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Gracious Moves    LLC

Senior Transition Specialists

Brooke's Blog


Don't Skimp on the Repairs

Posted on July 29, 2013 at 5:35 PM Comments comments (181)
As published in the Savannah Morning News - 2 June 2013

Last week we talked about visually expanding your space to create the illusion of larger rooms.  Space is luxurious!  It is a treasure, and buyers want more of it.   

So, now we will explore maintenance and repairs.  Boring?  Not really, because it can mean the difference between selling your house, or not.  

Buying a resale home is sort of like buying a used car…if a car is clean, smells fresh inside, and has all the maintenance records to prove it has been well kept, a person can reasonable conclude the car has been loved and appreciated.  It becomes a jewel on the market and should sell quickly.  Well, this applies to houses too.  

It starts with the outside.  A lot of assumptions are made as a buyer drives up to your house.  If the outside is clean, the yard is manicured and the flower beds are weed-free and mulched, a buyer will take a closer look.  Next, the front porch will be scrutinized…are there mud daubers and cob webs?  Is your front door clean and freshly painted?  Is your outside light sparkling?  If not, look at it from a buyer’s perspective.  A negative experience on the outside will set up expectations for the inside.   

What about wood rot, gutters sprouting weeds, pots with dead plants?  All of these are signs of neglect, but are an easy fix and part of regular home maintenance.  

Find inexpensive ways to make simple but effective changes, like an attractive collection of potted plants with a splash of color.  Concentrate on the front yard and entranceway, where first impressions are most likely to be formed.  Fix the wood rot; have the front door painted in one of today’s popular exterior colors, and pressure clean the house, driveway and walkways before you list your home for sale.     

After you have examined the outside, do the same on the inside, room by room.  Put on “buyer’s glasses”, and look at it the way they would.  Make a list and tackle it item by item, room by room.

If you really want to make sure everything is in tip top shape, have a professional inspection done on your home.  Leaky faucets, damaged window screens and closet doors that slip off their tracks may seem insignificant, but buyers will make note of these small repairs and tally them up.  Doors and windows that don’t lock are not safe and are unacceptable to buyers.  It does not matter how long you have lived that way, it won’t pass inspection.   

Often, buyers overestimate the cost of fixing these items and can assume they are indicative of bigger problems.  Don’t give buyers excuses to walk away or to submit a low ball offer appropriate for a true fixer-upper.   Be proactive and repair those things that show up during the inspection.  

Another important point:  don’t skimp on repairs.  Don’t glop on the wood filler and paint over it, thinking that will do the trick.  If it looks like a do-it-yourself job, buyers will notice!  That applies to caulking as well…it should be neat, fresh and not obvious.  Make sure it is done on a clean surface, not over mildew that shows through.  Cutting out a piece of wood, instead of replacing the length of board, may cure the wood rot, but it usually does not produce the best esthetic solution.   

All these little short cuts may get you off the hook, but buyers are adding up what it will take to do it right.  Their offer to buy your home will most likely be reduced by their guesstimate of repair costs.  If you can’t do the work, hire a handyman that can complete your list in a minimum amount of time at a reasonable rate.  

Remember, you want a buyer to fall in love with your house and appreciate it the way you have over the years.  Spruce it up and make it sparkle...they will come.  

Next week in Moving Mom…Does your house pass the “Hotel Test”?  Stay tuned!

"Visually" Expand Your Interior Spaces

Posted on July 29, 2013 at 5:29 PM Comments comments (7)
As published in the Savannah Morning News - 26 May 2013

“Visually” expand your interior spaces. 

In real estate speak, “cozy” means small, and “spacious” means large.  So, how do you make “cozy” seem “spacious”, which appeals to more buyers?  Here are some tricks of the trade…  

Let there be light!  Brighter interiors are more compelling, more spacious, more attractive.  Lighting dark corners expands a room and visually makes it look larger.  Add lamps or accent lighting to fix dark spaces or create visual drama.  I recommend 3 light sources for average size rooms, not only for safety and convenience, but for aesthetics.  Many buyers are light sensitive, and if windows are limited, lighting visually opens up a room.  

Clean the windows and light fixtures.  Dirty windows obstruct light.  Buyers will see how well kept the house is when the windows are clean and they can see out.   Clean light fixtures will also set the stage for a brighter home.  Additionally, when a buyer is house hunting, they are noticing which ones are clean and well kept.  It makes a difference! They may choose yours over another because if your windows are clean, they may assume your house has been well maintained. 

Keep the ceiling lifted.  High ceilings are the norm in today’s newer homes.  If your ceilings are low, do not paint them a dark color, as it visually lowers the ceiling more.  Keeping it light or white will make it seem higher.  High ceilings can take a contrasting color, and in some small rooms, it is advantageous to “lower” the ceiling, especially if it seems to go straight up like a tower.  However, most older homes do not have this issue, so keep the ceilings light.  

Paint the room a light color.  Light colors help make a room look larger.  They seem to expand space by reflecting light.  Just as in a low ceiling, painting your walls a light color will help change a “cozy” room into a more spacious environment.  

Open the curtains, shades and blinds.  Let in the light!  Many buyers will immediately open window treatments as soon as they enter a house.  I try to train my sellers to prepare the house for showing by opening all windows and blinds, and turning on lights and soft music before leaving their home.  Also, if a buyer wants a view, they will want everything open so they can see the view from each room.  

Start packing!  Remove most of what is on the counter tops and tables.  De-cluttering will help make a room look sleeker and larger.  Simply put, too much stuff makes rooms look over-crowded.  

Remove some furniture.  When I am staging a home, many times I can remove half the furniture and it makes the rooms look larger.  Sell, donate or consign it, but if selling your home is your intent, de-furnishing is often needed.  

Stage it.  Okay, I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again.  Un-staged homes are a dime a dozen, and the Multiple Listing Service is flooded with them.  If you want to know what I mean, look on and see for yourself.  Check out the photos and look at the difference between a staged and un-staged home.  Realtors® must be honest with their sellers and let them know staging is a part of getting a home ready for sale.  If a home needs it and the Realtor® doesn’t say so because they fear hurting the seller’s feelings, they are doing the seller a disservice.   

Furniture placement can make a room appear substantially larger.  Or it can cut rooms in half and/or make them look packed and small.  Staging can include rearranging and removing some furniture.  I often hear sellers tell me they did not know their furniture could look so good, that they never thought of placing certain pieces where I arranged them.  Because we all get used to seeing things a certain way, another set of eyes can provide new ideas.   

So take another look at your home.  How does it appear to buyers?  Are you thinking about listing it for sale or concerned because it has been on the market for a long time, unsold?  Once your home is well lit, painted appropriately, staged and cleaned, new pictures should be taken.  And, of course you know, pictures speak a thousand words…need I say more?   

Next week in Moving Mom…Don’t Skimp on Repairs.   Stay tuned!

Moving Mom...Foreclosures and Bankruptcies, Part I

Posted on May 22, 2013 at 3:38 PM Comments comments (84)
As published in the Savannah Morning News - 5 May 2013
Foreclosures and Bankruptcies - “seasoned” buyers are buying…Part I
It’s been a rough six years.  We are spotting the survivors…peeking their heads out of the sand, working their way out of debt, improving their credit scores, saving for a down payment and working hard in their recovery efforts to buy a home again.  Many have lost jobs, spouses, have experienced illnesses, the collapse of companies, and yet we all share a common thread in the American Dream, that of home ownership. 
It’s been a painful and embarrassing recovery for many of these former home owners, whose personal stories have begun to sound like a blur in the sea of economic hard times.  My heart goes out to those that have suffered great loss, both emotional and financial, sometimes through no fault of their own.  Their recovery is admirable, many setting out immediately, post bankruptcy or foreclosure, to rebuild their lives, their credit and their ability to provide again for themselves and their families.  It has been through dogged determination, education, sacrifice and hard work that they are now able to buy again.
With rents creeping up and interest rates still at record lows, and the fact that rebound buyers are missing the mortgage interest deductions, it’s no wonder we are seeing these determined folks back in the market now.  They still think and feel like home owners and want a place to call their own. 
As Realtors®, in order to work with these buyers affectively, we must understand the ramifications of foreclosures and bankruptcies.  Rebound buyers are plentiful, so both buyers and sellers should know the rules of the game.  Buyers have been working hard to get to this point, and they know when they are approved for a loan.  Sellers need to know what a “seasoned” buyer looks like, and how to spot one who is not.  Avoiding a Purchase and Sales Agreement with an unqualified purchaser saves lost time on the market and headaches in the long run.
But financing is difficult these days, even for those with good credit. 
Unless a buyer has 20-percent of the purchase price saved for a down payment, they will be required to secure mortgage insurance.  They can’t originate a loan without it, and because the real estate crisis pushed many mortgage insurers out of business, those that survived are extremely picky.  Buyers with a foreclosure in their history may have a tough time.  They will probably pay more for mortgage insurance, homeowners insurance, have to lower their home expectations and save more for a down payment.
Guidelines for rebounding buyers hoping to qualify for a loan are not black and white, and subject to interpretation.  “Seasoning” refers to a time line that lenders follow in which the rebound buyer must meet certain post-foreclosure and post-bankruptcy dates and requirements in order to qualify for a new loan.  Credit score is still a consideration, but the dates follow the discharge or dismissal date of a bankruptcy, or the recorded date of a resale of the home (by the lender) post foreclosure.  These dates must mature, or an exception must be made in order to get a loan approved by one of the big three:   Fannie Mae (FNMA)/Freddie Mac; Department of Veterans Affairs (VA); and Federal Housing Administration (FHA).  Exceptions may be granted and timelines shortened for extenuating circumstances, such as job loss or a prolonged illness and subsequent death of a wage earner.
I just had a buyer turned down by FHA after a job loss forced him into eventual bankruptcy.  Post-bankruptcy, he gave up his home by giving his lender the keys to the property and a Deed in Lieu of Foreclosure.  If he had included the house in the bankruptcy instead of holding on, his “seasoning” would have started at the bankruptcy date and not the foreclosure resale date, which was later.  FHA did not approve his job loss as extenuating circumstances, even though he depleted all resources before giving up the keys.  The lender argued the buyer’s hardship with FHA, but to no avail.  The buyer consequently has another year to season, post-foreclosure.
With foreclosure, the seasoning starts on the recorded date the lender resells the property, not when the homeowner gives up the property to the lender. 
Time lines are a bit involved, so next week I’ll talk about the specific time lines for all three types of loans and what to expect from rebounding buyers. 
Next week in Moving Mom…Foreclosures and Bankruptcies—“seasoned” buyers are back, Part II.  Stay tuned!

Sellers Get "Cold Feet" too

Posted on May 2, 2013 at 7:51 AM Comments comments (86)
As published in the Savannah Morning News - 28 April 2013
Sellers get “cold feet” too
It’s a sign of the times…the market appears to be coming back, and sellers are questioning their decision to sell now.  I may be having a flash back!  This happened often in the early 2000’s when I was selling nearly 300 homes a year and I was trying to make sure I listed the property high enough to not leave money on the table.  Appraisers were calling asking why I was setting my sales prices so high, and I had to explain that if I did not, by the time it closed, we would have sold it too cheaply.  Those were the days.
I’d give my eye teeth to see that market again, but it probably won’t happen in my lifetime.  The recovery we are seeing today is a slow, steady decrease in inventory and increase in sales prices.  It’s the old rule of supply and demand, and it is again becoming a seller’s market. 
Along with that, comes doubt.  Sellers are hesitant to take their first offer, even when it may be the best one they get.  They are wondering if they can hold on another year, if their home will be worth more.  Maybe, or maybe not.  The economy is shaky, and no one has a crystal ball.
Recently, I had a sale fail to close due to seller’s remorse.  Our office attorney told me that 8 sellers had called him in the previous 2 weeks asking how they could back out of their contract.  I thought, oh no, it’s happening again!  This isn’t the early 2000’s, and a good comparative market analysis or appraisal should ease seller’s fears.  Pricing a home is not an exact science, but there is a market price “range” into which the property value lies.
My buyers were devastated—the wife was literally crying in my arms, and the husband was furious.  I can’t tell you how bad I felt for these people.  They suffered damages:  they paid for an appraisal, inspections, but most importantly, they missed an important deadline to close, after which FHA raised their mortgage insurance rates causing that cost to double every month.  Fortunately, the movers had not packed the house, and could have been waiting to unload.  Yes, that happens when closings fail on closing day. 
It is assumed that the buyer gets enough time to decide whether they want to buy a property—time for inspections, time to get mortgage approval and insurance on the property, time to back out.  The Due Diligence clause in the Purchase and Sale Agreement is typically between 7 to 14 days on a residential purchase. It’s a “free look” at the property, and the buyer can choose to walk away before the expiration of the due diligence period and, in that event, their earnest money deposit is returned.
So what about the seller’s ability to withdraw from a fully executed Purchase and Sale Agreement?  There is no due diligence period for the sellers.  It is assumed the sellers made the decision to sell when they signed a Listing Agreement with their Realtor®.  These are legal and binding contracts, and both parties are obligated to perform under the terms held within.  If either the buyer or seller decides not to go through with the sale after all contingencies have been met, there are potential legal repercussions for the party that has failed to perform.
Can a buyer force a sale when a seller decides not to close?  Potentially, they can hire a lawyer and take the seller to court.  Additionally, the seller often owes a sales commission to the Realtors® who have also performed, and brought the seller a ready, willing and able buyer.  It is up to the Broker to decide whether to legally seek the commission from the Seller, and it is up to the buyer to sue the seller for damages.  Both can happen.
So sellers, know that when you put your house on the market, and you reach a written agreement with a buyer to sell, you can choose not to close, but there are legal ramifications that could cost you thousands of dollars.   It’s best to go into a sales transaction with your eyes wide open, and the decision to sell a foregone conclusion.
Next week in Moving Mom…Foreclosures and Bankruptcies—“seasoned” buyers are back.  Stay tuned!

Plan Before You Sell Your Home

Posted on May 2, 2013 at 7:47 AM Comments comments (184)
As published in the Savannah Morning News - 21 April 2013
Plan for your next home before you sell.
The road map to a secure financial future, and knowing what you can afford to buy or rent after you sell your home, is all about planning.  Meeting with a financial planner is an important step in the process of knowing how long your retirement money will last and what you can afford to spend on your next home.
Too often I meet with senior customers who want to list and sell their home, but don’t have a clear picture as to what comes next.  They have no idea how much money they will need in order to live out their life, and they don’t know whether they should buy or rent, or what they can afford.  My next question is always, “have you met with a financial planner?” These folks are trained to review your financials and give you advice.  They can estimate, based on your assets and investments, what your projected monthly income will be for the rest of your life.  You will then be able to see what your income can support in a home or retirement community over the long haul.
Additionally, it is important that both spouses know the full extent of their financial picture.  Depression era babies are often of the traditional mindset:  the husband takes care of the bills and everything financial; the wife takes care of the cooking, laundry and the house.  That’s fine, but I believe in cross-training, because if you lose a spouse due to death or divorce, the other is left without a clue.  With seniors, occasionally I see the roles reversed, but not often.  And let’s face it, a good number of women outlive their spouses.  Regardless, it’s always wise for both spouses to know all about their assets, the name of a key advisor to call in case they need to suddenly step into their spouse’s role, where the files are kept, etc.  Read on…
We have all heard about shocking revelations where one spouse spends all the money and the other has no knowledge?  Recently, a neighbor had a heart attack and died unexpectedly.  His wife thought the finances were in order because her husband took care of everything.  In the midst of her grieving and dealing with estate issues, she discovered the husband had tapped their retirement and mortgaged the house to the max.  Their assets were depleted.  It was not long before the lender foreclosed on the house and this shattered woman was forced to leave her home.
Another scenario which happens all too often:  A newly widowed woman has been “taken care of” all her life and now finds herself alone.  She has never managed the money nor lived on a budget, and since they have always lived well, she thinks there must be enough money to last.  All too soon, the nest egg dwindles, and when it comes time to sell the house and move to a retirement community or assisted living facility, she cannot afford it. 
I am told that Savannah’s average annual cost for assisted living is about $45K a year. A good long term care policy should be in your plan, but you still must have the monthly income to support yourself above and beyond that coverage.   And, if you plan to move into a buy-in continuing care retirement community, they often require that you qualify based on your total assets, plus your monthly income.  If either falls short, you will not meet their qualifications to buy-in.  Financial planners can assist in this assessment and guide you accordingly.
Planning while both spouses are still alive is the solution to making sure you can live out the rest of your lives in comfort and with the proper finances in place.  Establishing an accurate budget will be an essential piece of the puzzle and your financial planner can provide you with forms to help you establish your budget.  You will be able to see if your income can support the new lifestyle you desire, and if not, how much of a draw from your capital you must take each month to meet your expenses.  That subsequent decrease in assets will be factored into your projections.   Your family longevity will also be a factor.   Your planner can then estimate how much you can spend on a home and project your monthly income for the rest of your life.
After your financial plan is mapped out, you can move forward to find your next home with confidence.  Your peace of mind is worth it and you will be ready for the next step.
Next week in Moving Mom…Sellers get cold feet too!  Stay tuned!

Flood Insurance - do you really need it?

Posted on May 2, 2013 at 7:31 AM Comments comments (105)
As published in the Savannah Morning News - 4 April 2013
Flood Insurance – do you really need it?
This article was not what I had intended to write, but recent events have prompted me to change it up.  I was going to introduce seniors to active lifestyle communities within the 4 corners of our county, and invite them to some fun community events.  However, I have been asked not to write about particular places, lest I leave some out.  So instead, I will list senior focused events on my website for those who have interest. 
Today, I’ll discuss a concern that affects the housing market, for buyers and sellers.  I actually wrote my State Representative about this issue, asking for action.  This article may cause a flurry of comments from insurance companies, and updates will be forthcoming.
Recently, I was involved in a sales transaction on Skidaway Island, and the sellers represented that flood insurance was required, but did not provide the FEMA National Flood Insurance Program Elevation Certificate (commonly called a flood certificate) for the property.  This is a necessary document that buyers need in order to obtain flood insurance, and is required for loan approval prior to closing. I spent hours trying to get the sellers' insurance company to release the flood certificate so my buyer would not have to pay $300 for an elevation survey needed to obtain a new flood certificate.
The Chatham County records are often outdated.  If the sellers do not possess and provide this document, buyers are forced to pay for a new flood elevation survey for the property they wish to purchase. 
In this case, the sellers provided a copy of the Flood Declaration Page reflecting their $700 annual premium.  I called the 800 number and spoke to the insurance company representative that issued the flood policy.  I was told they did have the certificate, but the local office had to release it.  The local office did not have a copy on file, but days later, after several phone calls and emails, I finally received it.  This should have been a simple procedure, and I was stymied as to why it was so difficult to get this document…but that's not the end of the story.
After obtaining the flood certificate, the buyer's insurance agent informed me that the property was no longer in the 100 year flood plain.  Without the provided flood certificate, my buyer would have been forced to spend $300 for a new elevation certificate just to find that out.  More surprisingly, within days, the seller told me they received a bill to renew their flood insurance, when in fact, it was no longer required!
The lack of cooperation to expeditiously provide the flood certificate, along with the billing of their client for an unnecessary policy, raised red flags for me. 
Realtors and the public rely on insurance companies to find out what policies are needed to protect their property, and if the companies are not required to update their files to reflect the updated FEMA flood map before billing their clients, people are unnecessarily paying for insurance (at exorbitant rates) that they don't need.  
The BIG picture:  Requiring flood insurance on a property is a factor that affects the housing market.  When I am showing homes, some buyers stipulate that they will not buy a house that requires flood insurance because they don’t want the added expense.   I am instructed to eliminate homes that require it.  The cost of flood insurance locks out buyers who are unable to pay or qualify for a higher monthly payment.  This hurts sellers that do not need flood insurance, but mistakenly think they do, and are paying high premiums for it.
Because I live on an island, I choose to have flood insurance even though it is not required, making my policy very inexpensive. This brings me to my next question:  What happens to all the money that is collected by insurance companies for high risk policies on properties that don't require flood insurance?  Is this insurance fraud or a flawed, mismanaged system which needs to be fixed?
Unlike hazard/liability property insurance, the cost for flood insurance is not negotiable and is set by FEMA.  If you don’t need it, it’s cheap.  If you do, it’s expensive.  It could affect a buyer’s desire or ability to purchase your home.  So, Sellers, call your insurance company to see if your property is still in a flood zone. There is a chance you no longer need it.
Next week in Moving Mom…Flood, Part II? Stay tuned!

Choosing the Right Active Community

Posted on May 2, 2013 at 7:25 AM Comments comments (100)
As published in the Savannah Morning News - 17 March 2013
Choosing the Right Active Community
We are living longer, staying healthier and enjoying life to the fullest.  Many seniors are “still in the game” with active lifestyles, and choosing the right community for your retirement home means finding the right fit.
For young retirees, it may mean turning a dream into a reality...moving into a second home that was planned for retirement.  Or perhaps, you are thinking about buying the perfect vacation home that will one day serve that purpose.  Some tips to help you decide on your second home and community:
  • Affordability on retirement income
  • Visit community during all seasons before buying
  • Weather
  • Snow…walking and driving on ice 
  • Access and road conditions
  • Traffic congestion
  • Year round services and shopping
  • Always stuff to do
  • Noisy or disruptive peak season visitors
Top Considerations for Active Communities
  • Range of services
  • Social events
  • Sports: golf, tennis, fitness centers
  • Amenities
  • Social and recreation programs
  • Community center/club house
  • Fitness facilities
  • Computer labs
  • Hobby facilities
  • Gardening plots
  • Library
  • Cultural arts programs
  • Worship
  • Continuing education
  • Information and counseling
  • Restaurants and meal programs
  • Health care programs
  • Transportation
  • Walking & jogging trails
  • Outdoor spaces
  • Lakes, ponds, streams, open water
  • Boating/RV facilities
  • Security
  • Business centers
  • Shopping
Once the community or area has been chosen, the second home may need changes to accommodate a full-time life style, such as larger closets, or certain physical needs.  Last week we talked about aging-in-place considerations and incorporating Universal Design into your retirement home.  Barrier free entry, ground floor living, wide doorways and hallways…all are important to age gracefully, without the need for major renovations.
My mother had a beautiful home in a lovely community in North Carolina, but it was mountainous and most building lots were not level.  It is a fantastic active community with golf courses, ponds and lots of amenities, but because the ground was not level, the early retirees were forced to move away within 7 to 10 years because they could no longer negotiate the mountainous terrain.  Driveways, yards, sidewalks, roads…all required the strength and stamina to climb hills on a daily basis.  Food for thought!
There are many communities that have the aforementioned features without the restrictions of banning children from full time residency, as well as limitations on visitation.  If you want to live within a mix of ages, then you will want to avoid age restricted communities.  Or, you can choose a community that does have those restrictions in place, just check out the rules to see if they will be acceptable with your desires to entertain your family and grandchildren.
The Scoop on Age Restricted Communities:
  • Age 55+:  80% of units must be occupied by at least one person 55 or older per unit.
  • Age 62+:  all residents must be at least 62.
  • Rules and Regulations apply, and these communities must provide certain services and amenities to be able to age discriminate.
The support, friends, activities and opportunities to socialize, without the stress of owning a home that requires ongoing maintanence, is the main attraction of these communities.  Call me to find out about more and what Savannah's retirement communities have to offer. 
Next week in Moving Mom…Savannah’s Active Retirement Communities!  For those looking for fun, action and sports, we’ll cover what Savannah has to offer…Stay tuned! 

Moving Mom...Finding the Perfect "Last" Home

Posted on March 11, 2013 at 11:43 AM Comments comments (0)
As published in the Savannah Morning News - 10 March 2013
Finding the Perfect “Last” Home
Whether you are looking for a vacation home that will become your retirement dream come true, or you want to downsize to simplify your life, or you have a large family that wants to visit all at the same time, there are things to consider when choosing your “last” home. 
Last week we began to discuss certain structural qualities to look for when buying a last home.  A home where you can age-in-place should include wide doorways, clear space for wheelchair mobility, barrier free entrances, with provisions that can be made for features to be adapted as needed.  Ideally, these changes should be able to be made quickly and easily.  For example, bathroom walls may be designed with additional supports for the future installation of grab bars. Cabinets under sinks can be designed to be removable whereby the storage space under the sinks can be utilized for knee space should a wheelchair become necessary.
Essential features to look for are a zero-step entrance, accessible hallways, and bathrooms with doors wide enough for a wheelchair user to enter. Such features can help you adapt should your needs change due to a disability or reduced mobility.
What you want to avoid is becoming trapped in your home or locked out because of a disability that prevents you from being able to physically access your home. Assistive technology, such as environmental control units that allow a person with a disability to turn on and off lights, answer the telephone, and open the door can increase independence. Home modifications, such as ramped porches and bathrooms equipped with grab bars and bath chairs can provide for safety and independence as your needs change.
What we are essentially talking about is Universal Design: 
"Universal Design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design." (Center for Universal Design, North Carolina State University).
There are published guidelines, which can provide you with standard dimensions and features such as door widths, clear space for wheelchair mobility, countertop heights for sinks and kitchens, audible and visual signals, grab bars, switch and outlet height, and more.  There are also builders and architects that specialize in Universal Design and aging in place.  Many times, an existing home or your vacation home can be modified to accommodate aging in place solutions.  Within our network, we can put you in touch with all the right people to make sure your last home is the right choice for your future.
For the next few weeks in Moving Mom…Choosing the Right Active Community!  For those looking for fun, action and sports, we’ll cover what to look for, and what Savannah has to offer…Stay tuned! 

Moving Mom...Finding the Right 2nd Home for Retirement

Posted on March 8, 2013 at 10:27 AM Comments comments (30)
As published in the Savannah Morning News - 3 March 2013
Finding the Right 2nd Home for Retirement
The Azaleas are already blooming in the south, and the snow is still flying in the north.  Dreams of warmer weather and vacations homes are invading the sleep of the snow bound…and many northerners have escaped to our area to find their next, and possibly, “last” home.  With the market improving, downsizing makes sense, so are you thinking about a change?
The good news is, sellers are now more realistic in their pricing, and homes are selling again.  The northern market is moving as well, and the snow birds are here, so if you are thinking of listing your home, this is a great time.  They are down-sizing, up-sizing to accommodate visiting family, or simply making the move to warmer weather. 
We are starting to see a shift from a buyer’s market to a seller’s market.  That’s great news for sellers who have been suffering for the last 6 years.   I am excited to tell you that I am again receiving multiple offers on nice homes that are priced right, which is a sign the buyers are scooping up the cream of the crop.  Short sales and bankruptcy inventories are also shrinking, so things are looking up!
If you are in the mood to make a change, or buy a vacation home that will become your retirement abode, this is a great time to buy while prices are low, money is cheap and inventory is available.  Rising values incentivizes buyers to buy now.  For sellers waiting for your home values to increase, it will be a long wait to return to 7 year old values. Yes, you will sell lower than 7 years ago, but you will be buying low as well.
So, let’s take a look at finding your “last” home.  In order to age-in-place comfortably, choose carefully.
Stairs is the main concern that comes to mind.  Many consider a home with a master bedroom on the ground floor to be the plan for the future.  Yes, it has its advantages, with the guest rooms separated, but no more than a ranch style with a split bedroom plan.  I have sold countless homes that have significant issues on the 2 floor…roof leaks, air conditioner moisture, mold, branches through the roof…the list goes on.  Seniors tend to ignore the upstairs and live on the ground floor, while the mold grows and the house becomes toxic.  If you are not going to visit the upstairs, don’t buy one.
Also, if you are building, install an elevator shaft, even if you don’t need the elevator now.  The space makes a great pantry in the kitchen and walk-in closets on other floors.  When the elevator becomes necessary, you take out the false floors and move forward with the installation.  Planning is the key. 
Installing stair chairs are not the simple answer if a wheelchair is involved. There must be proper space for a person to be able to negotiate from a wheelchair to the stair chair.  If not, both the senior and the caretaker risk injury trying to make that work.
Doorways, counter heights, door lever hardware, level ground around the house are just some of the considerations when choosing your last home.  If it does not have the capability for wheel chair mobility and it can’t be renovated for safe bathroom, shower and hallway maneuverability, then you have the wrong last home.  One fall can change your life in a moment, so make sure your Realtor® helps you choose the right last home where you can age-in-place gracefully.      
Next week in Moving Mom…more on Finding the Perfect “Last” Home!  Stay tuned! 

Moving Mom...Friendship, an Elixir for the Soul.

Posted on March 8, 2013 at 10:19 AM Comments comments (81)
As published in the Savannah Morning News - 17 Sunday 2013
Friendship, an elixir for the soul.
During February, a month about love, I have focused on the advantages of moving on with your life and living life to the fullest.  We talked about falling in love, and how putting yourself out there can allow it to happen.  We addressed the unconditional love of a pet, and how that companionship is so valuable to seniors.  In this article, I’m going to talk about friendship, and how easy it is to turn the page to a new exciting life.
My grandmother, Dorothy (she would NOT be called Grandma!), was 99 when she passed away.  I remember her as a vibrant, fun, social woman, who had a full life and many friends.  She lost my grandfather years earlier, but her friends were an all important part of her life, helping her through her mourning and filling the void left behind.  Then, as her friends had either passed away or moved to be with family, Dorothy became depressed.  I was sad for her, because this gal still had a lot of pep and vinegar, and no one to play with.  We suggested she move to a continuing care retirement community, where she could meet people and age-in-place.
Dorothy wanted to stay in her home as long as she possibly could.  Looking back, and knowing what I know now, that decision was a mistake.  Over the years, the loneliness set in and depression pulled her into a deep, dark hole.
One day, the housekeeper called my father and warned him that my grandmother had been smoking in bed and the sheets had burn holes in them.  It was time to make a change, so Dad moved Dorothy to a nice independent apartment in a continuing care retirement community.  She missed her home for a while, but made friends quickly.  She could still drive, so her convertible red Cadillac was frequently spotted around town, with Dorothy and her new friends having dinner, and, no doubt, getting into trouble. 
Dorothy was the entertainment queen of the retirement community, and she had a ball with her new friends.  Although she never remarried, she had the companionship of a special guy who sported a hat and ascot, and reminded me of my grandpa.  She would take her new friends out in the Caddy and as usual, was the life of the party.  When she started getting lost in a town in which she had lived her whole life, and with a car full of the residents, Dad suggested it was time to take the keys away. 
Well, as you can guess, Dorothy would have no part of it.  She loved that red Caddy and whether she could drive or not, that car was staying.  Eventually, Dad took the battery out of the car, with management’s blessing, and left it in the parking lot so she could visit her beloved Caddy.  We were all relieved that Dorothy and her friends were now safe, and they were frequently seen sitting in the car with the top down, having a cocktail party! (I could swear they made a movie about this!)
Memories of Dorothy make me smile and I could write a book about her escapades.  She lived life to the fullest, and always inspired me and my family to do the same.  As I assist seniors that are in the same situation as my grandmother, I tell them Dorothy’s story…moving forward made all the difference.   You have to know that there are more adventures ahead; it’s not the end of the road.  The rest of your life is ever so precious, so be bold, take the next step, and make it happen!  You’ll be glad you did!
This concludes my tribute to love this month.  Next week in Moving Mom…Choosing the Right 2 Home for Retirement!  Stay tuned!