The woman is 86 years old. She has called her North Shore house “home” for 53 years. Realities settled in recently, forcing her to consider downsizing.
The house was put on the market. It was sold.
“She needs to be out of the house by mid-August,” says the woman’s broker, Patti Skirving of Coldwell Banker-Winnetka. “It was overwhelming. It was difficult for her, stressful. There’s a lot of emotion involved, for many, when they downsize.”
A North Shore couple in their 50s attend their son’s college graduation. The son lands a job in another state. The parents, fresh empty nesters, realize they use a little more than half of their 6,000 square-foot house. Maintenance costs mount. Keeping the home’s lush landscape lush suddenly becomes a challenge.
They, too, consider downsizing.
“We’re working with a lot of empty nesters who are ready to sell large homes on the North Shore and get into something that requires less maintenance,” Mike Golden, co-founder of @properties, says. “There wasn’t a lot of movement in the market a few years ago because it hadn’t recovered to the point where some longtime owners were ready to put their homes up for sale. Now, more and more sellers are feeling comfortable with values, and they’re also recognizing the value on the buy side with low interest rates. They’re deciding it’s time.”
There are plenty of upsides to downsizing, perhaps none bigger than living on a smaller footprint without giving up the luxuries and amenities of a mansion. Kelmscott Park — a new maintenance-free community of condominiums and luxury single-family home in east Lake Forest, created by Northfield-based Focus Development and represented by @properties — is an enticing option to sensible homeowners looking to scale down and maintain roots in an attractive setting. Lake Bluff homeowner Larry Booth, of Booth Hansen, is the principal architect, and the development’s landscape firm is Lake Bluff-based Mariani.
“We are still seeing empty nesters, retirees and seniors,” Tim Anderson, Focus Development President, says of the prime candidates for moving to smaller abodes. “However, these buyers aren’t looking for the condos of a decade ago, which featured downsized spaces everywhere. These buyers are looking for homes that offer entertaining spaces similar to the spaces in their homes now. The condominiums and homes at Kelmscott Park are designed with very gracious entertaining spaces that are made for family gatherings.
“I want each single family home and condominium to feel like a slightly smaller, more efficient version of the high-quality, thoughtfully designed homes our buyers [are in now].”
Call Peter Childs, principal at Childs Development in Lake Forest and a 2006 Lake Forest High School graduate, a “transition guide.” The son of Jamie Childs, also a principal at Childs Development, Peter walks clients through the challenges of the downsize move. The firm currently oversees eight houses under construction, with four pre-sold. He takes care of various compliance issues, securing approvals from the city of Lake Forest. Clients express their wants, their needs; he listens, acts.
His advice to downsizers?
“Make a list,” Childs says. “Think things over with your spouse or other family members and put must-haves on that list, the must-haves from your bigger house. We’ll work around those, massage the model some, customize, and do what we can to accommodate you.
“It can be a culture shock to some, downsizing,” he adds, “and we’re here to make that move as seamless as possible. Downsizers are going to experience a lifestyle change after moving, no question, but what they’ll discover is that downsizing simplifies everything.”
There’s also re-sizing — a term, in some instances, preferred by Roberta Miller, a sales professional and marking specialist at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices KoenigRubloff in Lake Forest.
“I’m finding that more and more buyers are looking to move for reasons that were much less common just a few years ago,” Miller says. “Many people are thinking of a home that can incorporate another adult in a private space, often on the first floor, often called an in-law suite. The person who uses this space can consider it a haven [bedroom, luxurious full bath, sitting area], less intrusive on the rest of the family. A newly graduated adult child might use the space to save money while climbing the corporate ladder, or looking to at least hop onto the first rung of that ladder.
“So it might not necessarily be downsizing,” she adds. “The house may actually be more spacious than the previous one. It could be called ‘re-sizing’ … altering the way the space is used.”
Among the trends that Coldwell Banker-Northbrook broker Emilia Salonikas has noticed is the high demand, among senior citizens, for ranch housing. One story is better than two, and simpler, when there’s no chance that a grown child is going to become a boomerang child looking for a place to live before escaping the nest for good.
“Taking care of a home, a big home, presents challenges for the elderly,” Salonikas says. “In some cases, yes, a reason not to downsize is cost; the bigger, older home has been paid off — there’s a freedom that comes with that. But the empty nesters, the retirees … many of them are living in homes with spaces they no longer use, no longer need. It makes sense for them to downsize.”
Skirving, the broker for the octogenarian, served as more than a broker for a woman in the throes of a major transition. Skirving provided her client with a list of resources. The list included names of people and companies, specialists in the moving industry. They would help the seller sort and box. They would help the seller select items to discard, items to donate.
“I held her hand throughout the process,” Skirving says. “What I like to do, and what I’ll do for her, is put together a hardbound photo book of the house, pictures of all of the rooms, pictures of the exterior. Homes have so much meaning to sellers.”