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'A snowbirder's paradise'

CENTRAL POINT - Inspired by high property taxes and low grain prices, owners of a 109-year-old farm are turning it into a community of "nicer" manufactured homes for downscaling seniors who'll buy their home but only lease the land.

Miller Estates, off Highway 99 just north of Crater High School, offers 77 lots supplied with manufactured homes from Fuqua Homes of Bend, all with Super Good Cents energy systems, vaulted ceilings and two-car garages set back to allow RV parking, said manager Brad Miller.

The rules of Miller Estates start monthly land lease fees at $275 and promises they'll go up and down with Oregon's cost of living index. Owners pay property tax on their houses, but Miller is responsible for property taxes for the land.

"A major fear of seniors when they step off the income wagon is that prices will increase around them. Tying leases to cost of living and eliminating land payments helps combat that. Here we try to have a stepdown in price without losing quality."

The community allows no resident minors and requires one resident be 55 or older. It's aimed at seniors who want to sell their too-large home, get into a smaller and much less expensive home requiring almost no maintenance and have plenty of money left over to buy an RV and travel, he said.

"We're a snowbirder's paradise," Miller said. "Our market is empty nesters who've built up equity over their working lives and are looking at an active, fun retirement even though they have a fixed income."

Miller Estates opened for business in February and has three residents so far. The first were Bob and Sharon McKillop, still two years from retirement.

"We had a big home on Larson Creek that cost twice what this one did," Sharon said. "We have grandchildren all around the country, and we can't wait to get our RV and hit the road."

Most home shoppers are from outlying areas of the Rogue Valley and want to be closer in for shopping and medical care, Miller said.

Another plus for seniors is security. The road through Miller Estates is a big loop with only one entrance, said Miller, "so your neighbor can watch your back when you're gone - and everyone will notice who comes and goes."

Homes are 1,850 to 2,600 square feet and sell for $78,000 to $112,000. Miller has tried to get away from the conventional manufactured home image with steeper roof pitches, homes set 18 inches deeper into the ground than normal to reduce steps, 12-inch eaves and 2-by-6 wall studs, he said.

Although Miller sells Fuqua homes, prospective residents are free to buy from any manufacturer, Miller said.

Miller Estates was settled as a 100-acre farm in 1892 by Miller's great-grandfather, William Miller, who came from Iowa.

"He had fabulous crops that he harvested with horse and wagon," said Brad Miller's mother, Marian Miller, 72, who lives nearby on the old farm. "I've lived here for over 50 years and after my husband died, it kept getting harder to get farmers in here to help."

Because of low farm income, the land's status as a farm was revoked and taxes went from $86 a year to $3,600, a rate Marian Miller couldn't sustain on her Social Security income, Brad said. She decided to create a blind trust for the land, stipulating it be used for senior housing and that it pass through Miller bloodlines over this century.

John Darling is a free-lance writer living in Ashland.

'A snowbirder's paradise'