Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

Upsizing in Retirement

Many baby boomers are compelled to downsize due to tight finances. But an affluent minority of retirees is now turning this tradition on its head: instead of trading down, they’re buying bigger, plusher and more amenity-rich houses.

Debbie Pincus, a Connecticut psychotherapist who’s been in practice since 1985, says many boomers adhere to the philosophy that “more is better” and are unwilling to compromise their expectations, even in their retirement years.

“Their attitude is if I can afford it, why not go for it? That not only applies to larger houses with gorgeous kitchens, but also (includes) lots of plans to travel abroad, go back to college or take up new hobbies,” she says.

Pincus never attempts to dissuade her clients from fulfilling their real estate ambitions. But she does encourage them to consider the trade-offs in time, energy and money involved in expanding the scope of their ownership, especially during their later years.

“So often, people who own more are stressed more than people who own less,” she says.

Here are a few pointers for retirees intending to upsize:

-- Ask yourself how often your offspring would likely visit your big house.

Sid Davis, a real estate broker who’s authored seven books on real estate, says it's rare for older people to have the means and inclination to upsize. But those capable of buying bigger often go to great lengths to fulfill their vision.

“These are people with big, close families. Their lives revolve around family,” Davis says.

If the vision of a "family mecca" appeals to you, Davis says you’ll want to search for a property that’s readily reachable by as many family members as possible.

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

“If you’re family-oriented and want the kids to visit often, there’s probably no point to moving to an area where that’s not realistic,” Davis says.

-- Question whether a senior community would work well for family visits.

Maybe you and your spouse would like to move to an age-restricted, gated community. Yet you’d also like to see your progeny as often as possible. If so, you could well give a second thought to your original plan.

“Your grandkids aren’t going to find many fun things to do in a senior-oriented subdivision. Rather than moving to a senior community, pick a place with more recreational options for the kids,” Davis says.

Tom Early, a real estate broker and former president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (naeba.org), suggests you consider buying a property near a neighborhood swimming pool, in an area where lots of young families live. Or look for an area well suited to horseback riding or fishing.

“You really need to find out what activities your family enjoys. Focus on the interests of both the young children and teenagers in your group,” Early says.

-- Factor airport and road access into your thinking.

Do you hanker to retire to a faraway place with a better climate and still see the extended family often? If so, Davis says you’d be well advised to choose an area with good transportation access.

“If you move a long way away and yet want the kids to visit a lot, you’d better live close to highways or an excellent airport,” he says.

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

“People counting on air travel for the family to get together should live within a 90-minute drive from an airport with good service,” Davis says.

-- Consider the importance of spare bedrooms.

Are you hoping for overnight visits from family? If so, you’ll want the right home features to accommodate everyone.

“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 mecca look for large common areas in their upsized property.

“Ideally, you’ll want a country kitchen where all the family can gather, as well as a large family room and a great room,” Davis says.

-- Don’t compromise your own comfort in the home selection process.

Davis says some older people who plan to upsize can become so focused on their grandchildren that they forget their own housing priorities. But he advises them to keep their own goals front and center during the home selection process.

“Young people do fine in a house with lots of stairs. But stairs can become a real issue for people over 60, especially after health problems set in. That’s why it’s smart to choose a one-level house if possible,” he says.

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