'Steps' to help with retirement home

Ellen James Martin gives advice for choosing a vertically oriented retirement home.
BY ELLEN JAMES MARTIN Published: April 28, 2012

Since 1971, Fred Meyer has lived happily in an olive-green Victorian near the Harvard University campus. Though he's 73, he relishes scaling the stairs of the three-story property. Why? Because he insists that doing so keeps him fit.

“Climbing the stairs is part of my daily routine, so it doesn't feel like exercise,” said Meyer, a veteran real estate broker. “It's a good habit and a way of staying fit without thinking about it — and one my doctor endorses.”

Meyer said few of his older homebuying clients deliberately shop for a place with stairs to follow his example. But he said those open to purchasing a vertical property have more housing options available to them in retirement.

Of course, many retirement communities designed for those older than 55 offer buyers the choice of living in an apartment on one level, said James W. Hughes, a Rutgers University professor who tracks housing trends throughout the nation.

In addition, Hughes said some senior communities offer purchasers the option of choosing a small, detached house on one level — such as a miniature “villa.” But he said seniors who don't wish to live in an age-restricted community often have relatively few horizontal options open to them, especially if they wish to live in a new or nearly new place.

Here are a few pointers for those who are choosing between vertical and horizontal housing for their senior years:

•  Look at the big picture of your physical health.

David Geier, an orthopedic surgeon in South Carolina, said many of his patients older than age 55 have a significant level of osteoarthritis in their knees. He said those experiencing a great deal of knee pain, limited range of motion and balance issues are not ideal candidates to live in a multistory house.

Even after they've recovered from total knee replacement surgery, he said some patients are ill-suited to vertical living.

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