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Avoid 6 Common Condo Pitfalls With 21st-Century Thinking

Too often, housing that targets “empty nest” and “life after work” buyers is still set up for “drop out of the mainstream” and “end of purposeful life” living that can dead-end people financially and socially in the future.

These condominiums and developments seem set on housing residents for a handful of quiet retirement years after age 65, instead of the active, involved decades that stretch into continually-changing futures with age 100 no longer a big deal. Flexiblity of design, form, and function is essential when considering what “home” needs to be for those decades of change ahead.

The recent sudden death of actress, author, entrepreneur, and comedian Joan Rivers was a shock because she died too young. She was going strong on many fronts—television, social media, stage—and she obviously had many more years of insulting jokes and boundless energy to deliver. Rivers high-profile work kept her version of “growing old” a topic of discussion. The legacy she leaves includes the fact that at 81 she died too young and was still an income-earning force with much ahead of her. What Rivers did prove is that you can continue to do what you love, earn a living, influence thinking, have a voice, and much more throughout your entire life. She was also living proof that chronological age is now irrelevant.

Even in her 80s, Rivers wasn’t “old” in the 20th-Century “out of it” definition of the word that too many still dwell on. She was a living example of the 21st Century purposeful-longevity definition I have long stressed. Her world crossed generations and cultures. Rivers and other high-profile workers, like Betty White and increasing numbers of continuously-productive individuals in all walks of life, prove that dated concepts like “retirement,” and all its ageist “golden years” stereotypes, have no place in today’s thinking—especially when it comes to housing.

For instance, many multi-unit retirement condominiums and lifestyle developments can prove to be isolating environments and weak real estate investments because they are based on dated concepts. Strong social networks and reliable financial resources are essential to low-stress, high-enjoyment lifestyles and these are not automatic by-products of the “retirement” label.

Mike and Joan Richards [privacy protected] are excellent examples of the dead-end lifestyle issues that can arise from applying out-dated 20th-Century thinking and stereotypes to your 21st-Century future. In a brief chat with this active, quick-witted couple, they summed up the lifestyle dead-ends related to their 8th-floor high-rise condo, without negativity, just fact-of-life realizations about what they are learning in hindsight. , in their own words…

  1. We’re like the kids—we cannot afford to buy another home, so we cannot move. Our condominium unit has not increased in value as fast as real estate prices have risen in the past three years and we can no longer afford to move.
  2. We sold our house too early and missed out on the extra $200,000 we would have earned if we sold today. Our children advised us to move into a condo “at our age” and we followed along doing what we thought was expected of us because of our age. [Then Mike was 86 and Joan 75]. Now, we’re stuck.
  3. We are the only ones of our faith in the building and their holidays are not ours, so we’re not included in celebrations. With a house, you have a neighborhood and you can always keep walking to find a friend.
  4. We renovated the unit when we moved in 3 years ago. With our 5-year plan, we did everything but replace the carpeting. Now, this big job seems too big but the carpet must be replaced.
  5. We worry, because of insurance, about floods from above and we worry that our washing machine will cause a flood below. The condo manager keeps coming in to check on possible leaks, just walks right past us to go to the bathroom or laundry room like he owns the place.
  6. The building is full of a lot of “old” people who do not want to go out or get involved. We hardly ever see anyone and feel like we live alone in the complex.

Each of these 6 very common condo observations should be read as issues to be incorporated into your forward-thinking strategies and avoid the shock of hindsight in your active, involved future, whatever happens. How can you be sure you won’t face similar concerns a few years after a decision to leave your mainstream lifestyle and home?

Since the Richards are both active and relatively healthy, they walk or drive wherever they need to go and enjoy visiting other neighborhoods to sample ethnic restaurants. Condo life has benefits, too. They were pleasantly surprised to discover what a bonus the underground, weather-protected parking and access to the attached shopping mall proved to be for their activities. Mike goes for a mall walk everyday and is excited about a new part-time job he starts next week.

The Richards are one example of a population that has never existed in society before. They are extraordinary people, like Rivers, and they are not the exception. People in their seventies and beyond do not automatically fit ageist stereotypes of frailty and senility. Growing numbers of active, engaged individuals turn up their noses at “retirement” like Rivers did, and are committed to what I call extended living—thriving in the mainstream and making a difference for themselves and others.

Challenges arise for this growing slice of the population. We do not design and build housing, transportation, or anything else that is specifically-geared to enriching their lives, removing barriers (physical and otherwise), and adding on-demand services. Every generation wants the same things in and from their homes and communities that you and others of your generation do, just in different ways and for different reasons.

When you project into your future, identify how lifestyle elements will be satisfied by the specific real estate you’re considering, so you won’t be undermined by hindsight.