You have the keys, so now what? A step-by-step real estate guide for executors

If you have been nominated as the executor of an estate that includes real estate or perhaps you find yourself in a place where you will be exercising a power of attorney for another person, there are some initial steps that are important to know when it comes to residential real estate.

It’s a good idea to change locks and install automatic light timers. A phone call to the local police precinct to let them know the house is now vacant is a good preemptive measure as well as considering an alarm system if there is personal property of considerable value located in the property. Completely photograph the interior as soon as possible to document its contents with close up shots of smaller items such as jewelry and heirlooms. In cold weather geography like Buffalo, NY, it is often wise to professionally “winterize” the property. This involves getting the plumbing completely drained, including the hot water tank as well as placing antifreeze in the commodes to prevent burst pipes in case of a problem with the heating system.

A good second level of effort is to locate any leases, property tax bills, deeds that have conveyed real property, tax bills, the title search for as well as any surveys that may be available. Find up-to-date documents about the house’s mortgage and tax bills, and ensure that they are in good standing. If taxes are in arrears, call the town assessor’s office and let them know that you have stepped in to help and that the taxes will be brought current when you have the money and authority to do so. Locate the insurance policy for the property and discuss its terms with the attorney you are working with before taking any additional steps.

It makes sense to keep receipts for everything you do as you at times you don’t have full authority with respect to an estate until your nomination is approved by the surrogate court. All expenses related to the property also need to be identified in order to estimate the cash needs of the estate over the time period that it will be held, emptied and sold. Making a simple list and then projecting for one year’s time is a conservative enough approach if events proceed in a timely manner.

You’ve taken on a significant role by becoming executor or power of attorney and it will move along in with a lower level of stress and higher efficiency if you take it in smaller pieces with an eye on priority items.

This article originally appeared in The Buffalo News Homefinder and is reprinted with permission.

Is it time to ask an elderly loved one to explore new housing options?

Keeping our older loved ones safe and happy is a high priority for many of us, but when giving up the family home is part of the discussion, there’s often a stiff resistance to change and explore senior housing options. Because a house contains so many cherished memories, talk of any change can become emotional.
When the time arrives to have “the talk” with an elderly loved one, there are professionals who can lend some much-needed assistance. If fact, a growing number of people are turning to geriatric care managers or senior move managers to help sort through the maze of housing choices and levels of care available today. These trained professionals are especially helpful when family members are separated by many miles.
Additional help can be obtained by contacting your county’s Department of Senior Services. Every county has one and it’s funded by your federal tax dollars, so take advantage of the services that are offered.
While every situation is different, positive changes can occur with some well-thought-out planning. Start by making a commitment to do the right thing, and then contact the appropriate social workers for assistance!

Condos with services are emerging

Service enriched condominium and co-op projects are beginning to surface in large markets in Illinois, Texas, Virginia and California with a particularly high concentration in the Chicago area. We have come to expect a monthly fee associated with a condominium that pays for capital improvements, exterior maintenance and common insurance, however, in this newly developed model an array of additional services are also included on an optional basis at an additional cost. These extra services could include meals, housekeeping, transportation, case management and personal care services such as an on-site beautician or massage therapist. According to Michael Hargrave, research director at The National Investment Center for Seniors Housing and Care Industry ( about 30 to 40 such projects have been implemented or are currently under construction. The underlying concept driving this innovation in the real estate market is that “baby boomers”, more so than their prior generation, would rather own than rent thus making this living arrangement more appealing than assisted living as the service enriched condo can be sold when it is time to move elsewhere.

Two distinct types of these living units appear to be evolving – the simpler model includes only meals and housekeeping, whereas the “full-service” program includes nursing, medication monitoring, personal care services and various therapies. Similar to assisted living, an individual’s capacity to walk a certain distance is required in order to live at these properties. Developers are experimenting with both a pay-as-you go approach to the additional services as well as various meal plans. In some cases residents pay one monthly fee and then have a certain amount of points to use toward any of the aforementioned services they wish to purchase.

This type of development is not available in Western New York at this point, however, it’s likely that this and other innovative approaches to housing o accommodate the baby boomer generation are in our near future.

Choosing A Retirement Community

Facing the question “what retirement community suits me best?” can carry with it tremendous stress for people who are in their later years. Deciding on the best community for you is made more complicated by the seemingly endless number of options that are available. With the right amount of research and knowledge it can be less stressful. Here are some tips to help ease the process.

First, make sure the geography is right for you. Are you near the things and places that are important to you, whether it is your friends or family or activities you engage yourself with in the community? Your location is critical as proximity to what you love to do will make a big difference in how satisfied you will be with your choice.

Second, choose a community that offers services and amenities that you will need and utilize. When examining this aspect, it’s important to think ahead about what your changing needs will be over the next five years. If general transportation for shopping and recreation as well as medical visits are critical for you then be sure to choose a place that offers both instead of just one. Housekeeping and an errand service might be appealing if it is offered. I think it makes tremendous sense to make a written list of the communities you are considering and what they offer so that it is much easier to look at. Otherwise the variables float around in your mind and it seems impossible to make a decision.

Third, look to see what kinds of social and recreational activities they offer. It is important to see what they offer to see how your time will be spent over the next couple of years. Social activities with other residents may seem to be of no interest to some or of great importance to others. Taking an honest look at this aspect is important and it’s a fact that isolation is the number one debilitating factor for people as they age. Engagement with others keeps you sharp.

“Asking the right questions is the first step to finding the right residence for you,” says Sylvia Watts, national director at Revera, the leading North American provider of living situations for people 50 and above.

There are a tremendous number of choices when it comes to retirement living from simply apartments that cater to seniors to communities that over the full gamut of services from meals to personal care. Starting out with a clear idea of what you need over the next five years or so is the best way to begin your search. After you know what you want, the choice becomes a whole lot easier.

ECHO housing: an alternative for seniors?

As the percentage of seniors in our population grows, we need to be looking for alternatives to what we have always done to accommodate this rapidly growing segment of our population. The National Institute on Aging reports that the number of our “oldest old – those over age 85” will more than triple by the year 2040 – from 3.5 million in 1994 to 14 million by 2040. These are staggering numbers. Affordability, access to services and the ongoing cost of care is leading more families and government entities to consider the “Elder Cottage” concept. Known in the aging field by its acronym “ECHO” (Elder Cottage Housing Opportunity) these small, detached structures can be either temporarily or permanently installed on the same lot where the primary caregivers reside. The American Association for Retired Persons has been promoting these accessory dwelling units since the 1980’s after the concept first became widespread in Australia in the 1970’s where they are known as “Granny Flats”.

The typical ECHO is between 400 and 800 square feet and is most often factory built, delivered to a location and placed on a foundation. Costs that I identified online ranged from $25,000 to $100,000 to install one unit. A variation on this concept is the prefab in-law addition that is being heavily marketed by higher end manufactured housing companies across the country such as The Home Store. A major obvious benefit for the elder is sustained independence and privacy while increasing proximity to family. Although there are significant installation costs for the structure itself as well as water and waste disposal lines and other utilities, the recapture of the expense could be quite rapid when you consider elder congregate living can easily cost in the $3000 to $10,000 per month. There are also some proponents taking this to a higher level and changing the name to “Med-Cottages”. These feature monitoring mechanisms and flexible flooring to minimize the impact of a fall.

There are a substantial number of communities across the country that are embracing these as one component in the service delivery system to help manage the explosion of sheer numbers that is occurring in our senior population. Dwellings that are stick built on site would appear to have the highest range of acceptability in the broadest range of communities. Gaining approval from your municipality for this type of addition could be quite difficult, however, and so much would depend upon the amount of land you have available for use and the general zoning overlay in your community. Stringent requirements regarding setback from lot lines and maximum square footage for secondary buildings would be the biggest potential obstacles in addition to the zoning issues. Certainly the less densely populated areas of our Western New York community would be more likely locations to be receptive to installation of these units.

A pilot project is underway near Ithaca in Topkins County called the Better Housing program. It is funded by the New York State’s Department of Housing and Community Renewal. Eligible seniors are allowed to rent these 672 square foot dwellings provided that they are installed adjacent to the residence of a primary caregiver. The property owner is responsible for utility installation and the county government delivers and maintains the dwelling in exchange for a rental payment that is also subsidized by government support. The objective of the program is to study not only the financial impact of this intervention but also quality of life and preventative health care matters.

The New York State Office of Aging has devoted considerable attention to this somewhat novel approach to senior living including references to a great deal of other literature on the topic in its most recent Livable New York Resource Manual. You can find this online at Reprinted with the permission of the Buffalo News Homefinder

Focus on safety and ease of use

If you are thinking about adding an in-law quarters or renovating a space that will be occupied by an elder either in their home or in yours, choosing the right floor can affect comfort, health, and well-being. The rapid growth of our senior population in our country is a much publicized fact – by 2020, there will be 55 million Americans over the age 65 and 6.6 million over 85. As a result renovation of existing housing stock to accommodate an elder is becoming quite common place.

When choosing flooring, the most important issues to consider are vision and mobility. If using wood, tile or carpet, it is wise to employ color contrast solely for identifying a change in elevation or a barrier on the floor’s surface. This will also help to identify where the floor ends and walls, stairs and doors begin. Color contrast simply helps with visually mapping out the whole floor.

Utilization of sharp contrast at the edge of a step down can be accomplished in a number of stylish ways. I think of one kitchen I was in recently where the owners installed a somewhat darker border of tile around the edge of an entire ceramic kitchen floor to help identify access points for the family room and the basement. For hardwood floors, an end cap that is a few shades darker can improve both appearance and safety. When done right, this can look really sharp.

If your elder is using a walker or some other mobility aid, hardwood, linoleum and tile are the best choices as they are most easily navigated and do not drag or pull when in contact with sneakers or rubber covered devices. If you decide that you would like to install tile whether there is a mobility device or not, it’s important to understand the concept of “slip resistance”. Ask about the coefficient of friction (COF) before you buy. The American Heritage Dictionary defines COF as “the ratio of the force that maintains contact between an object and a surface and the frictional force that resists the motion of the object.” There is extensive debate around what constitutes “safer” flooring among engineers and how best to measure it. The American Disabilities Act guidelines recommend a surface with a COF of 0.6 for floors and 0.8 for ramps. It is widely recognized, therefore, that flooring with a COF higher than 0.6 is generally considered being slip resistant. These specs are available for review when you are shopping in a home improvement store.

One does need to be concerned with the type of finish that is selected. Following changes in level, glare is the next largest impediment to safe mobility. A matte finish on a wood floor reduces glare considerably when you compare it to a gloss. It’s important to check your lighting as well as the manner in which a room is illuminated will often make a difference with how easy or difficult it might be to navigate. This is a very subtle problem that one may easily overlook. Lastly, the biggest concern is that it’s critical to note that area rugs, when placed over wood, linoleum or tile floors, are ALWAYS a hazard for seniors who could easily slip and fall. Do not use them!