniors occasionally run into home-related money problems.

Fifteen percent of those surveyed reported instances during the previous 12 months when they didn't have enough money on hand to pay for needed repairs to their homes. Thirteen percent didn't have enough money at least once in the year to pay the mortgage or rent, and 8% didn't have enough money to pay water, heating or telephone bills.

*

Distributed by the Washington Post Writers Group.

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