25 November 2009

Villagers Can't Get Enough of Sarah Palin

Palin stops in Fla. town that feted her in 2008

Tue Nov 24, 5:45 pm ET

THE VILLAGES, Fla. – Sarah Palin, who says the 2012 presidential election isn't on her radar, took her "Going Rogue" book tour to the biggest of the battleground states Tuesday, including a stop in the retirement community where tens of thousands of people gave her star treatment in the 2008 presidential election.

The crowd was far smaller than when she made a September 2008 campaign stop as Republican John McCain's running mate, but no less passionate for the former Alaska governor. About 700 people, some who arrived a full 24 hours before the signing, waited for Palin as country music blared. Several signs encouraged her to run for president in 2012.

When she arrived, the crowd chanted "Sarah! Sarah!" She made brief remarks — including a gleeful "You can read my story thus far — unfiltered by the media!" She sat down to a Fox News interview, during which there were shouts of "We love you Sarah! We love you and we want you to be president!" and, "Take back the Constitution! And the Bill of Rights!"

The Villages is a massive, heavily Republican retirement community about 60 miles northwest of Orlando that draws huge crowds for political events. About a month after McCain picked her as his running mate, a crowd that would make some college football teams envious sweated for hours in 92-degree heat to hear her speak for 23 minutes. Some waited 90 minutes for a parking space.

Palin remembered the day.

"Oh my goodness this is a blast," she said. "We had such a great time here on the campaign trail. We said, 'If we ever come back to Florida we have to make sure that we're stopping here.' There's something very special about this place. You just are all so energetic and so inspiring and encouraging."

The feeling was mutual for those waiting for a signature.

"I haven't been eating properly, I couldn't sleep last night at all. I was too excited," said Victoria Dye, 81, of Richfield Springs, N.Y., who is wintering in The Villages. Dye arrived at Barnes & Noble at 6:45 p.m. Monday planning to buy the book and return the next day, but then she saw people already lined up. "I said, 'Well, I guess I better get a chair."

Her friend went home to get the chair while Dye stayed on the sidewalk.

"She's the ultimate woman. She is an amazing human being. I like everything she says and she speaks with sincerity," said Dye, a Republican. "I know good politicians and I know bad ones. She happens to be a good one."

Linda Garrison, 59, splits her years between a house in The Villages and a home in Anchorage, Alaska. She has bumped into Palin at a used clothing store and other events back home, but still slept on the concrete to be one of the first people in line to get her book signed.

"You'd see her in there shopping just like anybody else. You see, Alaska is a different type of a state. You can pick up the phone and personally talk to the governor without too much hassle," Garrison said.

So why sleep on a sidewalk to get her signature? "It's a matter of respect," she said.

Unlike most people at the event, Garrison, a Republican, wasn't sure she wanted Palin to run for president in 2012. She thinks it might be better if she waits until 2016.

"It's very hard to defeat an incumbent, no matter what the economy is doing," she said. "It might not be her time in 2012. That might just be a little premature. She is still a young woman. I hope at some point she runs."

University of South Florida political science professor Susan MacManus walked through the crowd talking to people to get a sense of why they loved Palin.

"They're just angry at government and Sarah Palin to them is someone who can speak her mind and she's not part of the establishment," MacManus said. "She represents in their minds their viewpoint about what's wrong with government."

Palin also had stops in Jacksonville and Orlando.

Copyright © 2009 Yahoo! Inc. All rights reserved.

22 November 2009

Ave Maria Newspaper -- all the news that's fit to print....

[[Imagine -- a developer is excited about his own development and optimistic about its success!]]

Pulte Homes "Really Positive" About Future of Ave Maria
Friday, 20 November 2009 15:37

Pulte Homes is making significant new commitments to marketing areas of Ave Maria, the company's president for Southwest Florida, Ryan Marshall, told The Ave Herald.

The first new initiative, Mr. Marshall said, is introducing 10 new models for the town's Del Webb section. Model homes will be built in an area where Pulte has broken ground next to the golf course, behind the cafe (right, in photo by Jo Ellen Monahan)

"We are really positive about the future of the community and see it as a long-term investment," Mr. Marshall said. Del Webb is the company's immediate priority for Ave Maria, Mr. Marshall said, because the "active adult" market has proven to be more resilient to the decline in the housing market overall....

-- For the rest of the article, please visit this link:

09 November 2009

Lawsuit alleges discrimination at Idaho Active Adult development

Idaho Business Review
Lawsuit claims federal fair housing law violations
Posted: Monday, November 9, 2009

The Intermountain Fair Housing Council is suing The Orchards at Fairview Condominium Association, claiming the company and its real estate firm violated federal housing discrimination laws two years after the council explicitly warned the developer about the marketing of the condo project.

The council, a Boise-based nonprofit, filed a lawsuit in federal court Oct. 15 against the association and real estate firm Windermere Real Estate/ Capital Group Inc.

The suit alleges that the companies violated the Fair Housing Act by pitching the development as an “active adult community” and discouraging families with children from living there. It also says the development maintained an unlawful restriction on group homes that would serve the mentally and physically disabled.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on familial status or handicap in the sale and rental of homes.

“There’s no such thing as an ‘active adult community’ to be advertised,” said Richard Mabbutt, the council’s executive director, in an interview. “We discussed that quite frankly.”

Court papers say Mabbutt contacted and met with Orchards developer Mike Dixon after an Oct. 5, 2005 article in the Idaho Statesman described the property as “a 42-unit ‘empty nester’ subdivision.”

Dixon told Mabbutt the term “empty nester” was “the reporter’s choice of words” and that the development was open to families with minor children and not age-restricted, court papers say. He also said the property would include a playground even though the site plans didn’t include one.

Mabbutt warned against use of the word “adult” in advertising and other materials.

A March 7, 2005 article in the Idaho Business Review also included a comment from Dixon that described the condos as “suited for the empty-nester market.”

On May 14, 2007, Mabbutt saw a sign on the property that described it as an “active adult condominium community.” That prompted him to send several testers to the property to investigate if there was a pattern of discrimination.

On May 16, 2007, a tester met with Mary Liese, a Windermere agent who was handling the sale of units at the time. The suit claims that Liese made discriminatory statements, such as “we prefer people 55 and over,” and noted that the complex does not have a playground. She also provided a list of rules that included a prohibition on swing sets, unaccompanied minor children using the pool and teenage parties at the community center.

Another tester returned a week later and picked up a document listing the complex’s covenants, conditions and restrictions, which included a prohibition on “group homes … or any similar type of lodging, care or treatment facility.”

The council filed an administrative complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on Sept. 7, 2007. It withdrew the complaint on Jan. 24, 2008 so it could later file the lawsuit.

The suit is seeking $56,000 in actual and punitive damages and $34,500 in other expenses. It also asks for the establishment of a $273,500 victims’ compensation fund to repay unidentified victims.

Steve Osburn, Windermere broker and owner, said in a statement that his company represented the Orchards complex for a two-year period starting in about January 2007. He said Windermere successfully sold homes to people of all ages and familial status and that a pattern of discrimination never existed.

He said the lawsuit’s claims about Liese are “simply false” and that she denies making discriminatory statements.

“Furthermore, we only get paid when we successfully close a sale,” he said. “What motivation would Ms. Liese have to limit potential buyers as they suggest?”

The Orchards at Fairview was built on the site of a former BMC West warehouse and includes single-story condos ranging from 1,271 to 1,935 square feet, a clubhouse and pool. Dixon sold the Fairview complex and a similar development, The Orchards at Cloverdale, to partners Mike Keller and Ev Davis in 2008.

A message left with the Orchards was not returned.

Ken Nagy, the lawyer representing the council, said there is a way for communities to be set up as age-restricted under the Fair Housing Act.

“They have to do that consistently, and they have to be set up that way,” he said. “This community didn’t do it that way. It has consistently marketed itself as a community that is attractive to an older group of residents, and they were warned early on about that.”
© 2009 Idaho Business Review

04 November 2009

Trend: No Trick or Treating at many 55+ Adult Communities


Halloween how-to: Try these tricks so you can enjoy treats
Linda Shrieves
Sentinel Staff Writer
October 31, 2009

Halloween may be a kid's favorite holiday (after Christmas, of course). Kids know what to do, but what about adults? Here's the skinny on the hottest neighborhoods for trick-or-treating, the best treats and what time it's OK to turn out the lights.

Best trick-or-treating areas

Live in a neighborhood where there aren't many trick-or-treaters — or people handing out candy? You can head to malls or community events — or follow the lead of candy-hungry trick-or-treaters and head for well-heeled communities with reputations for giving out more chocolate and less candy corn. Not that we'd do that (because frankly, it's a pain to drive around with kids on a sugar high) but some choice neighborhoods include Celebration, Hunter's Creek or Waterford Lakes (where there are more kids per capita than any other place in Central Florida). Translation: They're used to kids there.

One of the best

Dommerich Hills in Maitland, where the streets are teeming with kids. For years, the neighbors in this subdivision have put on what appears to be one heck of a street party. Said resident John Deroo: "It's the biggest neighborhood party I've ever seen. One guy has a popcorn machine; another guy makes snow cones. They all try to outdo each other."

Trick-or-treating deluxe

In Isleworth, the ritzy subdivision that's home to Tiger Woods and Shaquille O'Neal, the mansions are so far apart that kiddies in costume go trick-or-treating in golf carts. Not only do they dress up the kids, but some families also decorate their carts — as the Flintstones' mobile or a circus train, replete with clowns.

Trick-or-treating to the oldies

Thinking about trick-or-treating in a 55-plus community? Fuhgeddaboutit. Even The Villages, the huge retirement community in Lake and Sumter counties, stopped having its annual trick-or-treating event for kids several years ago. "I don't see too many kids around here," said one employee. "Except when the grandkids are visiting."

Are you ever too old to trick or treat?

Apparently not. In an informal e-mail survey of moms, we found none would turn away teens or college students — as long as they are dressed in costume. Even those who show up at her doorstep without a costume get some candy, said Orlando mom Barbara Jones, though it "may be something my daughter got and does not like."

Candy or healthy goodies?

Are you handing out raisins or apples or little bags of peanuts? Good for you, but you're in the minority. Eighty-two percent of Americans hand out bite-size candy bars and 45 percent hand out multiple types of candy treats, such as miniature candy bars, lollipops, gummy candy and non-chocolate candies, according to marketing firm NPD Group. Breaking from that tradition is Gail Hill Smith, an Orlando mom and health counselor, who hands out boxes of raisins, peanuts in shells and individually wrapped toothbrushes. (Don't egg her house, please.)

Be prepared, people

Most Americans say they buy enough candy to prepare for Halloween. But 25 percent admit they often run out of treats. When the supply of candy runs out, they either turn off the porch lights and refuse to answer the door, or they run out to buy more, or scavenge around for other food or coins to hand out. And, yes, some hand out the candy their kids have just collected. (Shame on you, parents!)

Lights out!

What's an acceptable time to turn off the porch light and douse the jack-o'-lantern? Local moms turn off the lights around 9 p.m., sometimes a little later if Halloween falls on a weekend (as it does this year).

Linda Shrieves can be reached at 407-420-5433 or lshrieves@orlandosentinel.com.
Copyright © 2009, Orlando Sentinel

02 November 2009

Awakening the inner "frisky" -- from a NJ newspaper...

November 1, 2009

Being frisky at 70 isn't a problem

Dear Dr. Marcia: My husband of 45 years and I are pushing 70. When we retired a few years ago, we moved to an active-adult community, and we've never felt better. We're in great shape and exercise every day.

This has made my husband quite frisky, and even when we are out with friends, he jokes about how "active" we are and is always grabbing me and joking around. I get embarrassed, but he doesn't care. Even our adult kids tell him they don't want to know.

What can I do?

-- Sincerely, Blushing

Dear Blushing: Please tell me you wrote this to brag, because if you didn't, you must be kidding! Tell your kids to deal with it. Any of your friends who think it's disgusting are just jealous.


Poignant reader email -- one of my favorites

Dear Mr. Blechman,

I just finished reading “Leisureville” and I’d like to thank you for writing such an intelligent and entertaining book. Your work reminds me of Joel Garreau’s “Edge City” insofar as it strains to describe a phenomenon in a balanced way while still making your own concerns quite clear. As much as I enjoy James Howard Kunstler’s rants, he’s never been accused of moderation, but that’s what makes him so endearing. There were also hints of Jane Jacobs' later works, "Systems of Survival" and "Dark Age Ahead". “Leisureville” closely resembles a geriatric version of Setha Low’s “Behind the Gates” (although I admit your writing style is a bit better). Ms. Low was primarily concerned with the social and political fragmentation and mistrust that inevitably results from the self-segregation of gated suburban enclaves.

As a young man I fled the suburbs of the Jersey shore and ultimately settled in San Francisco. A few weeks ago I returned to Toms River, New Jersey to visit my mother who now lives in Holiday City. I talked to her about how she likes her new living arrangement. She said it was a mixed bag. Safe. Clean. Affordable. Lonely. Dull. Restrictive. She confirmed all the stereotypes about sex-crazed neighbors and rule obsessed committees. I had lobbied very hard for her to come and live with me in California citing the cultural offerings and free accommodations, but she ultimately wanted to stay near my sisters and brother and all the grandkids in Jersey. She also wanted to live independently. Fair enough.

As an adolescent I had plenty of contact with the elderly residents of these ever-expanding adult communities. I did housekeeping and gardening chores for many retirees as a way to earn money for college (Rutgers ’96). I enjoy the company of old people so it was a good fit. And to be honest, the generation I was dealing with back then was more likable than the new crop of boomers. They were savers and planners. They had survived the Depression and war. They told stories of how they were smuggled out of Poland “just in time”, or described burning their dining room furniture one piece at a time to keep their Brooklyn tenement warm through the winter. These people didn’t need plastic surgery or granite counter tops. They appreciated the fact that they had good food, a tidy home in the country, and money in the bank at a time in life when their own parents had been destitute. Boomers? Not so much…

I have very few fond memories of my early years in the suburbs. My family was working class and just barely managed to stay afloat. The suburbs are predicated on the concept that if you can't afford your own detached home and private vehicle, you don't belong. Public transport is considered a form of communism. Suburbia is a pay-per-view environment: private country clubs, summer camp, dance lessons, music lessons. Even the beaches in New Jersey are privately owned and charge admission. We couldn't afford any of that. To save money for college I rode a bicycle everywhere and I can't tell you how many times as a young man I was pulled over by the police and questioned. I would ask what I had done wrong, and they would always say that riding a bicycle along the highway, especially after dark or in bad weather, was suspicious. The unspoken message was that only the poor and undesirables do that sort of thing, so they needed to see what was in my backpack. Books usually. They always seemed so befuddled and sent me on my way with a warning. Nerd. Guilty as charged...

I hadn’t been back to Toms River for fifteen years. (I preferred to pay for airline tickets so my mom could visit me in California instead). I was reminded why I left. When I was a kid, the small historic downtown of Toms River still had a working movie theater, a shoe store, restaurants, and a dress shop. All that fell away by the time I graduated high school as strip malls and chain stores chewed up the landscape outside of town. The only things that remained were the government buildings since Toms River was the county seat. Now, most of the old buildings aren’t even there anymore. Little by little they were removed as the roads were widened and parking lots were installed. Downtown is just another kind of mall now, this one devoted to municipal services. Two hundred years of history were paved over so commuters could get through town and make a right hand turn forty five seconds faster.

When I express my concerns about sprawl people often suggest that San Francisco is an anomaly and out of step with how most Americans want to live. After all, nothing like a compact mixed use city has been built anywhere in the country for a hundred years now. I respond by saying that a hundred years from now San Francisco will still be well populated and vibrant. I don’t think the same will be true of most cul de sacs and strip malls. Most of the suburbs will have become mulch by then.

Again, many thanks for your good work.

- John S.

25 September 2009

Reader email (from an architect designing integrated housing)

Dear Mr. Blechman:

I wanted to drop you a quick note to let you know how much I enjoyed reading Leisureville. It was humorous while raising very real concerns about how we as a society engage, or disengage, with each other especially during the retirement years.

As an Architect on Cape Cod who designs a wide range of community facilities (ie, community & senior centers, libraries, churches etc..) and housing from modest single family homes to multi-unit and affordable housing developments, I am always interested in housing trends and the social forces which affect the design process and how people live, work and socialize.

Our firm has had the good fortune over the last few years to have aligned with a local non-profit housing developer (Housing Assistance Corp.) to design and build several housing developments and our team discussions are always about "fostering community" among the "age integrated" residents and building well designed and environmentally responsible housing.

After reading your book, it made me appreciate all the more that we are living in and developing real community buildings and housing for real people "warts and all". Developing affordable housing for lower income individuals and families is a real challenge and NIMBYism, even here on Cape Cod is alive and well. Your book has helped to re-energize my work.

Rick F
Yarmouthport, MA

Making Suburbia More Livable

"The nation's sprawling suburbs may have been a good place to grow up, but they're a tough place to grow old. Here's how towns are beginning to 'retrofit' their neighborhoods—and what your community might look like in the future."
-- The Wall Street Journal

Builders of homes for younger retirees still adjusting to downturn

14 September 2009

More interesting reader comments

An excerpt from a reader who lives in an age-segregated community in San Diego.


"Our 55+ is now 25 years old, and there is serious conflict between what is called the "young-old" group (the next generation recently moved in) vs. the "old-old" group who were the community founders (and are close to very old age). The younger group wants to keep it active and believes that it is just a stage before eventually moving to non-active retirement living. The older group wants to put in/keep in place substantial elements of assisted living."
There is one more item that may be only a peculiarity to our community (unlikely) and that is: Stealing is a problem for the elderly; leave an item unattended and it is very likely to disappear. (I have personally lost two jackets, golf clubs accidently left around the greens, kitchen items brought to pot lucks, etc.) these are not destitute people so it must be for the thrill of it or the attention one gets when caught. (and there is almost no consequence to an older person for getting caught.) the only conclusion I can reach is that there are a number of lonely, unhappy people isolated in their retirement utopias.


31 August 2009

Reader email defending their chosen lifestyle

Mr. Blechman,

You are to be commended for tackling a tough subject in a thorough and responsible manner. Your book was a good read, filled with interesting perspectives.

I might suggest you consider a sequel to Leisureville and visit our community, Sun City Hilton Head. While the last chapter in your book covers all the arguments we've heard against active adult communities, you did not capture what we are experiencing. We have a high percentage of volunteerism inside and outside our gates; a strong security system that affords residents' their privacy and safety; exposure to cultural activities in nearby Savannah, Hilton Head and Bluffton. We are an ethnically mixed community. Most of us recognize our families experience busy lifestyles and we must establish our own in a new setting. Most of us take an active interest in the realities of the outside world. Hundreds of us volunteer in nearby schools, interact with children there, take part in our respective religious institutions outside our gates, go to Chamber of Commerce meetings to hear speakers about local development, and business opportunities. We're actively participating in our nearby community, yet socializing mostly with those with whom we have commonalities. Many of us are active in the community's governance, serving on committees and encouraging volunteerism.

We have deep discussions about the topics you touch upon. Most of us here have never been happier in our whole lives and for the first time since our busy professional days, we have the time and inclination to enjoy nature, appreciate different perspectives, explore new interests and avail ourselves of wonderful educational opportunities at our nearby University. We really love it here.

Just as an aside, our son is a sociologist and harbored your sentiments when he first heard of our plans to move here. We said it's a "gated community." His response: "Oh good grief, you know that's code for ethnic exclusion." He visited and learned he was wrong. Although, like you, he can't fathom a community sans children and calls it "unreal" like a college campus or an enclave outside the real world, he admits now that he is happy to see us in an environment where we are so happy and busy. All our children seem pleased this community offers a support system and genuine neighborly interest.

I wanted to share my thoughts with you and I hope you will explore Leisureville concerns further and particularly in this incredible community we call Paradise..

Ellie (and Bob) Dixon
Sun City Hilton Head, SC

CNN: Market seemingly improving for Age-Segregated Communities

25 August 2009

Interesting Reader Email about School Funding

Dear Mr. Blechman,

I just finished reading your book, Leisureville. I am a sixty seven year old retiree who lives in Natick, MA and my wife and I have a small condo in an " age qualified" older gated community in Fort Myers, Florida. I absolutely loved your book. I think it is the best book I have read in a long ,long time. You are a great writer, and you certainly know how to capture attention. Fortunately, my condo complex in Fort Myers and the people there are nothing like the Villages and their residents.

One story I would like to relate to you is as follows. I am a twenty five year elected town meeting representative in the town of Natick, and I remember a few years back we were discussing at Town Meeting whether we should support an override to build a new middle school in town. The town seemed to be divided between the older residents, and the young parents in town.

The older residents were resisting the school override, and the young parents were trying to get support for the schools. On the night of the vote, the young parents showed up in droves, but unfortunately many of them were not elected town meeting members, so they couldn't vote that night. When the discussion, and the vote looked like it would go against the young parents, I got up and told the story that many years ago, when I was a young parent and a town meeting rep, the town was closing schools everywhere in town, and trying to cut the school budget at town meeting in all ways possible, I had made a speech urging the older town meeting reps to help us young parents, and they did. Then I said that now, twenty five years later, I found myself in a new position. Now, I was the older town meeting rep being asked to support the schools. The premise of my argument that night was that one generation must support the next generation, just as I, and other parents, were helped by town meeting twenty five years prior. I told the town meeting that it was our obligation to support the schools, just as you said in your book. I am happy to report that the schools did get the support that night.


Nick DiMasi

05 August 2009

Leisureville interview on WBUR (Boston Public Radio)

Scroll down to "Behind the Gates of a Retirement Community" and then hit the "listen" tab. Enjoy.

17 July 2009

Another article on The Villages' grande IRS problem

Communities sold like Baseball Cards to highest bidder

NOTE: Even more interesting are the reader comments. Apparently the developer has reneged on many of its promises to the community -- not surprising when a "community" is a privately owned for-profit entity, as discussed in Leisureville.

Reader Comments: http://regulus2.azstarnet.com/comments/index.php?id=300964

$8M buys unfinished Hovnanian retirement hub in Vail for Pulte
By Josh Brodesky
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 07.15.2009

For all of $8 million, Pulte Homes has purchased an unfinished retirement community in Vail, picking up hundreds of home lots as well as a 14,000 square-foot lodge, two swimming pools, 12 model homes and tennis courts, among other amenities.
Some economists and housing experts have said such fire-sale deals are a key part of the housing recovery, hinting at a bottom as builders and investors move back into the market.

Pulte closed on the deal Tuesday with K. Hovnanian Homes, the original developer of Four Seasons at Rancho del Lago, an active community for residents age 55 and up.

Hovnanian launched the community in February 2008 — despite the housing downturn — planning to build about 500 homes with prices starting in the upper $180,000s. But it only built about 35 homes and finished about 280 lots. Hovnanian's stock has been trading around $2.20 a share.

With the change in ownership, Pulte has renamed the community Del Webb at Rancho del Lago, although the builder will continue to offer Hovnanian's floor plans. Over time, Pulte said it may bring on its own floor plans.

Although new-home construction is at a veritable standstill, Pulte is banking on a growing demand for active retirement housing as more and more baby boomers retire. The recession may slow down that process by years, but the price of the deal, which was paid in cash, gives Pulte plenty of time.

"It was a great deal," said Shawn Chlarson, Pulte's Tucson division president. "As a location, the Vail submarket is physically beautiful. There is a lack of active adult competition down the I-10 corridor."

Pulte management could not be specific about pricing other than saying homes will start in the "mid-100s."

For some time, Pulte had been looking to return to the active community market in Tucson, relying heavily on its well known Del Webb brand.

"I think it's as ideal a vehicle as we could possibly find, short of doing it ourselves, to execute our brand and our lifestyle," Chlarson said.

Amy McReynolds, vice president of operations for Pulte's Tucson division, said Pulte will go about marketing the amenities Hovnanian had already put in — pools, a massive lodge with a gourmet kitchen — as well as its prime location next to the public Del Lago Golf Club.

"Del Webb builds lifestyle communities," she said. "In Tucson we were missing the active adult community, and it's a pretty big profile to not have in Tucson."

Andy Pedersen, regional director of marketing for K. Hovnanian Homes of Arizona, said the nation's sixth-largest builder will "continue to grow throughout Arizona and carry on the tradition of quality, leadership and value."

"Though K. Hovnanian does not have any active communities in the Tucson market, given the acquisition of Four Seasons at Rancho del Lago, we are committed to providing excellent, hands-on customer service to our Tucson homeowners."

To Tim Oakes, designated broker for Del Lago Realty, the biggest selling point for the community is its facilities and amenities, which he described as "absolutely incredible."

Building has stopped in the area, and prices have dropped to the $140,000s, he said. But because of those facilities and eventual growth, "I think it's still a gold mine," Oakes said. "The facilities are great."

More and more, developers and investors are purchasing unfinished developments, which some experts say is a sign the housing market is hitting a bottom.

"I think a lot of (builders) believe there is going to be potential in a couple of years," said Jay Q. Butler, real estate studies director at Arizona State University.

"Pulte, of course, is going to play on the Del Webb name, and, of course, with the aging baby boomers, they feel this is going to be a big growth market in the coming years," Butler said.

University of Arizona economist Marshall Vest said deals like Pulte's or the recent purchase of the unfinished River Walk townhomes development in the Foothills are a key step in forming a bottom for the housing market.

"It is part of the process and it simply reflects that the appetite for risk is returning," he said. "And it's good news because private capital is coming in now and buying up these assets that are really very cheap."

07 July 2009

Interesting Reader Review of Leisureville

Many Baby Boomers, as we draw closer and closer to the magic number that will allow, or maybe require, us to retire from full-time employment, find ourselves at least a little bit tempted to move into one of the hundreds of age-restricted communities that are popping up all over the country. After all, we reason, we have spent a lifetime paying taxes (including school district taxes for decades after the graduation of our last child), commuting to and from work, and tolerating the unruly behavior and noise of all those kids who live next door and down the street. Don’t we deserve to live our last couple of decades in peace and quiet, among people who share our interests and concerns, and away from the noise and clutter of those not as far into life’s journey as we are?

Andrew Blechman became intrigued by the concept of age-restricted communities when two of his neighbors moved from their longtime home in New England to The Villages, a Florida community designed for people wanting to immerse themselves in a lifestyle of leisure activities and relative isolation from the rest of the world. Blechman became so curious, in fact, that he moved in with his old neighbors for a few weeks to live that lifestyle for himself. Leisureville: Adventures in America’s Retirement Utopias is largely the product of what he learned from the time he spent there.

Anyone considering residence in a community similar to The Villages would be wise to read Blechman’s book because of his firsthand reporting of what it is like to live in a place almost completely dedicated to boiling life’s experiences down to a few simple pleasures. Golfers and those into arts and crafts seem to love the place, as do those who want to cram in as much drinking and sex into the remainder of their lives as possible. But you have other interests, you say? Well, then in all likelihood you will want to avoid the lifestyle offered by The Villages and other communities like it and opt for a more traditional retirement location.

Do you resent being pandered to or brainwashed? If so, you will probably find the community-controlled newspaper, radio and television outlets that pretend that nothing bad ever happens in places like The Villages to be more than a little ludicrous. Even the “reporters” who are supposedly paid to function as news gatherers eventually come to resent all of the censorship necessary to keep smiles on the faces of community residents.

But more importantly, Blechman points out the important social issues that need to be considered before committing to life in any of America’s “Leisurevilles.” Is it right for retirees to yank their support from the communities whose services they have enjoyed for a lifetime? Are they abandoning their generational obligations by deciding not to serve as readily accessible role models to their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren? Now that they have the luxury of so much free time should they be using some of it to better their communities by working for social or structural changes from there?

Those are just a few of the questions that Blechman asks in his book. There are good arguments to be made on both sides of the issue as to whether or not age-restricted settings like The Villages are a good thing or a bad thing. For some people, these communities offer exactly the lifestyle most suited to their retirement years. For others the very thought of moving into such a community is mind numbing, at best, and horrifying, at worst.

Leisureville moved me one giant step closer to deciding what kind of retirement setting will be best for me and my wife. But I also came away from the book with the understanding that, although age-segregated, gated communities have no appeal to us, they will appeal to many others – and are absolutely perfect for some.

Personally, I am certain that we would be bored in a community where golf, alcohol and casual sex are such prominent parts of the lifestyle that everything else seems secondary. For us it is more important to remain close to family and to enjoy the benefits of living in a diverse community with so much more to offer than golf courses, bars and community centers. I sincerely believe that aging is as much mental as it is physical, and that the mental part is much easier to govern while surrounded by family, a diverse group of fellow citizens and neighbors, museums, university access, and live sports and entertainment choices.

04 July 2009

Email from a former Villages employee -- quite interesting!

Dear Mr. Blechman,

I just finished reading "Leisureville," and it inspired me to write you. I worked for The Villages in the "old days," in the 1980s and '90s, for what was then The Orange Blossom Sun.

As such, I was fascinated -- and disturbed -- by your interview with the young reporters now working for the Daily Sun. The idea of discarding back issues of the paper, destroying one's reporting notes and having one's computer routinely scrubbed by the company would have been unthinkable to us.

Harold Schwartz's philosophy was to hire good people to run his departments, then stay out of their way. At the Sun, that person was our publisher, an Orange Blossom Gardens (OBG for short) resident named Adelaide Carpenter, a retired journalist from Hawaii. In addition to running stories, press releases and columns written by resident volunteers, our staff covered various happenings within the community, as well as Lady Lake government. When Harold was running things, we were never told what to print, or chastised for reporting events which might cast the developer in an unfavorable light. When someone climbed a fence on the back side of OBG property, stole a golf cart and burglarized a number of houses, we ran the story without being censored.

That changed when Harold bowed out from running the company day-to-day in about 1994, and Gary Morse took over, after the community had been renamed The Villages. At one point, Gary decided he wanted to de-annex the original Orange Blossom Gardens section from Lady Lake to form his own government (this was before the CDD was formed). We were told that an entire issue of the paper was to be devoted to presenting a clearly biased, one-sided presentation of the issue favorable to the developer. To her credit, Ad Carpenter resisted, and went to Harold with her objections. Eventually, a compromise was reached in which we were allowed to cover the story from both sides in the body of the paper, but a special four-page insert pushing de-annexation was published. When the referendum came, the majority of residents in the Lady Lake portion of The Villages voted to remain tied to the city. I'd like to think our straight reporting had something to do with that.

I'm also proud to say that we were not intimidated by Gary, who Ad derisively called "H. God." At one point, Gary said to us, "I'm not spending all this money so you can play newspaper." To which Ad responded, "We're professionals. We're not playing."

Ultimately, of course, Gary won, and not just in our department. At the Recreation Department, which had been run since the beginning of Harold's involvement in OBG by a pair of twin sisters named Cricket and Janet Jordan, Gary installed the wife of the corporate attorney in a specially created position to "supervise" the Jordans. Eventually, Gary convinced Harold that the Jordans had been disloyal to him and were working to subvert his vision of The Villages -- which wasn't true -- and they were fired. The employees who had worked for years with the Jordans either got fired themselves or resigned in protest. One Rec Department underling who survived the blood-letting was a relative newcomer, an enthusiastic but, to my recollection, none-too-bright young man named John Rohan. Yes, that John Rohan.

Similar blood-lettings occurred in all the departments, as people loyal to Harold were let go. Eventually, that included Ad and me. We tried to start our own independent newspaper, but were unable to secure financing. Eventually, I pursued a career opportunity in the Florida Keys. Four years later, I received a call from Ad telling me she had been diagnosed with cancer, but was optimistic she could beat it. Less than a month later, her daughter called me to tell me Ad had passed away.

At the end of "Leisureville," you speculate about what H. Gary Morse might think about what he has wrought. I knew the man fairly well. I suspect what was true then is true now: He pays lip-service to playing by the rules, but he's not above changing the rules when it suits his purposes. Harold was gregarious. He cared about the residents, he identified with them, and he enjoyed mingling with them. He would never have had a private skybox put into the movie theaters. Gary, on the other hand, sees the residents as a necessary nuisance. If he could find a way to make millions of dollars off The Villages without catering to them, he'd do it. He cares about no one but himself, and about nothing but the bottom line.

Harold wanted to build a community where working class retirees could buy in for a modest price and live like millionaires. Gary wants a community where you have to be a millionaire to gain entry.

I apologize for rambling, but your book sparked all these memories. One last story to illustrate Gary's persona and how he sees the elements of the empire he has created as mere tools to serve his own ends:

In 1992, when Bill Clinton made his first run for the presidency, he made one of his famous "Bus Tours" through Central Florida, starting in Daytona Beach, heading over to Orlando, then coming north to Ocala. His route would take him up Highway 441, the highway which cuts through the heart of The Villages. We thought it would be a good story for us if we could arrange a stop at The Villages. Ad called Rep. Everett Kelley, the State Representative who helped get the golf cart bridge built (and who was a Democrat at the time), and he thought it would be a good opportunity for Mr. Clinton to address seniors' issues, so he arranged it. Clinton drew a good-sized crowd, and The Villages TV station's anchor, Kevin Coughlin, and his cameraman somehow evaded the Secret Service cordon, mixed in with the press corps covering Clinton, and got an interview with him. Needless to say, they were proud of their coup, and kept it in the news loop for a couple of weeks. Then one day Gary called the head of VNN. He had seen the interview of Clinton still running on the station, and he was furious: "Get that son of a bitch off my TV station!" The interview was pulled immediately.

We knew that was the beginning of the end for us.

Thank you for writing this book.

23 June 2009

Economy makes roommates of elders and their adult children

Economy makes roommates of elders and their adult children
acreamer@sacbee.com / JUN. 23, 2009

At 105, Eddith Moehr is on the cutting edge of a trend.

When she moved in with her daughter, 76-year-old Doris Beresford of North Natomas, at the end of 2007, Moehr became one of the 3.6 million older parents sharing living quarters with their adult children – a number that U.S. census figures indicate has increased 55 percent since 2000.

"I got a new roommate for my birthday in 2007," said Kathy Mullen, 60, who married Beresford last year.

"What a present!" said Beresford.

"Doris' mom is a treasure," said Mullen. "I'd like to be as gracious as she is about being old."

Sitting in her wheelchair at the kitchen table with them, Moehr sips chocolate Ensure and basks in their attention.

"Thank you," she said. "That's nice. Thank you, thank you."

California trails only Hawaii in its percentage of multigenerational family households, according to AARP statistics. Beyond cultural norms, tough economic conditions often play a part in families' decisions to house or move in with their elders.

At the same time, retirement communities and upscale assisted living centers that once had long waiting lists find themselves slammed with vacancies, says the National Investment Center for the Seniors Housing & Care Industry.

The problem? Plummeting home prices have discouraged seniors from cashing out of their existing homes.

Given a choice, most seniors would prefer to continue living independently. But among health issues, economic pressures and diminishing public resources, that's not always possible.

Census figures show that California's elderly population is exploding twice as fast as the rest of the state's population – and it's expected to grow even faster as the baby boom generation continues aging. Yet proposed state budget cuts could slash services that help the elderly stay in their own homes.

"There will be more families put in a caregiving situation if we see cuts to home and community-based services," said AARP California's Christina Clem. "Families can help each other."

They may have to.

"People assume that older people in adult day care will end up in nursing homes one day," said Will Tipton, planner for the Area 4 Agency on Aging in Sacramento. "That's probably not an accurate expectation. There aren't a lot of Medi-Cal beds available in nursing homes.

"What's most likely is that Grandma or Grandpa will end up on your doorstep."

The challenges of multigenerational living can range from loss of privacy and financial independence to concerns about the stresses of caregiving.

"An active and able older person can be quite an asset in interacting with older children," said Area 4 Agency on Aging's Pat McVicar. "But that's not always the case. Sometimes, it's an added stress to the family."

For Beresford, the addition of her mother to the household is a pleasure rather than a burden.

"Having Mom here has really enriched our lives," said Beresford, a retired psychotherapist. "It feels like we're this family – more of a family than before. It's been quite an experience watching Kathy take care of my mother and seeing how loving she is."

An Ohio native, Moehr moved to Vallejo in 1951 with her husband. After he retired from the real estate business, the couple moved to Vacaville, where they volunteered as CPR instructors for 15 years. He died in 1997.

She lived alone in her own house – which she still owns – until she was 103, when Beresford grew concerned about her health.

"Up until that time, Doris would go over every week, and they'd go to Raley's together," said Mullen, a retired Sacramento water superintendent. "Mother would tootle around hanging onto the grocery cart."

Because of Moehr's declining health, she sleeps much of the day and can't be left home alone. She receives services from a local hospice organization as well as respite care from Home Instead Senior Care, a private agency that helps family caregivers.

"She started out here using her walker and being up all day," said Beresford. "We'd have breakfast together. I'd ask if she wanted coffee, and she'd say, 'That would be lovely.'

"These things are precious gifts. I'm so glad I have them."

17 June 2009

BEWARE: This is what happens when your "community" is privately owned -- it can be traded like a baseball card to the highest bidder

What next for Four Seasons?
Published: June 17, 2009

Last month, a development group based in Northern Virginia paid $5 million to take Four Seasons, the upscale 204-acre active adult community in Ruckersville, off the hands of New York’s Manufacturers and Traders Trust Company (M&T).

The bank bought the subdivision at auction on the steps of the County’s courthouse January 22.

The sale of Four Seasons by M&T to Charlottesville Land Development Group, LLC of Vienna went through at the end of May. But ownership of its plush multi-million dollar clubhouse—and other common areas—is yet to be resolved.

Four Seasons’ homeowners association says those areas belong to it. The bank says they go with the sale.

The situation leaves homeowners in a potential financial mess, according to documents obtained by The Record. In an e-mail, the finances of Four Seasons at Charlottesville Community Association Inc. are described by the sender as “in shambles,“ with no funds in its reserve account and payments being delayed to “several vendors.“

The association filed a lawsuit on January 14, just eight days before the bank purchased the subdivision. The lawsuit alleges, among other things, that contradictory statements were published in the notice of sale of Four Seasons. By February 10, Judge Daniel R. Bouton had signed a joint motion for a stay on the lawsuit, so “all parties” could settle their differences.

The documents obtained from the association member last week show that since then, talks between the parties have been ongoing.

The subdivision was proffered in 2004 as a residential development with expectations of up to 650 single-family homes. According to the documents turned over to the Record last week, only 83 homes are currently occupied.

The documents show that if only residents contribute to the current maintenance costs, each would have to pay roughly $650 per month to maintain the common areas.

“The fact is,“ say those documents, “in the coming days we may well face some major decisions. If so, then we will either make them consciously, or they will be made for us.“

Two of those decisions, according to the documents, are whether or not to drop the continuing legal stay, and whether or not to temporarily close the clubhouse.

The 16,000 square foot clubhouse, which includes an indoor pool, is an integral part of the development. Just last month, it was the site for a gathering to celebrate local businesses by the county’s economic development department.

K. Hovnanian Homes first started building in the development in mid-2006. That company’s website describes its active adult communities such as Four Seasons as “private world(s) where … recreation abounds … quality is second to none” and activities are planned year round.

That was the vision many of the current residents are hanging onto.

In the meantime, as part of the lawsuit, the association and the bank disagree as to whether the association’s declaration has been dissolved.

According to the Code of Virginia, a declaration is the instrument that imposes the responsibility for maintenance of the common areas on homeowners associations, and gives those associations the power to impose mandatory payment toward those responsibilities on lot-owners.

According to documents filed in Greene’s Circuit Court, the Four Seasons homeowners association is charged with “owning, operating and maintaining the common area within the property.“ The declaration also states that the association’s ownership of the common area shall be free of liens. At the time the suit was filed, that common area included the clubhouse.

The declaration was part of the proffers offered the county when its Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve the developer’s rezoning request on July 13, 2004. Proffers have the force of zoning law under the Code of Virginia, according to documents filed in the Greene County Circuit Court.

15 June 2009

How Phoenix 55+ Communities are Faring

Real Estate: What happened in Phoenix

Prices in the Arizona desert got hit harder than anywhere else. So can you get your dream retirement home for a song? It depends where you look.

By David Whitford, editor-at-large
June 12, 2009

PHOENIX (Fortune) -- Did you happen to see the latest home-price stats from S&P/Case-Shiller, or did you avert your eyes? Here's what struck me: As of March 2009, every metro area in Case-Shiller's 20-city index, without exception, has fallen double digits from its peak. Ten are down more than 30%. Eight have dropped more than 40%. Las Vegas is down 50%. Phoenix? It doesn't get any worse than Phoenix. According to Case-Shiller, between June 2006 and March 2009 the average house in Phoenix lost a staggering 53% of its value. Possibly during the Great Depression, but almost certainly at no time since then, have house prices in a major metropolitan area fallen by more than half. It's almost unbelievable. Brother, tell me you didn't buy a house during the boom in Phoenix!

I've been to Phoenix twice in the past six months to look at real estate. The first time, in November, I squeezed into a crowded white stretch limo and rode around town all day looking at foreclosures on a tour led by an energetic realtor who wore Chanel sunglasses. Time to buy, she assured us, and who could argue? Prices had come way down. When I went back in May, however, prices were still going down. And while the pace of home sales had picked up, nobody I talked to was ready to call a bottom - not with any conviction anyway. "I think if we reach our toe down, we can kind of feel the bottom," real estate investment adviser Robin Reed, president of ProEquity Management in Scottsdale, told me over lunch at a strip-mall bistro on my first day in town, "but we can't rest solidly on it yet."

My focus on this trip was a little different. I was looking at places where retired people live. I wondered about the specific impact of the bust in those places: How have homeowners fared during the downturn? What are the prospects for newcomers who might want to buy now? To be blunt, are there screaming bargains to be had?

Here are the short answers: Retirement communities in and around Phoenix got smacked ("same as other places," says Reed; "it's real estate") but, in a surprising twist, not as violently as the broader market; the price drops were less dramatic and there haven't been nearly as many foreclosures. Is it a good time to buy? Yes. Will you find a screaming bargain? You might, if you're patient and alert to the peculiar inefficiencies of the retirement market (more on that later), but not as easily as you could elsewhere in Phoenix. That's okay, by the way. Too many bargains implies a market defined, historically, by too much volatility and pain. You don't need that when you retire.

Phoenix is where the seemingly oxymoronic concept of an active retirement was born nearly half a century ago. Today it's famous for its many acres of planned, age-restricted communities built around golf courses, swimming pools, and artificial lakes, where property taxes are low because there aren't any schools (there aren't any kids), yard work is a breeze (yards are all gravel), and street-legal golf carts serve as second cars.

The granddaddy of Arizona retirement meccas and the first development of its kind anywhere in the country, Sun City, turns 50 next year. It was built by the legendary Del Webb, a hard-drinking, nonsmoking former owner of the New York Yankees who made his fortune building military bases (and a Japanese internment camp) in the Southwest during World War II, and later Minutemen missile silos in Kansas and Montana, a 30,000-acre housing development for NASA workers in Houston, the Beverly Hilton, and several Las Vegas casinos. Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Howard Hughes were among his pals.

Sun City was a big hit from the day it opened, Friday, Jan. 1, 1960. In its first weekend, according to an account in Time, Webb sold 272 of the "neat and gay pastel houses" at prices ranging from $8,750 for two bedrooms to $11,600 for three bedrooms and two baths. Phase one was completed in the '60s, phase two in the '70s, phase three in the '80s, block after block of new construction displacing irrigated fields of grapes and cotton, gaily marching north up the valley. In the '90s came Sun City West, Sun City Grand, Corte Bella (that one's gated), and just in the past couple of years, Sun City Festival, which sits 10 miles beyond the western limits of developed greater Phoenix in a dusty, whistling wasteland at the base of the White Tank Mountains.

Today more than 100,000 people live in the combined Sun Cities, on curvy, desert-landscaped streets, interlaced with close-cropped fairways and dotted with lakes and bustling rec centers (supported by a modest annual assessment) where residents, when they're not golfing, can swim, bowl, play shuffleboard, and make pottery and stained-glass trinkets. You (or your roommate) must be at least 55 years old to live here. Children under 19 can visit, but they can't stay longer than three months. The newer the development, the nicer the homes, the classier the amenities, the more you'll pay. (Every house gets garbage pickup twice a week; not all come with fancy granite countertops.) If you're prepared to spend nearly $1 million, you can have two bedrooms, a patio suitable for a presidential fundraiser, and a stunning fairway vista in Sun City Grand. Farther south in phase one, meanwhile, just over $100,000 buys a cozy cottage on 107th Avenue that's walking distance from the Sun Bowl amphitheater, which hosts free outdoor concerts in the spring and fall.

Reed had warned me at lunch that given the economic downturn, the mood in Sun City might be grim. "It's one thing to be 40 or 50 and know that you've got 10 years for the thing to turn back around, and that in the meantime you can go out into the job market, you can do something," he said. "People in their sixties and seventies really can't do that. They're feeling a despair right on the heels of what previously had been kind of a wisdom - 'We've been here before, we know how to batten down the hatches.' For them it was never about consumption. But they did expect their savings to be savings and their investments to be investments and their pensions to be pensions. It went from wisdom to concern and then, in some cases, outright fear."

That may be true for retirees in general, but inside the walls that surround places like Sun City the impact of the downturn is muted. At the Sun City Visitors Center on the corner of 99th and Bell, I meet volunteer greeter Bill Burt, 76. He isn't grim at all. Red-faced and barrel-chested, with a shock of salt-white hair sprinkled with pepper, Burt grew up driving a cotton picker in fields not far from where he now lives. He was a "blood banker" when he still worked, he says, building and managing blood donation centers all around the country. Ten years ago he came home. Burt and his wife bought a duplex condominium in an older section of Sun City. Two years later, in 2001, they sold at a small loss and traded up to a nearby duplex on a lake for $161,000. Then came the boom.

By 2005, if we can believe Zillow.com, the Burts' house was worth more than $300,000. And today? Zillow says $173,000, or 40% below its peak. Burt just grins and shrugs. It was only a paper gain; now it's a paper loss from that high. Meaningless, in other words, unless he decides to sell, which he has no intention of doing. He's happy, his wife's happy. His only regret is that he didn't move to Sun City 10 years earlier. "When people leave here, they usually go out in a box," Burt says. "Or they've been cremated, you know. They go out in a bottle."

According to the latest MLS data, Sun City, while definitely hurting, is a lot better off than its neighbors. The median sales price in April for a single-family dwelling in surrounding Maricopa County (Arizona's populous region that includes Phoenix, Mesa, and Scottsdale) was $125,000, down from $230,000 a year ago. That's 46% in 12 months. Ouch. In Sun City during the same period, home prices fell just 24%. What's killing Maricopa County is foreclosures. Even as home sales rise, cheap, bank-owned properties are flooding the market: 1,042 in April alone, plus 8,396 new pre-foreclosures, where the borrower has stopped paying and the eviction process is underway. Foreclosures during the same month in Sun City? Six, representing an infinitesimal one-hundredth of 1% of Sun City's single-family homes. Fewer foreclosures equals greater stability.

It's a pattern that seems to play out nationally. While there's been little research on how retirement markets have fared specifically, experts say that the same profile - minimal foreclosures, less severe price drops - is true of retirement communities across the country (for more examples, see our gallery of deals across the nation). Says Bill Ness, founder of the retirement website 55places.com: "It is a common understanding among most agents that real estate values have held up better in active adult communities than in other non-age-restricted communities."

There could be a simple explanation for this: Old people aren't as stupid and greedy as young people are. Or maybe they're just not as stupid and greedy as they were when they themselves were younger. "By the time you're retired," says Phil Andrews, 85, a Vietnam vet and 10-year resident of Sun City West, "you've got a little bit of sense about buying a house. You're not going to buy one you can't pay for."

It's true. Ask the local realtors about the exotic variable-rate mortgages that suckered so many younger homebuyers into borrowing more than they could ever hope to repay, and they just shake their heads; not in Sun City. In fact an astonishing 61% of Sun City residents have no mortgage at all. Bob Bleasdell, for example. He's a 73-year-old retired obstetrician who lives in Sun City Grand. The night before the full moon in May, Bleasdell and I sit talking for an hour on his patio at dusk while he smokes a $5 cigar. "I retired in 1995 at 61," Bleasdell says. "If you're going to retire early, you can't have a lot of wives you're paying, you sure as hell can't have kids in college, and you can't have a lot of debt. You gotta get your debt down, get your bills paid, pay for your car. And then when hard times come, you don't participate. My IRA's down 40%; I don't sell it."

Bleasdell and his wife paid $220,000 for their house in 2003. Two years later they might have been able to sell it for $400,000, but why would they do that? Bleasdell likes it here, enjoys sitting outside in sandals and shorts under a soft blue blanket of sky by a blooming palo verde tree, listening to the quail and the doves, calling out to neighbors as they pass. He plays golf three days a week, with three different foursomes, rotating among four different courses, none of which takes more than five minutes to get to in a golf cart he parks in its own little garage. Bleasdell says he has no idea what his house is worth today, and furthermore, he doesn't care. His kids might care someday, he allows, but that's neither here nor there. "We don't owe 'em anything," he says. "I helped buy a house for my daughter. I take my son on fishing trips up to British Columbia. I've done enough for them. If they get anything out of us, it's just a bonus. Don't count on it."

Next day I'm driving around the nicest parts of Sun City with realtor Renee Chipules, trying to get a feel for what's out there. First-quarter sales were down slightly this year, Chipules says, in stark contrast with the rest of Maricopa County, where sales were up 79%. One reason for that we already know: Sun City doesn't have nearly as many foreclosures, which tempt investors and first-time homebuyers with irresistible discounts and are fueling a sharp rebound in sales in some parts of the country. But there's also the ripple effect. No one has to move to a retirement community; when people can't sell their houses back home, they tend to stay put. "It used to be the case that people would come in, buy the house they liked, and feel confident that when they went home their house would sell within 60 or 90 days," Chipules says. Now they're waiting for their homes to sell before plunking down for another. Chipules and other realtors I spoke to think there's a huge, pent-up demand for retirement homes. Once the market recovers nationally, the argument goes, Sun City and other places like it will get a big bump, especially as the coming wave of baby boomers starts to retire.

Chipules shows me three houses - similar sizes (about 3,000 square feet), similar layouts (two or three bedrooms, all on one floor), similar amenities (marble everywhere, hot tubs, curved-glass showers), all of them situated directly on or within sight of a golf course. But the asking prices are all over the map: $425,000 in Sun City West, $699,000 in Corte Bella, and $949,000 in Sun City Grand. Why the disparity?

Well, for the one in Grand, it could be the fairway view; it truly is spectacular. "What's going to happen with that particular piece of property," says Sun City realtor Norm Brenna, who knows the house, "it's going to be somebody who pays cash, and it's going to be somebody who walks in and says, 'This is me, here's my money.' That's where that's going to sell." Still, if this one sells for anything close to what the current owners are asking, it would be shocking; they paid $895,000 near the peak in April 2007.

The one in Corte Bella? Possibly it's overpriced, even fully furnished. Its owners paid $491,000 in June 2006, so they'd be making money too. Not likely, says Brenna: "Everybody I've been involved with over there wants to list way more than they can currently get." That's why things are slow, he says. "If you watch the listings over there, when they sell, they definitely come down in price." And Sun City West for $425,000? A bargain, Chipules believes. Priced to sell at two-thirds of its peak value in late 2007. But the current owner was there long before the big run-up in prices; she's got other houses, and she just wants her equity. Sure enough, after 12 days on the market, she gets an offer at asking price, sale pending.

All of this, says Chipules, is evidence of a turbulent and inefficient market. No one really knows what anything is worth anymore. Some sellers appear to be kidding themselves, even now, though a patient, sober buyer will indeed find bargains, even screamers. (Here's a tip: Heirs are motivated sellers. Says resident Tom Mays: "The kids, they'll probably accept the first offer that comes, just to get out.")

But don't get too excited. Excitement is over in real estate. On the other hand, if you're thinking about moving soon to Sun City or someplace like it, you're in luck. You won't have any trouble finding a terrific house, and it shouldn't cost you nearly as much as it would have just a couple of years ago. Congratulations.

01 June 2009

The BIG OUCH! -- Explained by Lauren Ritchie



'What ifs' for The Villages in IRS fight

Lauren Ritchie


May 31, 2009

Don't even ask, Villagers.

Of course you want to know how your pocketbook will fare in the latest exchanges in the IRS dispute with the government that runs your community. The answer is it's too early to tell.

However, a recent series of letters from the Internal Revenue Service did reveal how the agency wants to solve its problems with the tax-exempt bonds that built much of The Villages and made its developer fabulously rich.

The IRS thinks $448 million borrowed through tax-exempt bonds since 1993 should be taxable. That's because, the agency contends, the community-development districts, which run operations at the retirement community and sold the bonds, don't qualify as "real" governments and shouldn't get tax-free loans as cities and counties do.

District officials say the governments are being operated according to state law, but the IRS contends that the districts are controlled by the developer and the bonds benefited him, not residents. In addition, the transactions were far too cozy and fail to meet federal tests of an "arm's length" transaction.

"If I was a resident of The Villages, I would be outraged," agent Dominick Servadio Jr. wrote to the chairman of the Village Center Community Development District on May 4.

Dramatic and costly step

Finally, someone has just out and said it. The agent is right. Developer Gary Morse's use of the districts over the years could end up crippling the community and tormenting decent people who just want to retire quietly and play golf.

A spokesman for the developer did not return calls for comment.

In the revenue agent's May 18 letter, he urged the districts to take a dramatic and enormously costly step: recall and pay off $355 million worth of outstanding tax-free bonds that paid Morse for everything from golf courses to swimming pools, utility plants to guard houses.

The agency also wants back taxes from one bond issue amounting to

$2.8 million, chump change for the company that posted 2008 revenues of

$696 million, up 9 percent from last year.

And the IRS wants the districts to promise never again to issue tax-free bonds, which would suddenly and drastically turn off the cash tap for Morse and his family, who own The Villages and are still developing it.


Things could be worse

Servadio's suggestion is staggering. But his alternative is even more chilling.

If the two districts — Village Center and Sumter Landing — decide to appeal, the agency will begin officially examining eight more bonds, deepening the districts' possible tax liability to

$16.5 million.

While you're calming the heart rate and sucking down the Valium, here are a few things to consider:

First, this IRS examination is in the negotiation stage. Shortly, however, the agency likely will put its conclusions firmly in writing, starting a 90-day clock for the districts.

District officials then will have to decide whether to appeal the ruling, risking even more extensive IRS scrutiny, or negotiate a settlement that will be expensive.

At the moment, the official word from Village Center District Administrator Janet Tutt is that the district (politely, of course) thinks that the agent is all bluster. It's way too early to even talk about what the district might do, Tutt said.

"The District continues to believe there will be a positive resolution to this issue and at this time there are no further developments to change that belief," Tutt wrote in an e-mail.

OK, now the fantasy portion of the program is concluded.

Incredulous agent

Servadio's recent letters show a degree of disgust with The Villages and its lawyers that is more than warranted.

In the May 4 letter, he accused the district of making a "misleading and incomplete disclosure" in bond documents for a $64 million issue in 2003. He remarked at one point that Villages residents "let the district and the developer off easy" when last year they settled a lawsuit over amenity fees for

$40 million.

And he poked fun at the district's high-paid tax-controversy lawyer who he said submitted to the IRS "a sort of sophisticated version of the I-did-the-homework-but-my-dog-ate- it excuse" when he was forced to admit that appraisers who valued the properties for the sales could not provide backup documents. The California lawyer then asked the appraisers to "recreate" their calculations.

"Issuers of tax-exempt bonds don't get 'do-overs,'" Servadio fired back.

At one point, the agent suggested The Villages engage in a "reality check" when trying to determine whether the Village Center District is a valid issuer of tax-exempt bonds.

"What is the "district?" ... It's really nothing more than a five-member governing board populated with developer employees or related parties that have a history of approving an unlimited amount of tax-exempt bonds to purchase assets from the developer in transactions that in the real world would never pass scrutiny as arm's length transactions.

"This doesn't sound like an entity that the Service wants to be considered as a valid issuer of tax-exempt bonds."

Servadio is no renegade revenuer out to get the Big Republican Money of the Morse family. IRS officials have said publicly and in published documents that one of the agency's goals this year is to closely examine tax-exempt bonds from governments such as the community-development districts of The Villages. So, the orders are coming from the top down, not vice versa. If they weren't, this touchy investigation would have vanished months ago.

Exploring what-ifs

So what might happen if the district takes the IRS suggestion and decides to recall the $355 million that the agency wants out of the bond market?

Bond experts asked earlier this week about the situation were flabbergasted by the amount of money involved. Expect repercussion in the bond markets, they said, if the IRS stands firm. The availability of money to such districts likely would drop and the interest rate that such districts would have to pay would rise, they speculated.

Typically, when the IRS deems tax-exempt bonds as taxable, it demands that bonds be taken off the market. The usual process is that the issuer would go back into the bond market and borrow enough to pay off the first set of bonds. So, theoretically, The Villages could sell, say, $355 million worth of taxable bonds and use the proceeds to pay off the tax-exempt ones.

Two catches: First, is the money available? Bond markets are very tight at the moment, experts said. So maybe, maybe not. Second, do the Village Center and Sumter Landing districts have enough bucks to back the second loan?

The district has two main ways of getting money. First, it receives the amenity fees that residents pay, which totaled $33 million last year.

Second, it has the authority to levy property taxes inside its geographic boundaries. But considering that Morse controls 88 percent of the property in the Village Center District, and the board of supervisors is made up of his employees and business associates, a vote to levy property taxes seems a tad unlikely.

Tricky math

Could the district back a new bond issue using just the $33 million in annual fee collections? Apparently. Consider that roughly half of the amenity fees, about $16 million, go to repay current loans. The other $17 million operates The Villages. The math works only if the new bonds are sold and the old bonds are repaid simultaneously.

Afterward, The Villages likely would have to operate on less money because taxable bonds would cost the district more than tax-free ones.

The other option is that the district decides to get arrogant and fight the IRS. Bond experts didn't even want to speculate what might happen then. Typically, it's just not done for the simple reason that the IRS seldom loses.

God save the golf courses.

What is conspicuously absent from the revenue agent's scenarios is what role Morse might have in this, if any. The agent spent considerable time and energy building a case that the developer is the district, and the district is the developer. If so, shouldn't the developer — the biggest beneficiary in this arrangement by far — bear some responsibility? Or is he absolved by declaring his profits from the bonds as taxable? Morse declared

$53 million as profit in the one issue the IRS examined closely.

No one is saying, especially Morse himself. The developer has kept silent since the examination began in January 2007. Perhaps all will be revealed in time.

Or perhaps this will be settled with a friendly handshake, and we can all just go merrily to our next tee time.

Lauren Ritchie can be reached at Lritchie@orlandosentinel.com or 352-742-5918. Her blog is at OrlandoSentinel.com/

Copyright © 2009, Orlando Sentinel

The Villages in a HEAP OF TAX TROUBLE



Pay off $355 million, IRS tells The Villages

By Stephen Hudak

Sentinel Staff Writer

7:28 AM EDT, May 30, 2009


The Internal Revenue Service wants the governments that run this massive retirement community to pay off $355 million in loans after an investigator concluded they improperly issued tax-free bonds to buy recreational facilities such as golf courses and swimming pools.

In addition, the IRS wants the two Villages governments to pay $2.8 million in back taxes and to cease issuing tax-exempt bonds. The demands resulted from a 20-month IRS investigation into tax-exempt bonds transactions involving the playground for 77,000 retirees about 60 miles northwest of Orlando.

Much of The Villages, including 24 executive golf courses, swimming pools, community centers and utility plants -- in fact, virtually everything but the 38,000 houses in "America's Friendliest Hometown" -- have been financed by various tax-free bonds.

As part of the potential deal, the IRS has offered to forgive another $14 million in taxes the agency says could be owed to the federal government. If a deal isn't reached, the IRS has threatened to look into eight similar loans obtained through bond sales. That could expose the governments to millions more in tax liability.

The settlement offer is outlined in public documents provided to the Orlando Sentinel after a public-records request to the Village Center Community Development District. They chronicle a bitter disagreement between the IRS and the Villages' governing bodies, called community development districts.

Created by Florida law, such districts are designed to help developers defray the cost of pricey infrastructure. The districts are considered governments and have the authority to issue bonds. In this case, the district bought recreational amenities from the developer in a transaction disputed by the IRS.

"If I was a resident of The Villages, I would be outraged by the transaction," IRS Agent Dominick Servadio Jr. wrote in a letter to the Village Center. Servadio, a certified public accountant and a revenue agent for 22 years, could not be reached for comment.

The district, however, contends that it followed state law and all the transactions are legal.

Villages residents are watching the investigation unfold, mostly with bewilderment. "First of all, this is a very serious matter," said Joe Gorman, president of the 5,500-member Property Owners' Association of The Villages, an independent group that has often clashed with the developer. Gorman would not comment on the IRS correspondence because he hadn't yet read it.

In total, The Villages' governments owe about $700ƒ|million to bond buyers.

The IRS insists the Village Center and Sumter Landing community development districts are not "valid issuers" of tax-exempt bonds, which are most commonly used by cities and counties to finance public projects.

Servadio contended that the districts that issued the bonds don't meet the test of a genuine "political subdivision." Its governing board isn't chosen by residents, it has no authority to exercise police power and its power to take private property for public projects is very limited.

The agent contends that the districts' governing boards are controlled by The Villages developer, Gary Morse, and their bond sales have benefited him, not residents.

The agent's letters represent preliminary conclusions. However, the IRS is expected within weeks to make those conclusions formal. Afterward, the districts will have 90 days to decide whether to negotiate a settlement such as the one proposed May 18 by the agent or to appeal the decisions.

For now, district representatives are challenging the IRS conclusions. They contend that Florida statutes view them as a lawful "political subdivision," giving them the right to issue tax-exempt bonds like any other government.

In an e-mail, Village Center District Manager, Janet Tutt, who also oversees the Sumter Landing district, said Servadio's opinion isn't the final word. She stated she understood that the IRS was asking its experts in other areas to examine the agent's conclusions.

"Discussion of a settlement offer ... is premature," Tutt wrote. "The District continues to believe there will be a positive resolution to this issue. ..."

Perry Israel, a California bond lawyer handling the matter for the districts, said he could not comment. Morse and Charles Smith, chairman of the Village Center district board, as well as Michael Williams, the district's Orlando bond attorney, couldn't be reached.

Servadio's probe focused on a 2003 tax-free bond issue that raised about $64ƒ|million to buy golf courses, swimming pools and other recreational facilities from the developer.

According to the IRS report, the proceeds should be taxed because only $7.5 million went to buy physical assets. Another $53.1 million bought the rights to collect residents' amenity fees. The sale prices were set by two appraisers using a complicated method that the IRS contends was incorrectly calculated.

Homeowners in The Villages pay up to $135 a month in amenity fees, which generated about $33 million in revenue last year. Servadio pointed out that about $16 million a year -- roughly half of the fees -- are used to repay a variety of bonds that the districts have issued.

"It (is) obvious that the residents' amenity fees could be much lower, or there would be a lot more of the fees available for maintenance of the facilities if these were arm's length transactions... " he wrote.

Copyright © 2009, Orlando Sentinel

16 May 2009

Growing Popularity of Aging in Place

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Aging Evolution: Seniors want to age at home, but will builders adapt?
Unobtrusive technology lets children monitor parents

Sacramento Business Journal - by Michael Shaw Staff writer


If Wes Justyn’s 91-year-old mother forgets to measure her blood pressure, he gets an e-mail alert.

If she’s inactive, lying in bed for half a day, or hasn’t opened the refrigerator, another e-mail arrives in his inbox.

More alarming behavior could trigger phone calls from the in-home monitoring system that Justyn, an insurance broker from El Dorado Hills, had installed in his mother Nettie’s home 18 months ago.

He is one of the few people using new technologies to allow a parent to “age in place” and avoid the often disruptive or costly relocation into assisted-living facilities or nursing homes.

“I’m very passionate about this,” Justyn said. “This is unobtrusive and it gives our seniors some dignity.”

Senior advocates say 85 percent of the elderly want to remain at home as they age as opposed to moving into care facilities. Emerging technologies that are still not widely known could help them do just that. There are systems available to test cognitive abilities daily, track vital signs and plot their movements by using motion detectors and pressure pads. The results can be continuously uploaded to the Internet and sent to children, physicians or caregivers.

The question is whether builders and the nation’s older homebuyers are catching on to these technologies, which can be hard to retrofit to existing homes but could be easily and cheaply accommodated in newly constructed ones as part of the design process.

Some homebuilders who concentrate on “active adult” communities de-emphasize features related to age and health issues — largely because their buyers don’t want to think about them. Instead, they hype bigger great rooms for entertaining guests and amenity-packed clubhouses.

“Baby boomers are never going to get old,” joked Edward Johanson, a boomer himself and president of Lakemont Homes. The Roseville company partners with Eskaton, a provider of senior housing and services. The partnership is building homes in Roseville and Placerville aimed at 65-year-olds and above, and buyers in this group are more attuned to health needs than the slightly younger boomers.

The homes Johanson is building include the physical characteristics residents will need later in life, such as wheelchair access to all areas. The effort adds about $6,000 to $8,000 per home, including wiring for advanced technologies.

But while they also include technological upgrades, such as more wiring capacity, he said many of the new technologies are too new to generate much interest.

“We are not rolling that out in a comprehensive fashion,” he said. “We do anticipate, like many technologies, that it will grow very fast.”

The next age demographic that homebuilders cater to is the 55-and-older, or “active adult,” crowd. They may eventually need health-related technology, but it isn’t something they’re thinking about.

“Items preferred by 55-and-over buyers do not meet the old-fashioned stereotype,” said Jacque Petroulakis, a spokeswoman for Del Webb Communities, which builds homes aimed at empty-nesters and active adults close to retirement.

She said buyers want more bedrooms to allow for in-home offices, and larger garages and cabinet spaces for keepsakes accumulated over the years. Those who are taking care of parents, or siblings or friends who are buying a home together want split plans with bedrooms and bathrooms on both sides of the house (see related story, this page).

What they don’t want is to feel old.

“While we do not get considerable demand from buyers for specific items such as wheelchair roll-in showers, our homes are designed with the future in mind,” she said.

Seniors are eventually going to need help if they want to remain independent.

“People want to remain in their homes and we have to make that a reality,” said Scott Peifer, an associate director of the Center for Aging Services Technologies in Washington, D.C. Peifer, who lives in the Sacramento region, ran down an impressive list of available gadgets beyond those already mentioned: Software that tests cognitive fitness, breathalyzer-like contraptions that check whether medication is being taken, wearable equipment that monitors heart rate and body temperature, accelerometers that can tell when a person has fallen, and tech that promotes social connection, such as two-way video visits.

A variety of well-known manufacturers, such as Intel Corp. and GE Health Care, are now offering such products.

Many of these technologies are on display at the Eskaton National Demonstration Home in Roseville, built by Lakemont, one of the only demo homes to feature the latest technology.

The cost for these systems can vary between $1,000 and $5,000 and some come with monthly charges, Peifer said.

But it could be much more expensive to retrofit an older home that can’t handle these systems, said Justyn, who along with his wife designed the 1,200-square-foot guest house where his parents moved eight years ago. They put in an electrical system that can handle additional burdens, and more conduit tubing for wires, long before many of these technologies were available.

“If you do it at the time, it really isn’t any more expensive,” said Justyn, 62, who’s also a member of the Eskaton board of directors. He said he paid about $3,000 for the system in his mom’s home, which is made by GrandCare Systems LLC of West Bend, Wis. It uses 11 monitors, most of them invisible to the casual eye, and other gadgets that report her blood pressure and weight.

But no cameras.

“She said, ‘I don’t want any damn cameras in my house,’ ” Justyn said, adding that his mother knows the system is there to monitor her health, even if she’s not clear how it works.

He said there has been only one glitch, when a piece of hardware malfunctioned. It was replaced within a day.

“I like the peace of mind,” he said, adding that he often checks on his mother through his personal digital assistant. He also likes being able to show physicians his mother’s long-term health trends. He told the story of charting the decrease in her mobility after a doctor prescribed a blood pressure medicine and showing the results to the doctor.

“He was blown away,” he said.


04 May 2009

Newest research and statistics on Retirement and Active Adult Housing

Metlife and the National Association of Home Builders puts out a report each year with the latest trends and figures affecting active adult housing. Although industry-based, it's definitely worth a read.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart takes on Elder Sex

New Stats on the Age-Segregated Housing Market

Family matters -- When older Americans move, family is big reason why

By Amy Hoak, MarketWatch
May 1, 2009

CHICAGO -- One of the most common reasons people ages 55 and older decide to move is to be closer to family and friends, according to an analysis released this week by the National Association of Home Builders and the MetLife Mature Market Institute.

According to 2007 data, about 40% of people in this demographic who moved into age-qualified active-adult communities did so to be close to friends and/or relatives, compared with 20% who said the same in 2001. And 31% of those who moved into other 55-and-older owner-occupied communities said the proximity of friends and/or relatives was a reason why, compared with 25% who said the same in 2001.

Experts recommend people set aside an emergency fund equal to about six months of income -- a steep figure for those who struggle to save. The solution is to start small and make it fun, says Mackey McNeill, a personal financial specialist and founder of Mackey Advisors. MarketWatch's Andrea Coombes reports.

The report, "Housing for the 55+ Market: Trends and Insights on Boomers and Beyond," was an analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau's American Housing Survey data.

Other reasons that drove housing choices: quality, design and layout of the residences.

One possibility of why being close to family has become a motivator for this group might be related to their experiences with their own parents, said John Migliaccio, director of research at the MetLife Mature Market Institute.

"Baby boomers have had more care-giving responsibility for their older parents," he said, and many learned how challenging it can be to care for a parent who lives in Florida when offspring live in the Midwest, for example. As a result, they might choose to live nearer to family.

Builders already have responded to this desire, he said, building communities to suit this segment of the population throughout the country -- not only in traditional retirement hot spots, he added.

While the NAHB has tracked the 55 and up market for decades, the data in the analysis "gives us our first look at specific consumer behaviors and preferences -- what they look for in a home, the reasons why they move, the characteristics of the communities they choose -- over an extended period of time, said David Crowe, NAHB's chief economist, in a news release.

Other findings

The majority of 55 and older households do not live in age-restrictive or age-qualified communities, but the number is going up. In 2007, 3% of those 55 and older said they lived in age-restricted communities designed for active adults; that's up from 2.2% in 2001

Most consumers of this age were happy with their current homes, but residents of age-restricted active-adult communities had the highest satisfaction rates

Of baby boomers close to 65 years old, the traditional retirement age, many say they aren't planning on retiring just yet. If they move, they want to end up in a community that would be closer to work or one that would allow them to transition into a work-from-home setup

"Some findings, such as the tendency for buyers in 55+ communities to continue to work in greater numbers and for longer periods of time, show us that this group is redefining the traditional notion of retirement," said Sandra Timmermann, director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute, in a news release. Of those 55 and older who chose to move into a single-family detached home, 17% said proximity to work was a reason in 2007's data, compared with 11% in 2001.

To accommodate seniors intending on working from home, new homes are built with flexibility in mind, Migliaccio said. A room may be used as an office initially, but can be converted into a second bedroom, for example, he said.

And when people in this age group make a purchase, they're also thinking of how they'd be able to age in place -- selecting layouts that will enable them to live in the home for years to come, he added.
Amy Hoak is a MarketWatch reporter based in Chicago.

First Grandmother loving her family time in White House

An In-Law Is Finding Washington to Her Liking

New York Times
May 4, 2009

WASHINGTON — Marian Robinson, President Obama’s mother-in-law, moved into the White House “kicking and screaming,” said her son, Craig Robinson. She had never lived outside of Chicago and was reluctant to leave her beloved bungalow, her friends and family, her weekly yoga class and her familiar routines.

But after three months in the Executive Mansion, Mrs. Robinson is unexpectedly and decidedly savoring her new life.

She entertains visitors from Chicago. She attends White House dinners and concerts hosted by her daughter, the first lady, Michelle Obama. She dines at local restaurants and delights in events at the Kennedy Center, where she often sits in the president’s box and chats with performers.

In fact, Mrs. Robinson, 71, is so busy these days that the Obamas hired a baby sitter to watch their two daughters one evening because the nation’s first grandmother had plans.

“She has a very full social life, so much so that sometimes we have to plan our schedule around her schedule,” Mrs. Obama said jokingly last week during a lunch she hosted for Congressional spouses.

Mrs. Robinson still spends much of her time tending to the Obama girls, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7. She shuttles them to and from school most days and accompanies them to some play dates, the first lady said. She attends class presentations, helps with homework and baby-sits when the president and first lady need extra help.

And with her plain-spoken, matter-of-fact manner, Mrs. Robinson helps keep the girls grounded amid the gilded trappings of their new lives.

But Mrs. Robinson has also managed to carve out her own space in the White House and to build a satisfying private life, according to Obama administration officials who know the family. Her bedroom sits on the third floor, just above the Obamas’ residential quarters. (The first lady told Oprah Winfrey recently that her mother often announced, “I’m going home,” as she headed upstairs.)

And because she remains a private citizen and still has something of an unfamiliar face, Mrs. Robinson can travel around Washington without being trailed by television cameras or recognized by the public even as she enjoys the perks of living at the White House. (Administration officials do not inform the news media about her comings and goings as they do with the president and first lady.)

For the first time in her adult life, she no longer has to cook or clean, unless she wants to. She participates in White House events; she sat alongside Malia and Sasha at a Black History Month performance of the a capella group Sweet Honey in the Rock, and joined Mrs. Obama in reading a story to schoolchildren at the Easter egg roll.

She has also become a familiar figure at the Kennedy Center, where she has watched performances by the Alvin Ailey dance troupe, the choreographer Debbie Allen and the jazz singer Kurt Elling, among others. (Mrs. Obama likes to joke that her mother has been to the theater more than she has.)

And she joined her daughter for lunch in March at the home of Teresa Heinz Kerry, the wife of Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts.

“There’s no standoffishness,” said Judith Jamison, the artistic director of the Alvin Ailey troupe, who was invited to the president’s box at the Kennedy Center to meet Mrs. Robinson. “She’s very open.”

Sally Quinn, a Washington writer and socialite, who met Mrs. Robinson at the lunch hosted by Mrs. Heinz Kerry, described her as “the perfect grandmother you’d kill for: cozy, nice, sweet, friendly, dear.”

“It seemed to me that she’s perfectly comfortable in her new life,” Ms. Quinn said.

That may come as a relief to the Obamas, who relied on Mrs. Robinson to help care for their children during the presidential campaign. They did not want to move into the White House without her, Craig Robinson said.

In an interview earlier this year, Mr. Robinson, the men’s basketball coach at Oregon State University, laughed as he described how Mrs. Obama pleaded with him to help lobby their mother, who was refusing to move from Chicago.

“My sister said, ‘You’ve got to talk to Mom; she’s not moving,’ ” Mr. Robinson recalled. He said his mother was utterly unswayed by Mrs. Obama’s description of the exciting new life they would all lead in Washington.

Mrs. Robinson, a retired bank secretary who ran the 50- and 100-yard dashes in the Illinois senior games well into her 60s, has always prized her independence.

“She doesn’t want grand; she doesn’t want great,” Mr. Robinson said. “She would much rather stay home.”

But Mrs. Robinson eventually decided to move in, at least for a while, to help her granddaughters get settled. If she stays through Mr. Obama’s term, she will be the first mother-in-law to live in the White House full time since the Truman presidency, historians say. She declined to comment for this article, but when asked recently by Essence magazine whether she was enjoying her new life, she answered in the affirmative.

“I really am,” she said. “You want to know why? Because my children are good parents. It makes it very easy to be a grandmother when your children are good parents.”

Last week, Mrs. Obama returned the compliment.

In her chat with Congressional spouses, she suggested that her mother helped bring something precious to the White House, a sense of normalcy in extraordinary times.

“I feel like I’ve never left Chicago,” the first lady said. “Soccer on Saturday — yes, I’m on a soccer field all day, just like many of you. Slumber parties — we had about seven girls over, screaming and yelling.

“And we’re shuttling kids back and forth to play dates, just like usual, although now my mom does a little more of the shuttling than I do. I’m glad to have her here.”

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company