Francis and Josephine Fote were not thrilled about leaving their Sun City West home for an independent-living condominium. But they knew it was time.
They moved into Grandview Terrace, also in Sun City West, on Friday. Surrounded by moving chaos, they navigated around workers hooking up televisions and grandchildren unpacking boxes as they waited for their new furniture to arrive.
One thing they did not have to worry about was selling their house. Sun Health Life Care Communities, which manages Grandview Terrace and two other retirement communities, sold it for them.
It was a program the company started last year, when administrators realized their prospective clients found themselves stuck in homes that were tough to sell because of the troubled housing market.
Under the program terms, Sun Health takes over all aspects of the sale - from painting walls to hiring real estate agents - and guarantees the sale so the homeowners can buy into the retirement communities.
"They guaranteed that they would sell the house and we wouldn't have to worry about it," said Josephine Fote, 82. "That appealed to us very much. That was a big concern, initially."
Sharon Grambow, chief operating officer for Sun Health Life Care Communities, said the company started feeling the brunt of the housing bust in 2008.
The company's three communities - Grandview Terrace, the Colonnade in Sun City Grand and La Loma Village in Litchfield Park - were getting visits from prospective buyers. But the residents were unable to buy into the communities because they could not sell their homes.
So Sun Health Life Care Communities developed some options, Grambow said.
Residents could sign a promissory note for the lump-sum entrance fee into a condominium. That was enough to defer payment until the house sold. About 90 percent of the buyers in a Sun Health community use proceeds from their house sale to finance the move, Grambow said.
But even that was not quite enough.
"We found last year that people were shying away from signing the promissory note because they were stressed by the thought of having to sell their home," Grambow said.
So the company began offering the housing exchange in October.
Together, Sun Health administrators and the residents determine the sale price of the home. If it is priced the same as the value of the condominium, it is a straight exchange. If the house sells for more money, the residents get the extra funds.
If the house does not sell within a given time period, Sun Health buys it at the pre-approved price.
The company sends in the cleaners and contractors and deals with open houses and listing agents.
All the homeowners have to do is move out.
"If we're not successful or we need to reduce the price, they don't have risk," Grambow said. "If it's more, that goes to the homeowner."
So far, the program has five families that have exchanged homes with Sun Health. Eight more are in the process.
Company officials will monitor the program until the market recovers.
Once residents are in an independent-care apartment, they have the option of moving into assisted-care if their health deteriorates. The contract also guarantees that Sun Health will care for the residents even if their finances run dry.
Exchange of house cares
Most of the residents in the Life Care communities are in their 70s and 80s, and typically are moving from their original retirement homes.
Francis Fote, 83, is a retired physician who lived with his wife and children in Buffalo, N.Y., for most of his career.
The couple retired to Sun City West 22 years ago and their grown children scattered to various states and countries.
That worried daughter Mary Fote, a photographer and interior designer who lives in Toronto.
She could see her parents were getting more fragile, but they did not want to leave Sun City West.
After looking at all the communities that offered independent and assisted living, the Fotes decided that the housing exchange program would take care of all their concerns.
"When you're dealing with elderly parents and family members are not local, the function of selling a property is a lot more onerous," Mary Fote said.
Grandview Terrace offers a dining room, laundry and cleaning services and even takes care of driving.
The family spent about six months going through a life's worth of belongings. Mary hired contractors to paint and wallpaper and designed a modern décor that incorporates artwork her parents collected over decades of traveling.
Francis still preferred the couple's sun-filled house to the modern condominium, but he could see the need for more help.
"We're getting too old for people to worry about," he said. "That's what it's all about."
by Lesley Wright The Arizona Republic May. 10, 2011 01:00 PM
Sun City West independent-living program helps seniors sell their homes
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