View from the Lamb's new condo

Downsizing Before Retirement

In March 2021, Stuff by Tracy Jones1 Comment

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Raleigh residents are swapping empty nests for a simpler life.

When WRAL-TV reporter Amanda Lamb’s husband, Reginald “Grif” Griffin, suggested buying a house in Cary 26 years ago, she thought he was crazy. They were in their early 30s; Raleigh was still coming along; and she felt like the lifeblood of the area was in the city.

Now, facing retirement, the couple is looking to condo life—having decided that downsizing to more compact living Downtown better fits their evolving needs.

“In 2018, I remember being at a neighborhood party and my husband saying this isn’t the last stop,” says Lamb. “We just want a simpler life; we don’t want the maintenance of a home. When you’re less fettered by the responsibility of a residence, it makes it easier to just go. We’re not looking at it as a forever home—we’re looking at it as the next chapter.”

Now, Lamb and her husband are in the process of trading their spacious lifestyle—think neighbors, screened-in porch, workout rooms, offices (playrooms transformed once their children left the nest) and land (including a pond they built in their backyard)—for a three-bedroom condo Downtown.

“I’ve always worked in Downtown Raleigh, and I know it; I love it; and I love the energy, the excitement and all of the development,” says Lamb. “I think it’s a great city.”

A frequent traveler who likes the idea of being able to walk out the door, go exercise or meet up with friends for a glass of wine, Lamb says this transition will give her time, space and money for experiences, not things.
“At this point in life, there’s nothing tangible you could give me that I would want,” says Lamb. “What I do want is experience. That’s all that you can hope for, and I want to figure out the best way to make that happen. We’re nervous, but we’re also excited. We have so many incredible memories in that house.”

Lamb and her husband are not alone in their desire to downsize. More and more, empty nesters are fleeing the nest for a simpler life, with 12% of home buyers between the ages of 45 and 64 trading in larger homes for smaller living space (according to statistics tracked by the National Association of Realtors).

And real estate agents are seeing these homeowners want to downsize—yet still live independently.

“The issue is that there aren’t enough housing options for them, especially when most want a ranch-style home or, minimally, a first-floor master bedroom,” says local real estate agent Mary Ann Meagher of M&M Team Realty. “There just isn’t anywhere for them to go, so a lot are forced to stay put. Some that are not ready for retirement are trying to downsize into townhouses that allow them to have a lock-and-leave home—enabling them to travel and vacation more.”

If someone is ready to downsize, says Meagher, they should determine what that looks like for them. Is it a small condo in a walkable area with a shared common space? Is it a townhouse that has a small yard? Or is it simply a smaller house that would still leave room for family to come visit or extra space for whatever needs they have at the time?

For Raleighite Joanne Rohde, that meant downsizing to a smaller family home. With her kids largely out of the house, the managing partner at Cambridge Woods Partners found herself in that gray area of not needing a large family home, but also not being in her retirement years. So, she and her husband sold their rather large home and rented for a year to contemplate their needs. And what they found was that they needed office space—especially during a pandemic.

A couple of years ago, Rohde started looking around the city and realized there was not a market for what she was looking for. She found herself in a phase where she still cared about having a really nice kitchen and living area, but not all of the square footage. And she felt a gap in a market where builders build for price per square foot.

“I was looking for a floor plan with a different kind of footprint,” says Rohde. “It was just this realization that there is an empty-nester phase before retirement that has very different needs.”

Now, she says, “We’re quite happy with this arrangement,” having moved into her new residence in May. “We had the realization that the kids are still going to come home and we needed a sort of guest space. Then with COVID, we needed something with home offices. I would suspect this is not where we end up forever, as one day we’ll want something a bit smaller.”

The Rohde’s new home

Once she found her dream house—with an appropriate floor plan inside the Beltline—she was ultimately happy with the downsize.

“It’s given me a lot more freedom,” says Rohde. “It’s the first step in reducing your overhead. The smaller the house, the less expensive and less upkeep, and that, in itself, is liberating.”

Tips for downsizing in 2021

via Mary Ann Meagher, M&M Team Realty

  • Owning a home, at any age, is a fantastic investment. With appreciation every year, the equity in the house increases.
  • Find a seasoned real estate agent that can help navigate the waters to find that ideal next home.
  • For those that still like the walkable community idea, look at Downtown Raleigh, the North Hills area and the Village District (formerly known as Cameron Village)—and anything walkable to downtown Cary has become a very hot market.
  • It is a seller’s market right now, which means inventory is very low. Houses are selling over list price and oftentimes with multiple offers. If you can find a place you’d like to downsize to, then it’s a great time to sell.
  • If the lack of inventory you’re trying to downsize into is too stressful and you’re in good health, consider staying in your house and riding up the appreciation for another 10 years. You can always hire out the yard work and housecleaning to help maintain the larger home and yard.

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