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How to find affordable housing for an elderly parent

(Photo by Richard A. Lipski/THE WASHINGTON POST A 2007 photo of Leisure World’s Riverview complex in Landsdowne)

Chodorov is a real estate agent with Long & Foster.

While researching affordable independent living options for my retired mother, I came across endless articles and books about Americans retiring on a budget in Thailand, Guam, Honduras, the Philippines and Nicaragua.

Having been a Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras myself, I was not against the idea of living in a developing country. But I certainly couldn’t send my 77-year-old mother overseas alone with a small Social Security check in her pocket.

I focused my strategy on options closer to home.

At the outset, I was highly doubtful that I could find quality retirement living at an affordable price near her family and friends in Bethesda. As a local real estate agent, I am well aware of home prices in the area.

According to RealEstate Business Intelligence, a subsidiary of Rockville-based multiple-listing service MRIS, the median home sale price in the Washington metro area was $387,000 in September 2013, a 7.5 percent rise from one year ago.  In Bethesda, the median home sale price was $727,500 in September 2013.  For a senior citizen on a low fixed income, these numbers are daunting.

Despite these statistics, what I learned  — and it is hard to believe — is that you can indeed retire and live well on a budget in the D.C. area.

To start my search, I first considered my mother’s physical abilities and her lifestyle.   She is in her late 70s, in good health and loves to sunbathe by a pool in the summer.  She is self-sufficient.  She can cook and care for herself.  She drives (up for debate) and works part-time. Her knees are bad, so she would need a main level unit or a unit in an elevator building.

I also considered the option of renting versus buying.  It was impossible to know how long she could manage on her own and, thus, how long she could live independently.

I started off with a data search to find all senior living properties available for sale priced under $150,000.  On Oct. 22, I found 47 properties available in the MRIS database.  I was surprised that half of them were located in Leisure World of Maryland — an independent senior living community in Silver Spring — located just a 20-minute drive from my mother’s family.

Other D.C. area properties found included Thoreau Place in Reston; Cherry View Park in Laurel; and the Jefferson in Arlington.  I immediately crossed off the Jefferson from the list because of the mandatory $2,600 per month service fee.

There were not many independent senior living properties available for rent priced under $1,200 per month listed in the MRIS.  I checked with the office of U.S. Rep. Chris Van Holland (D-Md.) regarding subsidized senior rental housing and learned that the wait list could be one to three years. I didn’t have that kind of time.

We decided to tour some of the properties for sale.  My mother liked a one-bedroom condo in the Pines, a four-level garden-style elevator building in Leisure World of Maryland.

The 800- square foot top-level unit includes a private stack washer/dryer, a walk-in master bedroom closet, central air conditioning and heat, a half bathroom for guests and extra storage. The current market value of this unit is $70,000.  The monthly condo fee is $413.

We opted to buy in Leisure World in particular because it is a gated community with 24/7 security, has endless activities and clubs to join, has multiple indoor and outdoor pools and is a short drive to visit her family.

Here are some lessons we can pass on to anyone seeking to find quality living for an elderly parent on a budget:

• Get referrals from friends, family, religious leaders and local representatives.

• Speak with a real estate agent who is experienced in sales and rentals in senior housing developments.

• Contact local social service agencies and the county or city regarding subsidies for senior housing, utilities and food.

• Consider lifestyle, physical abilities, close proximity to family and friends, social activities and safety.

• Subsidizing from your own pocket is admirable — but don’t dip into your own retirement fund or create your own financial difficulties.

The Maryland Department of Aging estimates that by 2030, 25 percent of all Maryland residents will be over the age of 60.  As demand for independent senior housing increases, the prices will go up.

In the end, I achieved my goal of finding local affordable retirement living for my mother, without having to send her overseas. She is still near her family in Bethesda and has made many new friends.

Jill Chodorov can be reached at