Trying to Reactivate the Active-Adult Market

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By Elizabeth Razzi
Sunday, March 2, 2008; Page F05

When you’re considering a move to a home that just might be the last one you own, resale value is probably not your top concern. The more pressing issue in the market for “active-adult” homes is whether you will be able to sell your current home to make the move possible.

Active-adult communities, which are restricted to residents 55 and older, are struggling with abundant supply and weak demand, just like the rest of the housing market. Just one example: A four-bedroom house on a corner lot in the Regency at Dominion Valley Country Club, a golf community in Haymarket, sold in November for 11 percent less than its original $589,900 asking price in August.

Even in the best of times, people take a long time to study their options before deciding to buy in an active-adult community, said Evelyn Howard, a Bethesda consultant who does market analysis for senior-housing developers. “The barrier now is that people have to sell their homes,” she said.

To move sales along, developers are offering big incentives. At Eden Brook, for example, Ryan Homes is throwing in a gourmet kitchen upgrade for buyers who take a loan through its lender, NVR Mortgage. Other active-adult developers are even helping sell the buyer’s old home.

That home-sale help made the decision for Lynne Miller Rowe, 51, and her husband, Richard, who turns 55 this week. They had wanted to start their search as early as a year ago but delayed their plans because of the poor real estate market.

Recently, though, all signs seemed to point toward making the move, Lynne said. Mortgage interest rates had dipped, she had heard that the government would be raising the threshold on jumbo mortgages, and the developer was offering financial help to sell the couple’s old home. “All those things together made us decide to step out there,” she said.

The couple signed a contract to buy a house for about $600,000 at Cameron Grove, in Upper Marlboro. It will probably be ready for them to move in by late summer or early fall.

Among the incentives that sealed the deal for her was the developer’s offer of 12 months with no payments after the sale. The developer, Stavrou Associates, is also giving buyers cash to make repairs or doll up their current Washington-area home to make it easier to sell. “We send a contractor there and talk with the homeowner and the selling agent about spending a budget of up to $5,000,” said sales manager Keith Fernandez.

The Rowes are already well acquainted with Cameron Grove. Lynn’s 81-year-old mother, Jessye Miller, has lived there since 2002, and they have accompanied her on community trips and social events. “She’ll be able to stay in her home longer because I’m nearby,” Lynne said.

She is optimistic about selling the Burtonsville townhouse they have lived in since 1987, mostly because it’s affordable. She expects to list it for about $335,000. “They don’t have to pay an arm and a leg to get my house,” Lynne said.

Many people are drawn to active-adult housing because they want to upgrade the quality, if not the size, of their homes in retirement, according to surveys by the National Association of Home Builders’ 50+ Housing Council. Being close to recreation facilities is a top priority, as is being near family.

Dottie Goodman, 62, has lived in a condo apartment in an active-adult community, Legacy at Eden Brook in Odenton, for two years. The reasons behind her purchase were the same as those of most active-adult buyers: She wanted to get away from the chores associated with her previous home, a two-story Colonial on half an acre. She remains active by using the clubhouse and exercise room, and, not least, the location is close to her family. “My grandson is half a mile away, and that’s all I care about,” Goodman said.

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