Giving family financial help has hindered her retirement

By By Ronald D. White

Los Angeles Times (MCT)

Published: Monday, July 29 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

The downtown condominium McDonald bought in 2003 for $330,000 once appraised for more than $500,000, but that was before the real estate collapse.

McDonald has a leg up on anyone claiming to be a pioneer of the downtown Los Angeles renaissance. She has spent much of her life within a three-and-a-half-mile radius of where she now lives. On Saturdays as a child, she would study at the downtown library before window shopping at the May Co., Bullock’s and other one-time downtown department stores.

But her condo purchase has yet to pay off. It most recently appraised for about $230,000 in 2012, or about $50,000 less than what McDonald owes on her mortgage.

The condo building, which suffered many foreclosures during the real estate meltdown, seems to be stabilizing, but it is still a financial drain for McDonald. Her condo fees are more than $600 a month and her unit requires more work, such as new ducts for her heating and air conditioning system.

Still, she loves where she lives, having sunk $30,000 into the place to build a gourmet kitchen. In the evenings, it provides her with panoramic sunset views of California Plaza and Signal Hill.

“This isn’t just my home. It’s my community,” McDonald said. “I’ve made friends here I will always keep.”

McDonald is hoping the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s regional connector subway project will provide a big boost in value to her condominium just in time for her to sell it at a premium. The $1.4-billion project, expected to be completed in 2019, will connect light rail lines downtown and include a stop near McDonald’s building.

The condo may be her ace in the hole, McIntosh said, particularly if it rises in value to previous appraisal levels.

McDonald has ambitious retirement goals away from downtown.

In an ideal world, she would retire to a few acres of land in the Sonoma County wine country with a select group of retirement-aged and younger friends.

She envisions buying and renovating something like an old school building or firehouse for her improvised communal living situation.

McDonald’s retirement community goal is achievable with careful legal and financial planning, McIntosh said, although she may have to scale it back to a location with cheaper real estate or to a large home she could share.

“If she sells her condo at age 70, she will have enough for the down payment on the communal living plan with $20,000 available for relocation expenses,” McIntosh said.

To stretch her money out until her 90s, McDonald must be willing to work at least part-time for at least an additional 10 years. That may be easier for her than it would be for others. The UCLA and Loyola Law School graduate has a versatile skill set that has led to work in law, insurance underwriting and mediation.

McDonald’s reaction to McIntosh’s advice included a little self-criticism.

“Why didn’t I do this 15 years ago?” she said.

“I have been lost in the weeds,” McDonald said. “I’m beyond just being grateful that I’m not going to starve in the streets. Very exciting. This is my road map.”


©2013 Los Angeles Times

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