I have a high school friend, Helen Thompson, who lives in Austin and writes a weekly blog about beautiful and unique houses. Her blog is called Helen Thompson In House. Over the years she has written about some very significant homes, mostly in Texas. Several years ago I told her that I thought she needed to write about some of the lovely universally designed houses that I have been seeing that are built for seniors to age in place.
Last week she did. She posted about an absolutely beautiful pre-fab house in the Sonoma Valley. The architects are Jacob Levy and Gordon Stott of Connect Homes in Los Angeles. Their client is the daughter of a nearly 90 year old mom who had been having some health issues and the daughter wanted to build a house for her mom on her land in Sonoma County. The house is larger than the Accessory Dwelling Units we see here in Berkeley, but offers lots of ideas for building an accessible dwelling for an elder.
Building a pre-fab house is considerably less expensive than building a custom home and takes about one-third of the time. These are very important considerations when building a home for a senior who may not be able to climb stairs anymore and needs a home soon that is accessible for them. Many of them do not need to spend two years working with an architect plus another year of construction before they can move in. When buying a pre-fab house, you know up front how much it is going to cost and how long it will take to install. There are no unforeseen price increases, supply shortages or work delays. The cost of the Sonoma house is $264,000.
The architects, Jacob Levy and Gordon Stott, are starting to build more accessible units in Northern Calfornia and have backyard models (600-900 square feet) as well as larger units like the 1600 square foot home featured in Helen’s article. The average cost for the medium and large size units are about $165/square foot and includes all of the fixtures (lighting, cabinets, appliances, bathroom fixtures.)
The home was also featured in the June issue of Dwell. In addition, Levy and Stott spoke at the Dwell on Design LA Conference in June 2014 and shared their thoughts on universal design and pre-fab houses. Check out Helen’s blog, the Connect Homes website and the Dwell article for more photos of the house. It is truly gorgeous!
TTN-Home had its third meeting with its revised format earlier this week with almost fifty people attending the meeting. If you are looking for creative housing options for seniors in the East Bay, this is the place to be! TTN-Home is sponsored by the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of The Transition Network, a nationwide organization for women experiencing transition in their lives.
Besides the educational presentations and networking opportunities the attendees also receive emails from TTN-Home about housing vacancies, housing wanted and announcements of other housing events occurring in the Bay Area.
Two months ago, we had our first meeting using the new format. I gave an in-depth talk on the Twelve Housing Options for Seniors in the Bay Area. These options include:
Aging in Place Options
- Staying in your own home as homeowner
- Staying in your own home as a renter
- Downsizing to a smaller place (condo, coop, apartment or smaller house)
- Accessory Dwelling Unit in your backyard or a friend’s or family member’s backyard
House Sharing Options
- Buying a house with others
- Sharing a rental with landlord present
- Sharing a rental with no landlord present
Aging in Communities Options
- Multi-generational and Senior Co-Housing
- Limited Equity Housing Cooperative
- Pocket Neighborhood
- Affordable Senior Housing
- Community Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs)
At our second meeting, we had a panel of people who live in: affordable senior housing, a limited equity housing cooperative, a landlord who rents out rooms in her house and a woman who shares a rental with another woman. They talked about their experiences in the various options they had chosen.
The third meeting featured a panel with residents of: a multigenerational co-housing project; a senior co-housing project, (Phoenix Commons), a Continuing Care Retirement Community and a pocket neighborhood. Our plan for next month is to have an Aging in Place panel. The final two meetings of the series will deal with financial issues. We plan to repeat the series of six meetings, beginning in January.
At the recent meetings, attendees spent time determining which options would work the best for them and discussed their ideas and action plans with other attendees. After the panel discussions, the panelists stayed for about thirty minutes to answer additional questions from members of the audience.
The feedback we have received is excellent, the audiences grow every month and lots of people are talking about what they need to do next to achieve their housing objectives. The energy in the room is amazing. We live in the most expensive housing market in the country. We are making a real difference in helping people figure out how to navigate this very difficult market.
The TTN-Home planning committee consists of Mona Kreaden, Christine Olsen, Lynn Richards, Arlene Rieff and me. We are very proud of the work that we have done and also the work that the attendees are doing to meet their housing objectives..
Yesterday I went to the Harborside Health Center in Oakland to learn how seniors can use cannabis to help with many of the medical problems that are common among them—chronic pain, arthritis, psoriasis, loss of appetite, insomnia, anxiety and depression. Sue Taylor, a Senior Wellness Advocate who serves on the Alameda County Commission on Aging, led the tour of the center. She sees medical cannabis as a safe and effective alternative to pharmaceutical drugs that can have more serious side effects. She is committed to providing seniors information that will allow them to make an educated decision about the use of medical cannabis. For more information, go to her website.
We learned about the many forms of medical cannabis. There are forms used today that have reduced or eliminated the psychoactive effects of marijuana. Cultivators have developed and are now producing CBD (cannabinoid) genetic strains that have minimal psychoactive effects and are reported to be very effective in the treatment of arthritis, muscle spasms and nausea, among others. These include topical preparations (salves, sprays, and lotions) applied directly to the skin, sublingual sprays, drinks, sweet and savory edible products, capsules, tinctures and concentrates. You do not smoke these products and you will not get high from them. Seniors are the fastest growing population of new cannabis users.
There are ten things seniors should know about medical cannabis.
1) Marijuana is safer than many commonly prescribed medications.
2) Marijuana is not physically addictive.
3) Marijuana can reduce and possibly replace many prescription medications.
4) There are many different types or “strains” of marijuana.
5) There are marijuana strains without “the high.”
6) There are ways to use marijuana other than smoking it.
7) Marijuana-induced ointments can be very effective in alleviating arthritis and neuropathy pain.
8) Marijuana does not lower your IQ or cause brain damage.
9) Marijuana can help increase your appetite. 1
0) The stigma around medical marijuana use is fading.
The staff at Harborside Health Center are very knowledgeable about the cannabis products. They have a laboratory on site to test for contaminants, amounts of CBDs, THC and other components so you know what you are buying. The center itself is lovely. Security is very tight. You cannot use your cell phone in the center. You must have a prescription for the product to enter unless you are on a tour with Sue Taylor like I did yesterday. I went on the tour as a skeptic and would have been unlikely to recommend these products to others. Now I feel that medical cannabis can be successful in the treatment of many conditions and can be seen as an alternative to pharmaceutical products. Sue Taylor is committed to educating seniors about the benefits of medical cannabis. She is a wonderful resource.
Kathleen Pender’s article in the June 7 Sunday Chronicle was a real wake-up call. About 50% of retirees will not have enough money to retire. What are we going to do? To keep working is one solution; another is to figure out ways to generate income other than working and to greatly reduce our expenses. Most people who have lived and worked in the Bay Area for awhile want to stay here. Housing is a major expense. If we can reduce our housing expenses, it will be much easier to retire here in the Bay Area.
A first thing to consider is how to reduce your mortgage expense. You might want to refinance if your interest rate is higher than the current low rates or you might want to consider a reverse mortgage.
You could rent out rooms in your house to generate extra income. Another option would be to downsize to a smaller condominium or house or build an accessory dwelling unit in your back yard (or a friend or family member’s back yard) for you to live in while renting out the larger house. Buying or renting a house with friends would be another way to reduce expenses. Dividing the cost of a mortgage and other housing costs would be a great savings here in the Bay Area.
Affordable senior housing is also available, but you need to plan ahead to be sure you will be able to move when you need to. Most facilities have waiting lists or have closed their waiting lists. For the HUD subsidized senior buildings, maximum income limits are $31,250 for 1 person and $35,700 for 2 people. The Alameda County Senior Housing Guide lists all of the facilities in the county and you can call 2-1-1 for information on current vacancies.
The good news is that we are very fortunate to live here in the Bay Area and the bad news is that it is a very expensive place to live. There are options available and it would behoove us to consider all of our options.
The articles about real estate that we read in the newspaper, magazines and on-line generally are not relevant to our East Bay communities. We did not experience the large numbers of foreclosures and property devaluations that occurred in the rest of the country. Many of our neighborhoods have maintained their values well although very few properties have been coming on the market in the last 2-3 years. Each spring I take a closer look at MLS statistics to get a better idea about what is actually going on here in our East Bay real estate market .
Click on the Real Estate tab at the top of this page to see the actual data I compiled of sales of single family homes and condominiums in several East Bay communities and neighborhoods in the first quarters of 2013 and 2014. If you are receiving this post as an email, click here for the data tables.
Generally, supply in the East Bay is still down and the demand continue to rise. Except for Piedmont and the Oakland zip codes of 94610 and 94602, inventory decreased from the first quarter of 2013 to the first quarter of 2014 in all neighborhoods. Berkeley showed the lowest decline (8.2%) and Rockridge the greatest decline (44.0%). Except for Oakland 94609 and Rockridge which had price declines, all neighborhoods showed significant price increases between the first quarters of 2013 and 2014. Berkeley showed the greatest price increase (19.0%), followed by Oakland 94610 at 15%. Condominiums in all areas are doing well; the average prices in all areas increased during the time periods.
Many sellers receive multiple offers for their properties and buyers are writing many offers before they purchase a home. In 2013, 98% of the sellers in California received multiple offers and the average buyer wrote 5.9 offers before getting one accepted. Of the sellers receiving multiple offers, 77% chose the highest offer, 47% chose the best qualified buyer, 39% took the offer without contingencies and 14% took the offer with the shortest close.
The current marketing strategy is to list properties about 25% below what the property is expected to bring and this has proven to be a very successful strategy for sellers. Buyers are having a very difficult time. Many are being over-bid time after time. We also have many buyers coming across the bay from San Francisco because they have been priced out of the market there. These buyers think our East Bay listings are bargains compared to what they can get in the city so they are also competing with East Bay buyers. Many of the properties on the market are going to them.
In the last few weeks, the Piedmont market has mushroomed. It is our most expensive neighborhood and sellers there have been holding on to their properties for many years. From the first quarter of 2013 to the first quarter of 2014, the number of properties on the market is up 13% and the average sales price is also up 13.3%. In Piedmont there are currently 17 active listings and 14 have recently sold. Last weekend six new properties came on the market.
I think that sellers in other parts of the East Bay are also realizing that they have waited long enough. This is what our market needs. We should see a significant increase in the number of properties coming on the market in the next few months. Combined with the historically low interest rates, there should be lots of new homeowners in the East Bay.
The Transition Network (TTN) is a national organization for women over the age of 50 who are dealing with transitions in their lives—career, life, health, housing and others. Because of the high cost of housing and the lack of affordable housing options in the Bay Area, the local chapter has implemented a new program: TTN-HOME—A Community for Senior Women Exploring Housing Options. This new program was developed from survey feedback provided by participants who attended meetings in 2013.
In association with the Brain Exchange, TTN-HOME focuses on older women who are interested in new housing options and who are eager to maximize their independence as they get older.
The TTN-HOME hub provides:
1) a central meeting ground for women to discover new ways of thinking about housing issues;
2) networking opportunities to connect with others who have similar housing concern
3) a venue for exploring specific housing options and resources;
4) and most importantly, support to one another in this new and uncharted territory critical to our age group.
During the next six months, women will be encouraged to bring housing related concerns for the group to process, using the brainstorming techniques developed by the Brain Exchange. At each meeting the group will process 4-6 questions. Questions have included:
1) How do I find housing right away in my specific geographic area?
2) How do I find a landlord who will be sympathetic to my desire to create an urban farm in the back yard?
3) How do I find a group of compatible women to share a large home?
After the group discussion women self-select the housing option they are most interested in—shared housing, co-housing, renting or buying property together or general options. Color coded name tags are provided so women with similar interests can easily identify and network with each other.
Plans are also being developed for quarterly half-day workshops that will explore different aspects of housing in more depth to help women become better informed about their options. This combination of brainstorming, networking and workshops will help women find they support they are looking for, begin serious exploration with others of like mind, get clarity on their next steps and share success stories.
Meetings are held at Finnish Hall in Berkeley on the fourth Thursday of each month.. For more information contact Arlene Reiff (firstname.lastname@example.org) or visit the TTN website (www.thetransitionnetwork.org)
The Bay Area’s first senior co-housing project, Phoenix Commons, is now under construction along the Oakland-Alameda Estuary in the Jingletown neighborhood of Oakland. Ground was broken for the $21,000,000 project on January 9 and it will be completed in early 2015. There will be 41 units, about half one bedroom and half two bedroom units. Prices will range from $450,000-$630,000 with a monthly fee of $450. All individual residents and at least one member of a couple must be 58 years old.
Phoenix Commons is more than a building; it is also a senior community. Residents will own their condos and have access to more than 7000 square feet of additional common space. The building is designed to encourage interaction between the residents. They will have weekly meals together, go to movies and give each other rides to the doctor. The residents will also decide how to use the common space based on their own interests.
Co-housing was brought to the United States from Denmark in the 1980’s by Charles Durrett and Kathryn McCamant. There are 39 cohousing communities in California and 210 in the United States.
Phoenix Commons is being developed by the Zimmerman family from Alameda. Led by Chris Zimmerman, the family has been in the eldercare business for many years and own several facilities in Alameda. Although Phoenix Commons will be an independent living facility, it will be close to assisted living and skilled nursing facilities, if residents require that level of care.
I usually do my laundry in the morning. I put a load in the washer and move it to the dryer when it is ready. Frequently I turn the dryer on and leave for work, shopping or errands and come home to nice dry clothes. My washer and dryer are relatively new.
A few weeks ago our daughter was home for the holidays. I had just put a load of clothes into the dryer. She came in and smelled smoke. We all tried to figure out its source–it was coming from the dryer and it smelled terrible! We turned the dryer off, but the clothes still smelled like smoke.
The repairperson came last week. When he opened up the dryer, there was a lot of burned lint in the bottom. It had been on fire! There was also lint in every little nook and cranny. I am really good about cleaning out the lint filter in the machine before I add a new load, but we had not cleaned out the vent pipes for over 14 years. He also showed me the exit point for the pipe on the outside of the house—you could not feel any air coming through the pipe. It was completely clogged with lint.
We were so lucky that we had been home when the fire occurred. If it had happened when we were all away, our house could have burned down. There are over 15,000 dryer fires in the U.S. each year. I have read that dryer fires are the most prevalent cause of household fire.
Last weekend, my husband and I went to the hardware store and bought a kit for cleaning out the existing vent pipe plus new replacement piping for the interior. Our old system was long and twisted through the wall. There were lots of places for lint to collect. We replaced that with a very straight pipe that goes directly to the outside. The lint cleaning kit includes a stiff brush about the diameter of the pipe, plus long extensions so you can get the brush way up into the pipe. Some of the kits hook up to a drill. We replaced the old pipe and cleaned out the existing pipe in a couple of hours.
Our plan is to clean out our vent pipes yearly. Also, I am not going to leave clothes drying in the dryer when I leave the house anymore. I hope that all of you will consider what you should do to reduce the chance of a dryer fire in your home.
Last spring I wrote about the revised Accessory Dwelling Unit ordinance which was presented to the City Council in April. Click here to see the orginal article. I have had several phone calls and emails over the past few months from people interested in building these units in their back yards.
It is time to move on to the next step. On December 18, a group of supporters of the ordinance are speaking to the City of Berkeley Planning Commission. There are several homeowners who will either speak at the meeting or write to the Planning Commission. Please contact me if you would like to do so.
I am very excited! We are on the way to making Berkelely a national model for senior housing options.
Mark Rhoades from Rhoades Planning Group spoke yesterday at the Berkeley Association of Realtors about upcoming housing developments in downtown Berkeley. Between 1970 and 1995, 400 new housing units were added in Berkeley; between 1997 and 2013, 2,000 new units were added. In the next few years, another 1,000 will be added. About one-third of the units will be specifically for the student population on the southside of campus.
The largest of the planned projects is Berkeley Plaza, an 18 story building with retail spaces on the ground floor and 300 apartments above, six movie theatres, and below ground parking. There will also be an open central plaza. This development is planned for Harold Way, above the Shattuck Hotel and the former Hink’s Department Store.
I am very excited about the increase in housing downtown. There will be more people on the street, an increase in businesses and cultural activities. The city ‘s central core will be more vibrant and exciting.
Several of the realtors at the meeting asked “What about senior housing?” We all have clients who live in other parts of Berkeley, but would love to sell their homes and move to a downtown apartment. No more home or yard maintenance. Get rid of the car, walk to the senior center, shops and cultural events.
My vision for downtown senior housing is based on the Burbank Senior Artists Colony model which I wrote about a few months ago. Berkeley is perfect for a program like this. Downtown Berkeley would become a destination for retirees. We have the resources; we just need to make it happen.