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If You Must Buy Retirement Home Now

April 26, 1998|ELLEN JAMES MARTIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Are you a second-home buyer with double vision?

If you're in your 40s or 50s and looking for a home that will serve as a leisure-time getaway now and a retirement haven later, you're not alone, according to Michael Sarka, executive director of the Vacation Rental Managers Assn. in Santa Cruz, Calif.

"People are looking at vacation homes with retirement in mind," said Sarka, whose association represents 300 vacation rental agencies, 90% of which also sell second homes.

One major factor propelling the trend toward second-home purchases in Southern California and beyond is that "people are feeling buoyant about the economy," Sarka said.

Whether you've taken your profits from stock market gains, a successful career in the computer industry or another source, you may now be able to buy a second home you couldn't afford five or 10 years ago.

Another obvious factor is demographics, says Margaret Wylde, president of the ProMatura Group, a national consulting firm that advises clients on marketing housing and other products to older consumers.

"There is an explosion of retirement villages throughout the country," said Wylde, though she acknowledges that not every aging boomer or senior wants to live in an age-segregated community.

Indeed, many of those seeking a vacation and retirement home are looking at communities where people of all ages live, Wylde said.

Among the most popular sites chosen by the current flock of dual-objective shoppers are places packed with amenities--whether they be golf courses, tennis courts, spas or exceptional vistas, said Peter A. Hoogstad, a broker-associate for Re/Max Premier Realty in Irvine.

"People are getting much more into the quality of their lives. They're working less on weekends and taking off more time for the places they enjoy," said Hoogstad, who has sold real estate for 15 years.

Southern California communities where second-home buyers are looking include Coto de Caza, Newport Beach and Laguna Beach, Hoogstad said.

Golf communities, especially in such established resort centers as Palm Springs, are popular with those who can afford to buy there, as are gated communities and mountain retreats.

What should you look for in a second home where you plan to retire? Here are five pointers:

No. 1: Consider a single-story rather than a two-story house.

Those who have studied the housing needs of older people know that single-story homes are best. Why? Because the aging process often brings with it "loss of strength," increased fear of falling and balance problems," said Wylde, of the ProMatura Group.

Climbing stairs becomes increasingly difficult as the years pass. Typically, people navigate stairs with relative ease until about age 75, Wylde said. But if you're "overweight and under-exercised," you may find it hard to reach a second story as early as your late 5Os, Wylde said.

So your first choice for a vacation-retirement home should be a single-story house. But if all you find in your chosen community are two-story homes, you should look for a place with a fully equipped first-floor master suite, including a full bath, Wylde said.

Cooking and laundry facilities should also be on the ground level, she added.

Assuming you're affluent enough and your home is sufficiently spacious, it's plausible for you to live late into your life in a two-story home, even if you can't readily climb the stairs.

Spacious and well-designed homes may lend themselves to installation of an elevator--either when the place is built or later, Wylde pointed out.

Alternatively, you could live very happily on the ground level of a two-story home, reserving the upstairs bedrooms for grown children who may be visiting occasionally with their own families, Wylde said.

No. 2: Look for suitable bathrooms for your older years.

Today, you may be a physically fit individual in mid-life able to use any sort of bathtub-shower arrangement in your vacation home. But if you're expecting to move there as a retiree 10 years from now, you could well need a walk-in shower, Wylde said.

Such a shower is less precarious for older people, who are prone to falling, than is a shower-tub, which could prove harder to access, Wylde said. Further, you're less prone to slipping--at any age--if there are hand grips on the walls of your shower.

Each year, about 260,000 Americans must make emergency room visits because of accidents in a shower or tub, Wylde said.

No. 3: Don't buy too much land with your vacation-retirement retreat.

"The home should have a smallish lot--say no more than 5,000 square feet," said Hoogstad, the Re/Max broker-associate from Irvine.

Upkeep of grass and shrubbery is a big issue if you buy a getaway that is surrounded by lots of ground--unless you're particularly fit, love gardening or are willing to let most of your land grow wild.

No. 4: Seek a two- or three-car garage if you have lots of grown-up toys.

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