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Tom Kelly: It’s more than adding space when mom moves in

When a parent loses a spouse, the surviving spouse often will look to moving near, or in with, an adult child. Sometimes, there will be an interim stop – much like my mom’s condo experience before she suggested a possible move closer to my sisters.

My mom was fortunate to have a terrific group of friends in the neighborhood (“The White-Haired Widows”) that shared driving chores, meals, and cards, and stories and pictures of their grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Knowing and accepting that a parent or older (perhaps disabled) family member is coming to live with you is one thing. Finding a way to finance that accommodation is a totally different matter, as is attempting to predict emotions and expectations. The move often results in more time and care for the older person than expected, and that care can alter the livelihood of everyone in the family, especially the caregiver.

The baby boomers, unlike their parents, have begun considering the possibilities. An example of this is the demand for an extra room on the main level of a new home to help accommodate parents. Susan Duncan, a housing consultant whose company, Adaptations, helps families with accessibility challenges, said more adult children are now looking at their own homes with caregiving in mind.

“People are now looking at homes and saying to themselves, ‘This type of home did not work for my mom, so let’s solve the problem now,’” Duncan said. “This would not necessarily be a larger home, but one that could support an aging family member. For example, if a bedroom and bathroom were on the main, or accessible, floor, where someone could live at least temporarily, it often is better than trying to convert a dining room into a bedroom.”

Duncan added that many consumers are now asking about wider hallways and level access, hoping to add the potential for easy wheelchair movement in the future. “We have always looked for the pretty kitchen that seems to be very functional,” Duncan said. “Now, many people are checking to see how easy it would be to maneuver a wheelchair up to a counter or reach a set of drawers.”

There is a tendency in human nature to freeze family members at the age they had the most influence on our lives. For acquaintances, the freeze time often is when we first encountered them. It helps us place perspective on our own lives. So, we hardly see the aging of those who are close to us but do not live close by until it’s too late. Mom and dad, though, did not see themselves as getting significantly older because they experienced each other every day.

The cost of adding a room or wider hallways can be expensive, especially when other hard-earned available dollars have already been spent on another project or emergency. Typically, homeowners dip back into the value of their residence via a home equity loan to perform the remodel. However, some low- and moderate-income borrowers are not able to come up with the required cash or eke out any more equity for still another expenditure.

Now, companies like Fannie Mae are helping families finance the remodel. In some cases, the loan also can help individuals qualify for a home purchase of their own. The HomeChoice Program provides both options – two avenues that could make a difference and solve stressful situations. On the remodel side, the “retrofitting mortgage” helps older or disabled individuals shift to a family member’s home rather than move to an institutional setting. This option combines a conventional first mortgage loan with a specialized second mortgage, often at a lower-than-market interest rate.

The HomeChoice Community Living option differs from traditional, single-family loans because qualifying borrowers do not have to be individuals. Borrowers also can be legal entities, including limited partnerships, government agencies serving adults and children, or nonprofit corporations. Group homes typically serve three to six persons and involve an independent coordinator to organize the financing.

There are income limits and home-price limits on most of the HomeChoice programs, so consumers should check with local lenders and housing agencies for guidelines in specific regions. Eligible borrowers include persons with a disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act, or with a handicap, as defined by the Fair Housing Amendments Act. This includes persons with physical or mental impairments that substantially limit their ability to perform basic functions (functions the average person can perform with little or no difficulty).

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