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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Tug, pull considerable when sale of family home on table

Tom Kelly

Climate change, family change, attitude change …

For the first time anybody can remember, we’ve had snow in six consecutive months, including two separate weeks when we could not get out of the driveway (unheard of in the Puget Sound). My wife refuses to get behind the wheel at the sign of a snowflake, and my arthritic knees seem to lock up at the mere mention of “overnight accumulation.”

Our four kids are grown and gone. If you’ve ever experienced a child’s first birthday away from home, you’ve got a twinge of the emotional package headed your way. We miss their energy, the chaos of late-night gatherings, and the intense negotiating over who is going to take the car. The powerful family dynamic on display at the dinner table on a Sunday night no longer highlights the weekend.

Periodically, we have asked ourselves: Would we ever leave this place? Would it make sense to consider a smaller home closer to town? No more lawn, lower monthly heating costs, a short walk to the store and the movies? Maybe even a move to a sunnier climate where there are no traces of snow any time of year?

The first step is choosing the correct time to even raise the question. I’ve stayed away from pondering the idea during terrific family reunions or lonely, kid-less weekends. It’s probably best to begin on rather neutral ground, someplace in between those extremes.

And, as much as we cherish their visits, our kids’ return to the family home can only realistically be slotted for short-term holiday seasons and getaway summer vacations. Sure, the house and yard would be terrific for grandkids, but we are not even close.

Our housing decisions also are common to our friends and relatives. Time marches on, and the buying tendencies of specific groups become more apparent than others. Being smack dab in the middle of the baby boom generation, I’ve followed how boomers have changed just about every retail component from cars to jeans to ice cream to health care. Surprisingly, our peers are not really buying down. They are buying one-story homes, but not necessarily smaller homes.

In each of the past five surveys by the National Association of Home Builders, the size of the home requested by boomers continued to be about the size of their previous home. (I am still waiting for a housing survey considering the effects of climate change.) Depending upon where these buyers were from, they wanted homes between 1,600 square feet and 2,400 square feet, and they were willing to pay to have them properly “wired” for technology. They are requesting first-floor living space, including a master suite, as well as high-end kitchens, luxurious master suites and baths, and high-tech media rooms.

In addition to examining the amenities, features and services builders are planning and incorporating into communities designed for the over-50 demographic, housing officials continue to track where seniors and boomers are relocating, how much they are spending on homes, what type of financing they use, and builders’ perceptions about buyers’ motivations for moving and regional trends.

While it will be interesting to see how the recent economy has affected boomer housing choices, they have yet to buy solely based on price or location. They are buying lifestyle yet plan to remain working in some capacity. NAHB revealed that many boomers will trade their primary careers for a part-time job or a job that is more like a hobby. Regardless, they see themselves working well past the traditional retirement age.

Housing analysts say demand is growing for smaller communities with interesting streetscapes and high-end homes designed for individual lifestyles. When the first “active adult” communities were launched in the 1960s, many were large in size; were located in traditional Sun Belt states; and shared similar community format, design and amenities. However, builders recognize that today’s buyers are open to change, demand a variety of choices, and are more likely to consider a community close to home.

The word “community” has also taken on a new connotation. While most active adult communities traditionally have been built in suburban locations, urban buyers command a greater share of the market, especially for condominiums, town homes and multifamily apartments. Many buyers are empty nesters who expect a high level of service, spend more on upgrades, and are less likely to consider moving to an age-qualified community.

My challenge is that most of the surveys are conducted on new homes or new communities. I want neither. I definitely must keep working – and not in a “hobby” job – well past the traditional retirement age, love my friends and neighbors and feel like a kid when I get the chance to ride my new bicycle in the sun.

I believe that’s a great reason to again delay a decision on selling the family home. I just did not sign up for snow.

Tom Kelly is a former real estate editor for the Seattle Times who still lives on the West Side. He has authored or co-authored five books. His radio show “Real Estate Today” can be heard on the Internet.
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