Category: Green Retirement Communities
No, it’s not something you add to the wash to get out those pesky grass stains you used to get playing touch football. Nor is it a St. Patty’s day breath-freshener. Greenwash is what happens to you when you succumb to a developer who promises you a “green” house in a sustainable community, only to move in and find the Chinese wallboard smells like rotten eggs.
Unfortunately there are some builders and developers who are free with the terms “green” or sustainable. But luckily there are several new standards that you can use to evaluate those green claims. Perhaps the most important is The National Green Building Standard™, recently approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). The new Standard applies to all residential construction work including single-family homes, apartments and condos, land development and remodeling and renovation. It defines what green practices can be incorporated into residential development and construction and how home owners can operate and maintain their green homes. Having a national standard in place helps consumers and builders systematically evaluate “green” claims made for their new homes.
The National Association of Home Builders is enthusiastic about the new standard. “The standard provides home builders and remodelers with a much more expansive third-party rating system that they can use to achieve green certification under NAHBGreen and the National Green Building Certification Program,” said Mike Luzier, CEO of the NAHB Research Center. The NAHB praised the flexibility of the National Green Building Standard because of its flexibility – it allows home builders and home buyers options based on climate, geography, style preferences, and budget.
Another standard is the Green Building Initiative® (GBI), which has a partnership with the American Institute of Architects (AIA). The GBI promotes energy-efficient, healthier and environmentally responsible building design. Other well-established green standards are from LEED and Energy-Star.
What You Can Do
Consumers are understandably confused about green claims – and are afraid of being greenwashed. If you are interested in buying a home that is supposed to be environmentally friendly, don’t be shy about asking what kind of green certification it has rated. Although it is unfortunate that there are so many different standards, they all share most of the same principles. So if your developer can point to some kind of accepted green certification, it probably means a lot more than unsupported claims. The basic principles in all sustainable certification programs involve: energy efficiency, using recycled materials, minimizing storm water runoff, renewal energy sources, emissions, water conservation, and healthy interiors.
For more information about LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)
Looking for Green Communities
What’s Your Opinion About Greenwash? Share your opinions using the Comments section below.
Posted by Admin on March 31st, 2009
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Category: International Retirement
Up until now one of the best strategies for a lower cost retirement was to head south of the border, Mexico way. But escalating drug violence in Mexico is causing many Americans to either stay put in the U.S. or move a bit further to a central American country like Costa Rica or Uruguay in South America.
By far the worst violence from the drug cartel battles is occurring near the U.S.-Mexican border. But almost every Mexican state has seen significant numbers of drug-related murders. The dispute is now spilling out into Arizona, Texas – and even Chicago and Atlanta. The trouble started after a crackdown by President Calderon 2 years ago. Power struggles between rival gangs are a big source of trouble. Fired police officers looking for new sources of income are another. More than 6,000 people connected to the drug trade or law enforcement were murdered in 2008 alone. As an example of how bad things are, Mexican police arrested a man this January who confessed to dissolving the bodies of 300 victims in acid.
So far there is no end in sight to the violence. It remains to be seen what the impact of this violence will be on what has been a steady stream of expatriates seeking the good life on the cheap in Mexico. Even though real estate, food, energy, a maid and gardener are all way cheaper than they are in back in the states, more people will probably decide to pass on that lifestyle in favor of their personal safety. Resort cities on the water like Mazatlan, Puerto Vallerta, or even Acupulco are affected. Places like Aijic/Lake Chapala, San Miguel de Allende – which have very high concentrations of U.S. citizens living there – are probably less at risk in the way of drug crime. One way expatriates living in those areas can improve their safety is to fly directly to their destinations, thereby avoiding road travel and the extremely dangerous areas near the border crossings.
The U.S. State Department has issued a Travel Advisory for Mexico. It states that the areas near the U.S. border are the most dangerous. Travelers should avoid border areas, never drive at night, avoid places of prostitution or drug dealing, stay away from certain towns, and avoid specific roads. Consult the travel advisory for more details.
Guide to Mexican Retirement
What do You Think? If you have an opinion about the dangers of Mexican retirement please use the Comments section below.
Posted by Admin on March 24th, 2009
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Category: Retirement Real Estate
March 23 – Retirees either looking to sell their existing homes or see their retirement portfolios reclaim some of their losses got some good news today. Sales of existing homes in the U.S. increased 5.1% in February over January, helping give Wall Street its best day in months. Sales of single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops were off 4.6% vs. the year earlier February. Prices continued to decline in February as the median selling price of a U.S. home fell to $165,400, off 15% from the year earlier period.
Many experts believe that the increase in sales is coming from first time buyers who are grabbing bargains in the current wave of foreclosures. Lawrence Yun, National Association of Realtors (NAR) chief economist, said first-time buyers accounted for half of all home sales last month, with activity concentrated in lower price ranges. “Because entry level buyers are shopping for bargains, distressed sales accounted for 40 to 45 percent of transactions in February,” he said. “Our analysis shows that distressed homes typically are selling for 20 percent less than the normal market price, and this naturally is drawing down the overall median price.”
The increases in sales were concentrated mostly in the northeast (+15.6%) and the west (6.1%), while other regions were essentially flat. Inventories of unsold homes, a major part of the current housing problem, have declined in recent months; they now represent a 9.7 month supply, considerably lower than the peak in April, 2008 of 11.3.
The good news in the housing market, combined with an apparent positive reception to the Obama Administration’s troubled asset repurchase program, helped set off Wall Street’s biggest rally in months. The Dow went up almost 500 points.
Posted by Admin on March 23rd, 2009
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Category: Baby Boomer Retirement Issues
Our friend and colleague Michael Pollick has been writing a fascinating series about baby boomer retirements in the Sarasota Herald Tribune. And we are very pleased to have one of our quotes featured in the headline of this week’s article: “Arizona, a Fresher Florida?“.
Michael has spent a lot of time researching where boomers are retiring and which states are doing the most to attract them. He has found that his own state, Florida, is starting to lose retirement share to upstart states like Texas, Tennessee, the Carolinas, etc.; which have active marketing campaigns to attract retirees (such as certified retirement community programs).
The quote from Topretirements came in the section where Michael discussed the different attractions of Florida and Arizona and why people tend to choose one state over the other: “Arizona seems fresher,” says Tom Brady [Editor's note: people are always confusing me (John) with the dashing NFL QB for the Patriots and escort of Gisele, the beautiful German model], who fields hundreds of e-mails each month from potential retirees as founder of TopRetirements.com. “If you look at Florida, to some extent it has the same problem the Northeast has — an aging infrastructure that is hard to support.”
That makes Arizona attractive to “people who are looking for something newer,” Brady says.”
We should add that we continue to believe that 2 of the other major reasons why folks choose Florida vs. Arizona are 1) climate preferences (water vs desert or mountain), and 2) proximity. Regarding the latter, people who live in the west and near the Mississippi naturally gravitate towards Arizona vs. folks in the northeast tend to go for Florida retirements.
To read the entire article go to the Sarasota Herald Tribune. If you search for Michael Pollick on that site you will find his other baby boomer retirement stories. Of course if you have comments please post below.
Posted by Admin on March 17th, 2009
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Category: Financial and taxes in retirement
Oh baby boomers, what a mess we’re in now. Not only have our investment portfolios been hammered, but our real estate investments are hurting too. A recent study from the Council for Economic Research points out that both add up to grim news for baby boomers – particularly for those who planned on moving to start their retirement.
“The collapse of the housing bubble, which led to the current recession, has already destroyed almost $6 trillion dollars in housing wealth for homeowners,” said report co-author Dean Baker. “This reality is compounded by the recent collapse of the stock market. The result is that many baby boomers will only have Social Security and Medicare to rely on in their retirement.”
The Center’s report found that 15% of homeowners aged 55 to 64 are “underwater” – that is they owe more on a mortgage than the house is worth. The situation is even worse for those 45 -54, where 30% have negative home equity. Boomers in certain parts of the country are more likely to be underwater than in others. South Florida, Arizona, and Nevada residents are most likely to have negative equity. As real estate woes spread across the country, however, negative equity will affect more and more people in the soon-to-retire population.
The Center also reported that overall net financial worth for the 45 -54 year old boomer group has has also declined – 45% over the last 5 years. Their median net worth declined from $172,400 to $94,200 in the period. Whereas 5 years ago this group had investment assets that could generate $14,000 in annual income, now the figure is only $8,000. The result is that many baby boomer households will enter retirement with little wealth beyond Social Security.
For Those Who Want to Move Now
The crisis has particular meaning for baby boomers who are thinking about moving in retirement. To buy retirement property now they face a tough choice – should they sell their homes now and tap their investment portfolio to fund the shortfall, or should they wait for prices to recover?
Richard E. Austin, a financial advisor with Lincoln Financial Advisors, said in the New York Times in March that for people who need to sell who expected “real estate prices to decline for years…. selling now could shield them from deeper losses.” Austin went on to say that “a better option” could be renting out the house rather than selling it, and waiting for real estate prices to rebound.
Topretirements tends to agree with Mr. Austin that renting is probably the better option. It carries the risk that real estate prices will not recover before you need to sell. But it also has the possibility that you could recoup at least the value of your mortgage in the future. In the meantime you could rent out your house (assuming that the rental market in your area is viable), while you in turn could neutralize some of your risk and conserve capital by renting in your new community.
What’s Your Opinion? Use the Comments feature below to share your ideas.
Posted by Admin on March 15th, 2009
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Category: Baby Boomer Retirement Issues
Everybody talks about, and many people even do something about, the two obvious aspects of retirement planning. But almost nobody is attending to the third leg of retirement planning: mental preparation.
The usual parts of retirement planning; finding a place to retire that matches your lifestyle preferences, and having the financial wherewithal to pull it off, are obviously important. The mental side of retirement planning, the one that most people forget about, is critical too. In fact there are at least 2 dimensions of retirement mental preparation. The first, and most obvious, factor is advance preparation. Well before the day you get your gold watch, you need to have some idea of what you will be doing starting on day 1 of retirement. Even more important, you need to plan for what you might be doing on day 1,365 of your hard-earned respite from the working world. Far too many folks assume they are going to travel a bit, play lots of golf, spend a little more time with the grandchildren – and that’s as far as it goes. Unfortunately after a while the trips peter out, winter puts snow on the fairways, and the grandchildren move away or grow up. In our experience the happiest retirements are those where the person has spent some time and energy researching how they will spend their time every day, and not letting the days fill up with whatever happens. To help with this aspect of retirement planning, we recommend searching the Topretirements Retirement Planning Bookstore at Amazon (or your favorite local bookstore) for ideas on how to focus your thoughts on working in retirement, volunteering, starting a new business, finding an interesting hobby, etc. Of course Topretirements’ practical “100 Best Retirement Towns” is another resource to check out. We guarantee it, your investment in this side of retirement planning will help you be a lot happier in the long run. By the way, here is a great WSJ article on finding volunteer gigs.
Increased Longevity Has a Downside
The second side of mental preparation is not so obvious. The CDC reports that the average American male who reaches 65 years of age has another 17.2 years of life expectancy. The average female has 20 more years. And these are averages; in other words, a lot of people will live considerably longer. The average life expectancy keeps going up; almost 5 years were added between 1950 and 2005. Meanwhile the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s Disease dramatically increases after 65. The Journal of the American Medical Association published an article that concludes: “The incidence of Alzheimer’s disease is substantial and is approximately 14 times higher among persons older than 85 years compared with those between 65 and 69 years of age”. Having just spent a week helping to care for my Alzheimer’s Disease afflicted father-in-law I can tell you definitively – you do not want to get this horrible disease.
“Where Do We Live Honey?”
Since you can now expect to live a lot longer as retired people, you should take steps to reduce the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s Disease. A number of regimens have been proposed as good prevention, specifically red wine and the Mediterranean Diet. Dr. Vincent Fortanasce, a neurologist at UCLA, has written a new and excellent book, “The Anti-Alzheimer’s Prescription: The Science-Proven Plan to Start at Any Age“, This easy to read book is brimming with scientifically substantiated advice for preventing the disease. Here are some of the factors in the book (from the Penguin website):
• Assess your risk factors and determine your “Real Brain Age”
• Step One: the Anti-Alzheimer’s Diet, including recipes and a twenty-eight-day menu
• Step Two: daily physical exercises for the body and mind
• Step Three: daily “neurobics” to build a big brain reserve
• Step Four: the importance of stress reduction and quality sleep
His book has certainly got this editor thinking. The wife and I started on a campaign to memorize common telephone numbers instead of simply relying on speed dialing. I even realized a life-long ambition, memorizing the 23rd Psalm (“The Lord is My Shepherd”). As I brag to anyone who will listen, if anyone dies on a camping trip I will now be able to cover the service. Next up: “The Gettysburg Address”.
Other suggestions to keep your mind sharp include crossword puzzles, learning new skills (like a language), classes, saduko, and Wii “brain-teaser” games. Anything that keeps your brain exercised and thinking in new ways seems to help.
What are you doing to prepare mentally for retirement? Please share your ideas in the Comments section below.
Posted by Admin on March 9th, 2009
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Category: Best Retirement Towns and States
Dateline: Fort Myers and Miami, Florida. Your Topretirements editor is spending a few days in South Florida. Realizing that the region is one of the 3 hardest hit real estate markets in the country (along with Phoenix and Las Vegas), we wondered: what would this meltdown look like in person? Since retirement in the warm climes of South Florida is the dream of many a baby boomer, here is our report on what we can see by looking out the window, jogging through the streets, talking with folks, and reading the newspapers.
The main answer is – South Florida looks pretty normal. Eerie, definitely, but in most ways the region looks like it always does. Traffic is as heavy and bottlenecked as ever. We were behind a gleaming Maserati in Fort Myers today; giant Cadillac Escalades hurtled by in Miami.There are billboards announcing new active adult and 55+ communities as always; but the difference is that low prices, sales, and special deals are today’s focus. Construction sites are still much more plentiful than you would see in the north, but now there is a difference. Some of the sites have no heavy equipment present, a sure sign that the project is on hold – either due to bankruptcy or a pause in construction. State officials report that 2008′s tourism numbers, long Florida’s economic raison d’etre, showed the first visitor decline in a long, long time. There are plenty of “For Sale” signs up, many of them on vacant lots, but that has always been the case in South Florida.
The “Fort Myers News-Press” published an interesting quote on March 1 from Dominic Pallini, a Realtor with Re/Max, who remains positive despite bad economic times. “Things will get better. Once we get through the inventory prices will start going up. Right now they’re selling houses for less than builders can build them. That can’t last.” (Terry Allen Williams/news-press.com)
The Press also reported last week that the median sales price of a Fort-Myers home has dropped below $100,000 for the first time since February 1999. In January the median price of an existing single-family home in Lee County fell to $94,900. That’s a 59 percent drop vs. year ago (statistics from the Florida Association of Realtors). Driven by foreclosures, sales are booming in Lee County: there were 758 sales in January vs. 338 the year before. Most of those sales are in Lehigh Acres (made famous by President Obama’s visit in February) and Cape Coral.
The newspapers are full of ads for sales of homes. It appears that plenty of multi-million dollar homes are on the market, and some are selling. The most obvious difference in this market is that along with many conventional ads, some “Miami Herald” real estate ads now scream “Priced to Sell”, “Bank Says Sell”, “No Money Down”, “Absolute Auction”, “Developer Close Out Prices”. Trump Luxury Miami Style, according to one ad, can now be obtained by “Rent With Option to Buy”. We thought one ad pretty well summed up what has happened in the area: “You’ll be amazed at the new listings to choose from in neighborhoods that you never dreamed would fit your budget.”
Meanwhile many active adult and 55+ communities in Fort Myers and South Florida are undergoing stress. The less stable developments are seeing foreclosures and delinquencies on Homeowner Association fees. Country clubs that cost $100,000 or more to join 3 years ago are now in trouble, trying to figure out how to avoid bankruptcy and keep their dues paying members.
Sadly, many people in South Florida are in a great deal of pain these days as their homes, cars, and dreams are taken away from them. But for visitors to the state and the majority of people who live in South Florida, life goes on as usual, albeit with plenty of worry in the air.
Posted by Admin on March 1st, 2009
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