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Kelly Laird Smith Realtor in Rossmoor, Los Alamitos & Leisure World Seal Beach California

“I am going to die in this house.”

This blog is based on a statement we hear as realtors quite frequently. The statement is “I am going to die in this house.” Sometimes this is followed up by “The only way they will get me out of this house is on a stretcher.” We as fellow homeowners completely understand. We have all worked hard, and have scrimped over the years to save up for the down payment, make the mortgage payments on time and pay off that mortgage once and for all. The word “own” is great, but to put it into the sentence, “I own my home.” is amazing! Fewer and fewer people ever “own” their homes outright and doing so is an honor, a privilege and a testimony to your hard work over many many years. But, what happens when you pay off that mortgage, you continue to live in that home, either by yourself or with just your spouse and that home becomes a burden? Maybe you cannot keep up with the yard maintenance and/or the cleaning? What happens when the cost of living goes so high you are worried about buying eggs and milk because you can only afford one or the other? Do you stay in your $800,000 home poor as a bird? Because after all, you have a house?

As a realtor, friend, daughter and grand-daughter I have seen too many senior citizens living in large homes by themselves with no money. But, they own their home! That is wonderful and I am proud of them. To have no mortgage payment is huge. However, why stop there? Why does paying off the mortgage mean living cash poor for the remainder of your life and having to choose between milk or eggs? Why, because you have a certain zip code? Why, because you have a desired location? Why, because you reached your ultimate goal and just stopped? Several senior citizens are 70+ years old and afraid of running out of money, so they sit on these houses, hunker down and slowly withdrawal into their homes.  This is a social epidemic that tugs at my heart strings. There are so many countless options that are not being taken advantage of by people just “paying off the mortgage and hunkering down.” What happened to living in the “Golden Years”?

My personal experiences and professional experiences all have lead me to believe there is a better way to live than to “pay off the mortgage and hunker down.” I have seen several clients sell their “family” home, down size and live wonderful and fulfilled lives without the fear of being able to afford milk and eggs. It is not because they happened to save well for retirement, just got lucky or had a good pension. It is because they took a good hard look in the mirror and realized the financial and living position they had themselves in. They looked and saw they were sitting in a $800,000 house with no money to show for it. So they sold the three/four bedroom house and moved into a condo, an apartment, a stock cooperative and/or senior community and put the extra cash in the bank. Do you know what $800,000 can do for you? We do and we have put it to work for our clients.

We had a couple who were “house-locked” she had dementia and he was the caretaker. They had settled into their “retirement home” which was a three bedroom, two bath home worth about $850,000 and they were determined to take care of one another in that home until they died. This was a great plan, until he fell and needed help. This was a great plan, until her medical expenses and needed assistance ran up the bills to $12,000 per month. This was a great plan until one of the kids, whom they relied on, was transferred out of state for work, thus taking the grand-kids out of state too. Then they were left “house-locked”. With the medical and care bills reaching $12,000 per month (above and beyond food, utilities, gas, etc.) they could not go anywhere, they could barely afford the groceries, the kids were out of state with their lives, school, etc. and here this wonderful couple who had scrimped, saved, paid off the mortgage and had done all of the right things found themselves in a world of hurt and they had no idea they were “house-locked”.  This was a terrible situation and it was not done on purpose, they again, did all of the right things. Life just happened. Thankfully they called us and by selling the home, we put hundreds of thousands of dollars into their pockets. We put them in touch with a senior care provider who guided the entire family through the senior medical maze and through several medical related financial services they were un-aware of they are now getting more assistance and have cut their medical bills dramatically. By changing their living facilities they now will not out live their money. By getting help, they now are in a position of control once again. By reaching out for help and realizing that “living” is more important than a house, they are now “living their lives” and are not hunkered down in a house, withdrawn and afraid of whether they can afford the milk and the eggs this week.

On our team we have Winslow Chase. Winslow went and sought out his Senior Residential Real Estate Certificate after we personally went through several senior citizen issues within our family and saw the dire need for assistance in the industry. We have partnered up with John Menzies & Elena Merchand of Pathways To Care to provide our clients with the much needed assistance that comes to many senior citizens. Together we have helped several families make financial decisions that allowed them to live a much better and much more fulfilling life. We have helped several families get out of being “house-locked” and into a position of control and financial freedom.

I am writing about this situation because I as a Realtor hear all too often “I am going to die in this house” and/or “The only way you are getting me out is on a stretcher” and to be honest, I hate hearing those phrases. I hate them because I would never want to find out that Betty Lou or Mr. Thornton was found dead on the living room floor three days later. I would hate to hear that, “Yup, they carried Mary away on a stretcher last night. She was surrounded by the cats” That is heart breaking and while I know it is a reality, it is not just hard to hear, it is a huge burden on the family that gets to clean up the aftermath of any such event. The families that are left behind cleaning out 2,000 sq. ft. 4 bedroom houses from years of neglect and being lived in by a loved one who simply could not keep up with the home is sad and difficult. The aftermath of having to sell the home through probate because there was no living trust, just a will, is expensive and benefits the state more than the family usually. So I ask the question, why not live and enjoy your life? Why live in a big house in a status symbol area just because you paid off the house? Why not live in a condo, have zero maintenance and go travel? Why not wear your diamonds and tiara every single day as you walk around Leisure World and/or your senior community? Why choose to live day to day not able to afford anything, but boast you “own your home” when you can own a little condo, stock cooperative and/or an apartment and live life relaxed knowing you can go buy those eggs, milk and a bottle of wine! Why not live in a community where you know people can and will check in on you?


I will leave you with this…awesome image and my ambition as a senior citizen…

grandma photo edited for post