Renting offers seniors ‘a new way of living’ – Lehigh Acres Citizen

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Home ownership is the American dream… or so they say. For many seniors, that dream may be fading.

Owning a home is a financial investment that generally has a strong return, but it also requires a lot of work, particularly for older homes. Add in sky-high insurance premiums and real estate taxes, and the American dream isn’t as appealing to those on a fixed income.

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“I didn’t want to be a homeowner anymore because of the maintenance,” said Tena Green, a retired nurse. “There was always something that needed to be fixed. It was one thing after another after another.”

The Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation warns seniors that they’re often the target of scams from unlicensed contractors, making many retirees apprehensive when hiring a handyman.

Green is among a growing contingent of seniors who view homeownership as a “been there, done that” proposition. At 78, she chose to become a renter, joining millions of seniors who have effectively cut the cord in terms of real estate. Nationwide, Pew Research Center notes the proportion of renters who are aged 55 and above has risen to 30.2%, a ratio expected to increase as more baby boomers reevaluate their living arrangements, opting to downsize their space and upsize the carefree portion of their lives.

Bruce Rosenblatt, a senior housing adviser who helps match seniors and retirees with the right residential fit, said maintenance is an increasingly common concern among older adults.

“The discussion around homeownership and all the responsibilities this entitles is a frequent conversation we have with our clients,” said Rosenblatt, who owns Southwest Florida-based Senior Housing Solutions. “Unfortunately, there are times when the spouse who has handled all the household upkeep passes away, and now the surviving spouse is faced with this overwhelming and daunting responsibility.”

Green is leasing a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment in Seneca at Oak Creek, a new 55+ rental community in North Fort Myers. That project’s developer, Sage Communities, saw a gap in Southwest Florida’s housing market.

After seniors decided it was time to sell their home, they essentially had two housing options:

Assisted living or continuing care community: These offer varying levels of medical care, monitoring and social programming, but often are expensive and may require a buy-in. Many individuals don’t need all these bundled services or want to pay for them.

Apartment complex: Multi-family buildings offer short-term and long-term rentals, but many seniors do not share the same lifestyle preferences as families with children or college students. Instead, they prefer privacy and a relatively quiet home that comes with living near other seniors.

That third option, “a new way of living,” is a low-density rental community exclusively for residents 55 and above. It has filled a void in the senior housing market.

“The feedback we have received has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Randy Thibaut, founder, owner and CEO of Sage Communities. “A standard apartment is just a place to sleep, eat and relax. We are building a concept that pairs safe, comfortable living spaces with elements of an active adult lifestyle.”

Residents of Seneca at Oak Creek have access to an Amenity Center that offers a 24-hour fitness center and active fitness room, resort-style swimming pool with barbecue grills, open multipurpose room, library, mailroom and dog park. The community also features bocce courts and an on-site activities coordinator who plans social events, community gatherings and fitness classes.

“Here, we all have something in common,” Green said. “I call it our ‘family of friends.’ We’re all here to help each other if we need anything.”

Owning vs. Renting

One of the biggest drawbacks to owning a home is the cost. The average monthly payment for a new mortgage in the U.S. is $2,300, according to Lending Tree, and that does not include insurance, property tax, homeowners’ association fees or utilities.

Upkeep is another downside to homeownership. That’s why Thibaut decided to make Seneca at Oak Creek as maintenance free as possible for its residents. When it comes to the home itself, Seneca at Oak Creek takes care of everything, even picking the trash up at residents’ front doors. They also don’t need to deal with all the hassles involved in hiring a contractor or handyman to complete maintenance jobs at home.

“After you’ve raised children and spent 40 years working toward retirement, you’ve earned the right to opt out of completing these mundane and frustrating tasks,” Thibaut said. “Time is a precious commodity and renting in a 55+ maintenance-free community offers a home without the hassle.”

Peace of mind is especially important, Rosenblatt notes. Hiring a contractor or handyman can be a daunting experience for individuals of all ages, let alone those who do not regular read online consumer reviews or search licensure databases. Unscrupulous, unlicensed contractors often use high-pressure sales tactics to generate hasty signatures on a contract.

“There are many cases when not-so-honest vendors take advantage of the elderly, especially when someone’s cognitive acuity may not be as sharp as it once was,” Rosenblatt said. “Renting or leasing transfers that burden from an individual or couple to a professional property manager, which relieves stress and allows seniors to enjoy retirement living.”

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