Sarasota Snobs and Mobile Home Renaissance BY JIM GERMER Special to the Herald Just like San Francisco and San Diego, Bradenton is joining an exclusive club. Bradenton is rapidly becoming one of the most desirable, and expensive, places to live in the United States. Anxiety, however, is mounting for local retirees struggling with more home than they can handle. A lot of Bradenton retirees, unfortunately, are on their last call financially. They're down to their home and about $100,000. Many retirees are now feeling trapped, saddled with mortgages, or dipping into principle. For years there was a snobbish element in Sarasota (there still is) that called Bradenton "Trailer Town." Realtors, in the old days, used to suggest that if you were a CEO for GM, for example, you retired to Sarasota. A retiree from the GM assembly line, on the other hand, was guided by Realtors to mobile home parks in Bradenton. Today Sarasota elites still buy $500 dresses at Saks, live in high-rises, and hang-out at the Van Wezel. But modern Bradenton is no longer Sarasota's poor stepsister. To the dismay of old-school Sarasota snobs, though, Bradenton is rapidly becoming "Bocanized." When Palm Beach ran out of land, the affluent started moving in droves to Boca Raton about 30 miles to the south. With Sarasota running out of land, Bradenton, just like Boca Raton, is transforming. I think it started with Lakewood Ranch, but Bradenton's cachet is about to improve big-time with Whiting Preston's Lake Flores, Carlos Beruff's Long Bar Pointe, and other projects ascending. As a result of those projects, Bradenton's once reasonable cost of living is now causing many retirees to experience financial stress. Down to your last hundred thousand dollars? Selling a "beloved" home in Bradenton to buy a more affordable one, your solution, is getting tougher -- thanks to Bradenton's red-hot popularity with retiring baby boomers. Tapping equity in your home with a reverse mortgage isn't really an option, either. Huge expenses make reverse mortgages, in my opinion, a very bad deal. Fortunately there's a better strategy. "It only takes about $15,000 to rehab a vintage mobile home," says Bruce Peebles, a construction manager with Carefree RV Resorts. "New kitchens, bathrooms and floor coverings bring a mobile home to life." It's ironic, but many of Bradenton's older mobile home parks have some of the best locations in Bradenton. Many are 55- and-over communities with large pools and club houses rivaling new developments such as Taylor Morrison's Esplanade or Del Webb's new development at Lakewood Ranch. Roger and Janet, in their 70s, had solid pensions and social security, but were still making mortgage payments. They recently sold their home in Wildewood Springs for about $200,000. After paying off the mortgage, and paying cash for the new mobile home, they cleared about $100,000. I'm super happy," says Janet. "We sold our home and bought a beautiful place in the Breeze Mobile Home Park for about $65,000. It's about 20 years old, with 1,400 square feet, a new kitchen, and an enclosed lanai. "We invested the excess proceeds with our financial adviser to generate additional monthly income," says Janet. "Not only do we no longer have $1,000 mortgage payments, but we're also receiving an additional $400 each month." The example is specific to Janet and Roger and it may not apply to your situation. You can't really advocate purchasing a mobile home without discussing lot rents. Obviously owning your own lot is best. Still evaluate past history, frequency of fee increases, and neighborhood outlook when judging a community. When trading down, consider mobile home living. Remember to invest extra proceeds prudently with a good financial adviser. Jim Germer is a Bradenton CPA and financial adviser at Cetera Financial Specialists, LLC, member FINRA/SIPC.