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Seven Must-Haves for Your Dream Retirement Home

David Papazian | Photographer's Choice | Getty Images

When Tom and Lyn Deardorff would dream about retirement, they kept a list of their must haves: a location that would allow them to walk to restaurants and the farmers market, and quick access to Atlanta's international airport. The new digs also had to be located in a diverse area rich in history.

That list grew over 10 years while they were looking, but then they hit the jackpot. They found a loft-style condo a mile from downtown Atlanta in a converted cotton mill that's on the National Historic Register and was within their budget.

"We have it unbelievably good,'' says Tom. "This is it. We look at each other and say, 'Is this how lucky people can be?' "

"We've had no regrets,'' says Lyn. They moved there in 2006. "It has all the things we wanted and more."

Finding the right home for retirement, whether it means moving to a new location or renovating a current home so you can age in place, involves being realistic about your long-term physical needs, your financial resources, and what kinds of facilities are nearby to support you, financial and aging experts say.

It's important to align "the emotional, social and financial parts of retiring,'' says Denise Leish, a financial adviser in Silver Spring, Md. "Very often my clients will tell me they want to stay in their home, but they haven't thought about how their health needs might change. They haven't thought about the stairs they have to take to get into the house and the additional stairs they have to take to get up to the floor where the shower is."

The Deardorffs added a master bedroom on the main floor to their search criteria, as well as wanting elevators in their building and wheelchair access.

"When I had both knees replaced at the same time a couple years ago, it was very easy to get in and out of our condo while I was rehabbing,'' says Tom.

The Deardorffs admit they're fortunate. They could buy the condo with money they made on a home they'd lived in in Decatur, Ga., for 31 years, and where they raised their children. They sold right before the housing bubble burst. They downsized, moving from a five-bedroom bungalow with 3,000 square feet into a 1,500 square-foot space.

Downsizing got them closer to many of the amenities they sought, but it doesn't always pay off, Leish says. In today's economic climate, housing prices are starting to rebound in much of the nation, but many people still don't have the equity they'd need to finance a new home outright. Plus, downsizing isn't necessarily a cheaper option.

JUST SAY NO TO THESE 3 THINGS

More than 40 percent of Americans ages 50 to 64 plan to move within the next five years, according to Nielsen's Demand Institute. If you're among them, here are three common mistakes to avoid, Leish says:

• Seeking states with no or low state income taxes. You can look in these states, but they might not mesh with your social needs, or the climate might not suit you. "So you have more money to spend, but what then?'' she says.

•Thinking you're locking into low condo fees. These have remained stable during the recession, but she predicts they'll soon start rising. "It's how the owners make money and offset the costs of inflation. Maintenance of the outdoor areas costs more these days, even though some experts say inflation is non-existent. Just look at the cost of gasoline."

•Making home improvements before selling. You rarely get the money back on improvements, she says. "It's better just to sell the house as an older house and hold onto your cash."

That's what Sara Little, 68, and Barbara Shaver, 69, did when they moved in 2011. "We priced the house to sell,'' says Little, who lived in her Manassas, Va., home on Lake Jackson for 35 years. "But we got what we needed out of it."

Before deciding to move to an over-55 community in Sarasota, Fla., they rented nearby to make sure they'd like the area. At the core of their decision: They had "some grounding" there, Little says.

"We had friends who already lived here, and more were moving here,'' Little says. "We also got involved in the church right away and in activities like swimming and sailing that introduced us to new people."

But Shaver says in a state like Florida, where many people move when they're older, the social atmosphere is "more open, and there's an eagerness to meet new people."

Their No.1 piece of advice for relocating: Do it while you're still young and can enjoy it.

"It's harder when you're older to acclimate to change,'' Little says. "We had time to create new habits here and grow accustomed to a new life while we're still young. We can take advantage of everything Sarasota has to offer."

They loved the Washington, D.C., area for its cultural assets, but she remembers three winters ago when Snowmageddon battered the area, cutting power to millions for days.

"We were shoveling a long driveway in 2 feet of snow and worrying about losing electricity and being cold,'' Shaver says. "We said to ourselves, 'Why are we doing this?' "

In Sarasota, in addition to liking the hospital, the city's domestic partnership provision, the culture and safe environment, they got used to the low-maintenance lifestyle very quickly.

"We only have to take care of what we plant right around the house,'' Shaver says. "They take care of everything else, including the big swimming pool at the clubhouse."

WHAT OLDER ADULTS NEED IN COMMUNITIES:

Here are seven attributes communities need to be attractive to older adults, according to a MetLife Mature Market Institute study done with the Stanford Center on Longevity. The report was published March 5.

• Housing. Affordable housing with zoning laws that permit flexible housing arrangements (assisted living facilities or houses on small lots).

• Transportation. Mass transit, senior transportation programs, walkable neighborhoods, nearby parks and recreation.

• Safe neighborhoods. Low crime rates, emergency preparedness plans.

• Health care. An adequate number of doctors who take Medicare, specialists, hospitals and preventive health care programs.

• Supportive services. Meals on wheels, adult day care, home care giving support.

• Goods, amenities. Retail outlets within walking distance, restaurants, grocery stores with healthy foods, farmers markets.

• Social integration. Places of worship, libraries, museums, colleges, and organizations that promote intergenerational contact.


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