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Bed-Stuy Group Encouraging Seniors to Keep Townhouses 'In the Family'

By Amy Zimmer | October 3, 2013 10:30am

BROOKLYN — Though inventory is tight in Brooklyn's real estate market, there are scores of houses for sale in Bedford-Stuyvesant, where prices have been skyrocketing.

For instance, a majestic turn-of-the-century seven-bedroom fully-renovated brownstone on Macon Street hit the market last week, listed by Douglas Elliman for $1.989 million. The same building sold for $714,500 in 2011 and for $325,000 when it was part of an estate sale in 2010, public records showed. (It was one of nearly 80 Bed-Stuy houses that came up in a search on the real estate site Streeteasy.)

With the neighborhood's housing market hopping, it's perhaps no surprise that long time homeowners — many of whom are seniors who may be having difficulty managing their properties — often field inquiries about selling, advocates said. To help these owners pass their houses to their heirs instead, the Coalition for the Improvement of Bedford-Stuyvesant (CIBS) is hosting a workshop on Saturday called, "Your Property: Keeping it in the Family."

"There are people who own these beautiful brownstones, who are constantly being asked by developers or neighbors if they're going to sell," said Dorian Block, of Age-Friendly New York City, an initiative that is trying to improve the urban landscape for older New Yorkers. "They feel like people are waiting for them to die."

Bed-Stuy is one of three neighborhoods where Age-Friendly New York City, with community groups, is piloting an "Aging Improvement District," developing strategies and programs to help older residents.

The number of residents 65 years or older jumped from 10,000 to 12,000 from 2000 to 2010, according to the U.S. Census. This age group saw its housing burden — paying 30 percent or more of income on housing — shoot up during that span, from 40 percent to 45.3 percent.

Because of that, CIBS — one of the partners on the Aging Improvement District — is trying to help older homeowners.

It's hoping to encourage them to rent out units in multi-family homes — or perhaps do apartment shares through Airbnb — to supplement their income by helping them identity good tenants, CIBS managing director Tamecca Tillard said. 

Saturday's event is the second such workshop focused on passing homes to heirs.

"The primary way to build wealth and pass it on is through real estate assets," Tillard said, explaining that estate planning, insurance, lending and property management will be among the day's topics.

"We'll be talking about having a relationship with accountants to talk about tax planning, the transfer tax and estate tax," she said. "That's going to be important in this community given the new property assessment, where if property is now valued at $3 million instead of the $1.5 million of two years ago, you're in a different bracket."

Seniors in the area have taken out reverse mortgages — a loan where the bank basically makes the mortgage payment to the owner — which tend to have high fees and interest rates, Tillard said.

"A lot of seniors have done [reverse mortgages] to bolster their income to make ends meet, not realizing their heirs won't have the option to reverse and buy the house back," she said, noting that because of recent lawsuits surviving spouses will now likely be allowed to remain in houses.

Tillard is hopeful that connecting homeowners with experts will help.

"To maintain these houses, it's a lot for anyone — physically financially and emotionally. [People] feel like they're losing ground not knowing who to turn to," she said.  "The main thing for us is to get folks in the room and give, for lack of a better word, a toolkit to act with."