Chapter 11
To Stay or Not To Stay?

In This Chapter
  • Looking at changing housing needs
  • Considering having an aging parent move in
  • Deciding to build a new home
  • Choosing a builder
  • Renovating the home you have

Whether or not you regard your home as your castle, it’s no doubt a very important place to you and your family.

As discussed briefly in Chapter 3, “On the Plus Side,” our homes are much, much more than just structures in which we live. They’re the places where we’ve watched—or are watching—our children grow up. They’re where we invite our friends to come for dinner parties, celebrate holidays with people we love, and take off our shoes and just relax. They’re safe places—places where we can laugh, cry, or express our frustrations with the world. We spend a lot of time decorating our homes, choosing wallpaper, furniture, and accessories. Our homes reflect the personalities of our families.

Even if you’ve moved several times due to job relocation or other factors, you’ve probably managed to make a home in each location. Most people feel a need to find a place and make it their own. In short, most people are connected emotionally to their homes.

It’s this emotional connection—along with financial and practical considerations—that can make decisions concerning your home difficult. As you get older, you might find that your home doesn’t work for you as well as it used to. Perhaps there are too many rooms but not enough closets in any of them. Maybe you live in an old home that demands constant upkeep and repairs. Scraping peeling paint may not be as enjoyable a pastime in your 40s or 50s as it seemed in your 20s or 30s. You may be thinking that it’s time to make a change concerning your home.

If that’s the case, be prepared to think long and carefully about what to do. Should you leave your home for a smaller one? Should you remodel? Should you finally build the dream house you’ve always wanted? Should you ask your aging parent to move into your home? What will your house be like when all the kids have moved out? Should you scale down on your housing, so you’re able to save more for retirement? These decisions aren’t easy ones, and they rarely can be made without a certain level of discomfort.

If Your Housing Needs Are Changing

Maybe you have the perfect home—one that you’ve worked on for years to make exactly the way you want it. And perhaps you fully intend to stay in that house for as long as you live. You just can’t imagine living anywhere else.

Go Figure
Builders are spending a good bit of time these days researching the wants and needs of baby boomers regarding housing. They’re looking at the boomers’ spending habits, lifestyle preferences, hobbies, number of grandkids, and so forth in order to be able to provide the perfect home for a potentially huge market.

Many people, however, find that their housing needs change as they get older, and what used to be the perfect house is now something with which they’re a bit discontented.

Statistics show that more and more baby boomers are moving. The trend these days is not to buy a house when your children are young and live in it until you die or are forced to move. Middle-aged men and women are moving—not necessarily because they have to, but because they want to.

They no longer want to spend all day Saturday cutting grass and trimming hedges. Or they want to live in a house that’s built on the edge of a golf course, making their favorite hobby more accessible. They want a smaller home, with features that may not have been practical while raising children.

Of course, some boomers will move to accommodate job changes. And some will move because their health is changing, and they want to make sure they’ve got a home in which they’ll be able to live comfortably.

Let’s take a look at some of the major reasons that middle-age people might consider changing their housing situations.

Health Issues

If you’re in your mid-50s and you’ve developed severe arthritis in your knees, the practical thing to do is to start thinking about moving to a house where everything is on one level. The last thing you’ll need when you’re 65 or 70 is to be lugging heavy laundry baskets up and down your basement stairs to get to the washer and dryer.

Most people, however, are not eager to address future needs. And, as you can imagine, delaying action on housing issues can lead to serious problems.

We’ve probably all known people who have remained living in their homes much longer than they should have. This is a frequent dilemma of elderly people, who realize that the upkeep of a home is getting to be too much to handle, but remain unwilling to address the problem and make a move.

Often, by the time they finally admit there’s a problem and start thinking of moving into an apartment or assisted living facility, the thought of relocating is so overwhelming that they simply stay put.

Anyone who’s ever moved knows it’s not easy. It’s mighty hard physical work, for one thing. And it can be an extremely emotional task. Sorting through a lifetime of possessions, many that hold special memories or significance, is a difficult job. Add to that the actual chores of packing and moving, and the thought of relocating can seem absolutely impossible.

[image] Don’t Go There
If you see that your aging parents are falling into the wait-too-long-to-move trap, encourage them to consider finding a more manageable place to live before it becomes absolutely necessary. Waiting until they’re forced to move limits their options and causes unnecessary stress.

Many older people get stuck in bad situations because they didn’t take action soon enough. It’s always better to address housing issues before you have to.

So if your arthritic knees are making it more and more difficult for you to get up and down those basement stairs to do the laundry, sit down sometime soon and give some thought to your housing situation. It’s better to start looking for the perfect one-story home now, than to wait for 10 years and be forced to take whatever you can find because you can no longer manage steps.

Too Much Space

A four-bedroom house with a big family room and separate playroom was great when your three kids were living at home. Now that they’ve moved out, though, the big house seems a little excessive—not to mention a bit lonely.

Sure, it’ll be great to have some extra rooms for future grandkids, and it’s nice to have a guest room always made up. Somehow, though, the house just seems too big.

Go Figure
It used to be that a person would buy a home, fully expecting to stay in it until he died. These days, we’re much more likely to move in our 50s, 60s, or 70s. This is partially due to the great increase in life expectancy during the past century. While people in 1900 could expect to live 45 years, today, 4 out of 5 of us will live to see 65, with a 50 percent chance of living past 80.

If you’re a couple, or maybe even single living in a family home, you’re likely to feel a bit like a marble rolling around in a trash can. While many people hang on to their family homes (due in many cases to the emotional attachment), a growing trend is to move into something more size-suitable for one or two people.

Too Much Yard

Your huge backyard served as a playground for all the neighborhood kids while your children were growing up. Now, it seems to exist only to cause you headaches and cost you money.

Let’s face it. Any property maintenance means work, and a large property is more work. You’ve either got to do it yourself, hire someone else to do it, or bribe your teenager. There’s grass to cut, hedges to trim, fertilizer to spread, weeds and insects to control, gardens to maintain, and trees to trim. In the winter, there’s snow to shovel, ice to chip . . . need we go on?

If you’re like many people, these outdoor chores become tiresome as you get older. You don’t relish the thought of waking up Saturday morning and fueling up the lawn mower. You’d much rather head out for a round of golf or tennis, but there you are, tied to your property.

Some people find great enjoyment and satisfaction from maintaining a large property. Many others, however, consider a large property to be an inconvenience, and perhaps even a reason to consider moving.

Just Not Quite Right

You’ve lived in your house for 20 years now, wishing every day that you had a two-vehicle garage instead of a single. You’re sick and tired of having to brush snow off of your car and scrape ice from the windshield every time there’s a storm.

Or maybe you’ve had it with the lack of closet space in your home. Perhaps you’re sick to death of hauling groceries up from a shelf in the garage because there’s not enough cabinet space in your kitchen to store them. Or possibly your house has no powder room or central air conditioning. Maybe your street has gotten very busy over the years, and your neighborhood is no longer the quiet place it once was. Or perhaps many of the old neighbors have moved out, and it seems that the entire neighborhood is looking a bit run down and feeling a little forlorn.

Some drawbacks concerning your home are easy to overlook, while others can cause a bit more angst. If you’ve always hated the chandelier that hangs over your dining room table, for instance, you can easily replace it with a new one. The layout of your family room, however, is a bit more difficult to alter.

We’re often forced to live in homes that aren’t quite right because we can’t afford to alter them, or we don’t have the time or ambition to do so. Sometimes, however, these little imperfections are what spur us to consider, and actually make, major housing changes.

Welcome Home, Mom

As members of the sandwich generation, it’s quite likely that many of us will at some point find ourselves caring for aging parents.

The level of care-giving will vary from person to person. Some of us will only need to lend a hand with yard work, writing checks, or driving to doctors’ appointments, while others will assume much greater responsibility for a parent’s care. Some of us will invite aging parents to move into our homes with us.

Go Figure
More than seven million are caring for older people who need help with at least one daily task, such as dressing, bathing, or eating. These caregivers include spouses, adult children, other relatives, and friends.

Deciding If You Can Do It

Wanting to help out Dad by having him move in with you is a loving and giving gesture. It also could be a huge mistake for you, your parent, and your entire family.

The desire to help a parent who can no longer cope on his or her own can be powerful. After all, Dad always took care of you, right? Now it’s your turn. If you and Dad haven’t gotten along since you were a kid, however, chances are that it’s not going to happen now. And moving into your house could just be a recipe for disaster.

If you’re thinking about moving an aging parent into your home, there are some things you’ll need to consider. Keep in mind that, unless you live alone, your decision will affect your entire family. It’s not one to be made lightly. For example, consider the following:

  • Space limitations. Think carefully about how much space you have in your home. Shared living tends to work best in large homes, or those with separate bedroom and bathroom facilities. Will a family member have to give up a bedroom to accommodate Dad? Will you need to install grab bars beside the toilet and in the tub of the family bathroom? If your space is very limited, but you’re determined to have Dad move in, consider renovating a basement or attic to create more space, or putting on a small addition.
  • Practical matters. Other than space, what other limitations might your home have for an aging parent? Perhaps the hallways aren’t wide enough to accommodate Dad’s wheelchair, or there are more steps than he’s able to handle.
  • Family dynamics. Maybe you and Dad have always been best pals and have never spoken a word to each other in anger. If your husband can’t stand to be around your father, however, you’re asking for serious trouble if you insist on moving dear old Dad in. Moving your parent into your home will affect not only you, but your entire family. Will your kids still feel free to invite their friends over to hang out, or will they be afraid of disturbing Granddad? And how will Granddad react to their music and late-night entries? Never move an aging parent into your home at the risk of jeopardizing your relationships with your own family members.
  • Amount of care. If Dad can dress, bathe, feed, and generally care for himself when he moves in with you, you’ll have a much easier time of it than if he’s unable to cope with these tasks of daily living. Think about how much time and energy you really have to care for an elderly parent in your home. If you work, will you be able to manage care-giving in addition to your job? Could you arrange for someone to come in and help Dad while you’re at work? Will Dad be alone all day and bored silly?

These are only a few issues you’ll need to address before deciding whether or not having Dad move in is the right thing to do. Call a family meeting and let everyone have his or her say before making a decision.

[image] Money Morsel
If you’re smack in the middle of your own life and helping to care for an elderly parent, check out The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Caring for Aging Parents, by Linda Colvin Rhodes, Ed.D., it’s a wonderful resource covering all sorts of important issues.

Financial Implications

Having an elderly parent move into your home bears some similarities to bringing a baby home from the hospital. No matter how you look at it, it’s going to mean extra work and responsibilities. And it’s going to cost money.

Chances are, before Mom moves in, you’ll need to make at least some minor adjustments to your house. Perhaps you’ll need to install handrails on stairways that don’t have any, or remove slippery carpet from the steps. You may have to install a ramp to accommodate Mom’s wheelchair, or replace a small shower with a larger one in which there’s room for Mom to sit down.

[image] Money Morsel
A new trend is Elder Cottage Housing Opportunity, or ECHO housing. ECHO homes are modular units that can be moved onto your property for as long as they’re needed. Mom lives in the ECHO home, in close proximity to you and your assistance. When the additional housing is no longer needed, it can be removed. Find out more about ECHO housing at Senior Resource’s Web site at

These kinds of changes to your home probably won’t put you on the road to bankruptcy, but what happens if you need to renovate an attic or basement, or put on an addition in order to make your house livable with an extra person?

If you’re going to spend a lot of money to make your house suitable for Mom, and she’s got the means to help, you may ask her to pitch in to help pay for the renovations. If she doesn’t have the money to do so, however, you’ll need to carefully assess your financial situation and determine whether or not it makes sense to spend big bucks.

Handling It Emotionally

As difficult as the financial and practical aspects of having an aging parent move into your home may be, the emotional matters are likely to be even harder.

Watching a parent who once was strong and vibrant struggle to just walk down the hallway or get up from a chair is extremely difficult.

[image] Don’t Go There
If you know in your heart that having Mom come to live with you is sure to end up badly, don’t invite her anyway, just to ease your conscience or make her happy. You’ll both be better off in the long run if you make an acceptable, alternative arrangement.

Dealing every day with someone who might be cranky and miserable is draining and wearing. You should realize that care-giving is difficult, and by having your parent move into your home, you may be stepping into an always-on-duty type of situation.

If you decide to invite Mom to move in with you, be sure you have backup. Ask siblings to help out, either by taking Mom to their homes sometimes, or by staying with her at your house to give you a break. If you don’t have siblings or other close family members, contact your local Area Agency on Aging (check the Blue Pages of your phone book) for referrals to individuals or agencies that provide respite care.

Considering a Brand-New Home

You may reach a point where you, or you and your spouse or partner, will think about buying a brand-new home. If so, you’ll no doubt be in for some exciting days—and perhaps sleepless nights—ahead.

There are, of course, some definite advantages to buying a brand-new home, as opposed to remodeling the home you have or buying an already constructed home. You can get pretty much whatever type of house you want, and you also can choose where it will be located. You can get a log cabin in the woods a luxury home on a golf course, or a traditional Colonial in a development. When building a new home, you get to call the shots. Let’s look at some of the advantages, and possible disadvantages, of moving to a brand-new home.

Getting Exactly What You Want

The home-building industry is licking its collective chops at the prospect of retiring baby boomers, whom builders are anticipating will spend big bucks to get the homes they want—and can afford.

Baby boomers are an affluent group, overall. They’re also liable to retire, or semi-retire, earlier than their parents did. And, studies show that while relocating retirees traditionally opted for condos; apartments; or smaller, already constructed homes, many boomers will buck the trend and go for brand-new. And, the building industry is predicting, they’ll be willing to spend a lot of money to get the features in a house that they want. Some of the features baby boomers are showing they like are listed as follows:

  • Oversized master suites with matching walk-in closets, and bathrooms with his-and-her sinks, a Jacuzzi tub, and so forth.
  • Large entertainment room. Once the kids have moved out, many people opt to eliminate the traditional family room and go instead for a large room in which to hold both formal and informal gatherings.
  • Home office. As the way we work changes, many people are making home offices a priority. Many baby boomers say they’ll only partially retire, and continue working on a limited basis from home.
  • Exercise room. Many people would rather work out at home than go to a gym, making in-home gyms or exercise rooms popular options.
  • Small guest bedroom for visiting family. It’s not that boomers don’t want their kids and grandkids to visit, it’s just that they don’t want the guest rooms to detract from the size of the more-used rooms.
  • Good-sized homes on small lots. This is a popular trend in the building industry. The focus is on the home, not the yard.

Houses with these features frequently are built in a country club-style setting, with golf, tennis, swimming, and other activities available. That setting is becoming increasingly popular but definitely is not for everyone. Perhaps you’d rather have a house in the woods or on the shore of a lake. Buying a brand-new house gives you the option of expressing your own lifestyle preferences.

[image] Money Morsel
If would like some help with home buying and selling, check out The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Buying and Selling a Home, Third Edition, by Shelley O’Hara and Nancy Warner. It will get you on the right track with home finances and mortgages. If you’re getting ready to move, pick up a copy of Moving Without Madness: A Guide to Handling the Stress and Emotions of Moving, by Arlene Alpert.

Leaving Your Home and Neighborhood

If you decide to buy a new home, you’ll leave behind the home in which you’ve been living, and along with it, your neighborhood.

Moving from one home to another is stressful, there’s no question about it. Even if you’re moving because you want to, relocating from one home to another is ranked right up there on the stress meter with losing a job or having a baby.

While the need to sort out, clean out, and pack a houseful of long-accumulated possessions might be the obvious reason for stress, don’t overlook the emotional and psychological aspects. It’s difficult to leave a home in which you’ve raised kids or celebrated holidays. Maybe you’re moving from the home you’ve lived in since you were married. And you might be leaving a neighborhood that’s been a source of support and friendship to you over the years.

We tend to think sometimes that close neighborhoods are a notion that went out of style with Ozzie and Harriet. Neighborhoods, however, are alive and thriving all over the country, in cities and suburbs, alike.

Many people build very close, family-like relationships with their neighbors. If you’re going for the new home, don’t underestimate the effect that leaving your ’hood might produce.

Getting the Home You Want

If you’ve decided to have a new home built, there are some guidelines you should keep in mind in order to assure that your experience is a positive one.

  • Get a clear understanding of your wants and needs. Write down exactly what features you want in your new home. If you love to cook, for instance, you might want special features in your kitchen. Or if that arthritic knee is getting worse, you may want to build a one-story home.
  • Find a good, reputable builder. You can start by checking the real estate section of your Sunday paper to get an idea of who’s building what types of homes in your area. Contact your local Home Builder’s Association for referrals to reputable builders. Or your local Chamber of Commerce may be able to recommend a builder in your area.

[image] Don’t Go There
Don’t assume just because a builder has a lot of business that he’s the person you should choose for your new home construction. Overly busy builders may be seriously behind schedule or may hire less-than-qualified workers to try to keep up with their business.

  • Check out the work of several reputable builders. Visit some homes under construction and examine the quality of the work. If you’re not knowledgeable about construction quality, take someone with you who is. Take notice of the quality of the materials used. And, talk to the people living in the homes the builder you’re considering have built. Builders should be willing to give you the names of some customers. If they’re not, a warning flag should go up. Ask customers whether they’re satisfied with their new homes, and find out if the work was completed on time. Ask if they would buy another home from the same builder.
  • Talk to your builder. Once you’ve chosen a builder, sit down and talk with him about exactly what you want in your home. He should be willing to alter existing plans to give you what you want.
  • Pay close attention to the builder’s warranty and service-after-the-sale provisions. It may be tedious reading, but be sure to carefully read the terms of the warranty, and know exactly what kind of service the builder provides once you’ve move in. New construction typically requires some “adjustments,” so be sure your builder is willing to come back until everything is to your satisfaction.

Remember that if you decide to buy brand-new and have a home built, you’re in charge. Overseeing the construction of your new home will require your time and attention. Keeping a close eye on what’s going on, however, can save you lots of grief and future problems.

If you’re too busy to keep a close watch on what’s going on while your home is being built, you might consider hiring a home inspector who will watch for you. Check your phone book for some names, or approach someone you know who has good knowledge of the building industry or who is familiar with new home construction.

Adapting the House You Have

While building a new home may be an attractive option, it certainly isn’t the only means of getting the house you want.

Many people choose to renovate the home they have instead of building a new one. Maybe you live within walking distance of nearly everything and wouldn’t consider giving up that convenience. Or, your neighbors are also your best friends, and you can’t stand the thought of moving away.

Renovating the home you have can provide you with the features you want, without the hassle of moving. It also is usually less expensive to adapt a home than to build a new one.

Most home-improvement projects appreciate in value over time. With careful planning and common sense, home fix-up projects can be a wise investment.

Go Figure
The Chicago Tribune reported recently that more dollars are being spent on home improvements than on new home construction for the first time in history, and that more than 60 percent of American homes are at least 20 years old.

It’s important, however, not to overimprove your house. There’s a danger of owning a house that’s valued at much more than any other home in the area. Buyers generally are unwilling to pay more than 10 or 15 percent more for a house that’s been improved than they would for an unimproved version in the same area.

Also, additions or major remodeling need to be done well, so your house looks good when the construction is finished. We’ve probably all seen homes that practically scream out “new addition” as you drive by.

If you decide to renovate your current home, follow the guidelines listed in the preceding section for finding a builder, and make sure he knows exactly what it is you want to do. Don’t cheap out on design, materials, and construction if you hope to get your money back on the home when it’s time to sell it.

The most common renovations involve kitchens and bathrooms, according to the Remodeling Council at the National Association of Home Builders. Homeowners are also adding great rooms (combined kitchen and family rooms) master-bedroom suites, and home offices.

Go Figure
Statistics show that adding a second full bathroom to your home significantly increases its resale value. If you have two baths, adding a third one brings a lesser return upon resale.

If you’re thinking of remodeling, take a look at the big picture. Once you find out about how much your project will cost, figure out what percentage of value you’re adding to your home. If your home (along with most of the others in your neighborhood) is valued at $120,000, and the addition you’re planning will cost $60,000, you’re increasing the value of your home by half. Is it feasible to think that you’d be able to sell your home for $180,000 when other homes in the area are selling for $120,000?

And consider how long you plan to live in the home. It doesn’t make sense to sink $40,000 into a house you’ll be moving out of in two or three years.

Only you can decide whether to stay or not stay in your current home. Sometimes, such as when there are serious health concerns, the choice becomes obvious. Usually, however, it’s a judgment call that you’ll only be able to make after careful thought and consideration.

The Least You Need to Know
  • Changing housing needs are likely to make you consider moving, or renovating the home you already have.
  • Health issues, the amount of maintenance required, and the size of a home are common factors in changing housing needs.
  • If you’re considering having an aging parent move in with you, you’ll need to carefully review all the pros and cons before making your decision.
  • If you decide to build a brand-new home, take steps to choose a builder who’s experienced and reputable.
  • Renovating the home you’re in might be a great idea, but be sure you don’t add too much more to the house than you’ll be able to recoup when you decide to sell it.
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