Beyond the Golden Years

Beyond the Golden Years

National press has lavished attention on Traverse City being a great place to retire, but is there enough real estate, assisted care and other services to support the Baby Boomers 15 years from now?

By Becky Kalajian

Traverse City has enjoyed a wave of good press in recent months, lauding everything from its artisanal foods to its unmatched shoreline.

These plaudits among others from Money Magazine and the Wall Street Journal have sparked an interest among the biggest population segment entering its retirement years: the Boomers.

With a tight real estate market, a growing waitlist to get into assisted care, and pressure on age-related services, is Traverse City ready for the expected influx?

"We definitely think and talk about it; we have a constant demand for services and have long waitlists [for certain services]," said Georgia Durga, director of the Grand Traverse County Commission on Aging.

Durga said projections for 2030 show the demand almost doubling. Waitlists for outdoor yard maintenance, heating bill subsidies, and transportation are her biggest concerns.

"When we look at the numbers for the year 2030, 31 percent of our county's population is projected to be 60 or older; right now that number hovers at about 18 percent," said Durga, whose five senior centers and 41 staff serve 7,500 seniors per year with a $2.9 million budget.

Although asking taxpayers to increase the COA's millage will be an option in three years, Durga said the board still needs to "weigh it out."

"Millages aren't a popular option, but at some point we will have to raise it a tenth," she said. "We are very much at the mercy of our taxpayers."

Beyond services, an already tight local real estate market is even tighter when it comes to in-town, one floor housing, a combination often sought after by those in their late 70s and beyond.

Local Realtors, who are currently enjoying a market that is up 16.5 percent from 2012, say that those in their 50s and 60s should begin planning ahead-even 10 years in advance.

"First and foremost, this group is looking for proximity to doctors and health care. Many of these people have come in from raising family on the numerous lakes in our area and now want to be close to town, shopping, and restaurants," said Sharon Edson, a Realtor with Real Estate One Traverse City. "The typical retiree will start planning [for this change] anywhere from one to 10 years ahead."

Condo sales have jumped nearly 25 percent since 2010, when 156 were sold in Grand Traverse County. In 2012, 190 were sold, and 152 have sold this year through August, Edson said.

Nonetheless, the 25-year home sales veteran said that transitional housing will become even more important as retirees age.

"There are presently at least two complexes that encompass condos with the ability to transition to an assisted care facility, then full nursing care if needed," Edson said. "I feel this trend will continue to grow."

Although local transitional care companies have mushroomed in response to those who want to stay in their home for as long as possible, declining health, falls, and dementia do push many into assisted care living, which is facing its own set of problems.

Orchard Creek Health Care is the area's most comprehensive facility, with 126 rooms and units. The 15-year-old Cherry Bend Road campus features apartments, assisted living, adult foster care and skilled nursing, and has a yearlong waitlist, said Donna Whitney, assistant director of nursing and admissions coordinator.

"There's always a waitlist; [developer Richard Meyer] talks about expanding but he might do something different in a different area," she said. "[These expansion plans] might change as more people, especially the Baby Boomers, choose to stay longer in their own homes, however."

Three new developments capitalizing on the independent, but aging, Boomer spirit are in the works: The Victorian on Munson Avenue, projected to have 30 assisted living rooms; Waters Edge on U.S. 31 in Acme, projected to have 27 assisted living rooms; and Cordia Senior Living at the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, projected to have 109 units with 15-20 designated as assisted care.

Developer Bill Clous, who is constructing the first two, says that he has "paid a lot of attention" to the Baby Boomer bell curve.

"This group has been a focus for us for a long time," said Clous, whose company is renovating two former hotel properties that he has owned for many years. "We are very aware of the needs this group will have and have been planning for it."

Clous and business partner Debbie Banton formed Senior Care Facilities, LLC three years ago after building Banton's own assisted care facility, Country Pleasures. All three facilities-The Victorian, Water's Edge, and Country Pleasures-fall under the LLC; all three are private pay and, without marketing, have filled up as the private rooms have been finished.

Banton, who is affiliated with Bay Area Senior Advocates, says that there is a general concern among her associates about the area's ability to keep up with the projected demand on housing, services, and transportation needs.

"Everything is a major concern," she said. "The demand for our housing was instantaneous; we were filling a room a day."

Clous, whose 350-sq.-ft. living spaces include access to a chef, hospice care, skilled nursing, activities, and more, sees a greater need on the horizon.

"The demand among that group is ever increasing," he said. "You watch the market, it's going to warrant all those rooms and then some."