Smart Moves

Tips for Upsizing Retirees

Just days after retiring, a couple in their mid-60s sold the 1,200-square-foot Cape Cod where they’d raised their daughter. But rather than step down to a condo, they shocked friends by upsizing to a 1,700-square-foot house. Even that felt cramped, so they sold again to buy a 2,100-square-foot Tudor with soaring ceilings, a huge country kitchen and a triple garage.

“No matter their age, some people just hate the idea of living in a condo. In retirement, these people want to stretch out, take up hobbies like gardening and do the gourmet cooking they lacked time for while working,” says Ashley Richardson, the real estate agent who represented the couple.

As this true story illustrates, some retirees have both the desire and resources to scale up to a more expensive property.

The retirees with whom she worked -- who chose their current house near their grown daughter’s place -- are delighted they now have enough space in their Tudor to host regular Sunday evening dinners for their extended family, which now includes a great-granddaughter.

“Soon, they plan to start babysitting the newest addition to their family,” Richardson says.

Sid Davis, a real estate broker and author of “A Survival Guide for Buying a Home,” says many seniors who decide to upsize consider themselves “professional grandparents.” Many also relish more time to pursue hobbies, including do-it-yourself home improvement.

Here are a few pointers for retirees who plan to upsize:

-- Buy the sort of place that appeals to your family.

If the vision of a family mecca appeals to you, Davis says you’ll want a place that’s convenient for as many family members as possible.

“Take stock of your family and their future work plans,” he says.

If your children's work situations are highly mobile or unstable, you may want to delay a move until they settle down more permanently, Davis says.

“You can’t chase your adult children all around America and the world. Better to pick a spot that’s easily accessible for them to travel to you,” Davis says.

-- Choose a setting that will attract family visits.

Perhaps you and your spouse would like to move to an age-restricted community. Yet you’d also like to see your kids and grandkids as frequently as possible. If so, you could well think twice about this plan.

“Truth is, the children aren’t going to find a whole lot of fun things to do in a retirement community. Rather than moving in with other seniors, pick a multi-generational area with more recreational attractions for the kids,” Davis says.

He suggests you consider buying a house near a neighborhood swimming pool, in an area where lots of young families live. You might also look for an area well suited to fishing, horseback riding or hiking.

“Quiz the kids on the kinds of activities they really enjoy. Also, don’t forget to ask the teenagers what they think,” he says.

-- Pick a property with the right features for overnight family visits.

Do you intend to upsize to a location that will draw family members for extended stays? If so, you’ll want the right home features to accommodate everyone who comes by.

“Look for a house with at least three bedrooms and, even more important, as many bathrooms as possible. The kids can always double up in the bedrooms. But if you have only one bathroom, you’re bound to have bottlenecks,” Davis says.

Also, he recommends that those seeking to create a family hub look for large common areas in their upsized property.

“People love to hang out in a big kitchen with places to sit and talk. That’s why upsizers often go for a large eat-in kitchen connected to an even larger ‘great room.’ This is often great for retirees who love family gatherings,” Davis says.

-- Factor in the realistic need for good airport access.

Do you yearn to retire to a faraway place with a better climate and yet still wish to see extended family as often as possible? If so, Davis says you’d be well advised to upsize to an area with good transportation access.

“Move to some remote region and it will be a lot more costly and inconvenient for your kids and grandkids to visit. Instead, look for an area served by an excellent airport. Search for an airport that serves as a hub for at least one airline with lots of service and decent fares,” he says.

Granted, you won’t want to live so close to an airport that you’ll be tormented by the noise of planes flying overhead. But you’ll want to be close enough to the airport that family visits aren’t too taxing.

“If you’re counting on air travel for family get-togethers, try to live within a 90-minute drive from a good airport,” Davis says.

(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at ellenjamesmartin@gmail.com.)

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