Downsizing to a Home in the Suburbs
Questions to consider before moving to a suburb in midlife
Young families and first-time home buyers opt to move to the suburbs for similar reasons: peace, quiet and more space. However, choosing a suburb when you’re downsizing or empty nesting is wholly different, with its own set of priorities.
In your 50s or 60s, accessibility to a premier school district becomes less important, for instance, while an inventory of single-story homes becomes more essential. Downsizers in general often choose their homes based on criteria like low-maintenance buildings, security, proximity to family and access to public transit and shopping. But when downsizing to the suburbs, there are certain questions to keep in mind:
What Can You Enjoy Now That You Don't Have Little Kids?
Alison Bernstein, founder of Suburban Jungle, a relocation company that helps buyers find the right suburb, says that while some downsizers like to stay close to what they know — family, places of worship — others purposefully decide to try something new. “People are opting for alternative options, like being close to water or some other asset they didn’t have while raising kids in the suburbs,” she notes.
Debra Hoffman, 62, used to spend up to a total of 11 hours per day commuting to her job as a medical buyer for Advocate Health in Downers Grove, Ill, a Chicago suburb. She wanted a much shorter commute, so she relocated from Carpentersville to a townhouse in Lisle. Aside from trimming her commute down to 15 minutes each way, she loves that Lisle is a fun destination for her adult sons and their families: “They have a lot of things going on, for the kids as well. On 4th of July they have Eyes to the Skies, with all these hot air balloons, and a three day carnival.”
However, Hoffman is also happy that her neighborhood of apartments and townhouses isn’t overrun with children: “It is kid friendly but it’s not annoying,” she says.
Another benefit to switching suburbs once the children are grown: the possibility of lower property taxes. Holly Danielson Connors, a suburban Chicago real estate agent with @properties, says most downsizers she works with want to get more for their money by escaping competitive school districts.
“Some will say, ‘I don’t want to pay Arlington Heights taxes; I’m not going to Arlington Heights schools. I’ll go to Rolling Meadows, because it’s right [next to it].’”
You might also enjoy the things you won’t have to do. Hoffman enjoys a freedom from yard work at her new suburban home. “I thought about getting a house with a yard, but right now it’s so easy. I have a little yard, but I pretty much don’t have to do anything: it’s taken care of,“ she says.
Are the People There Your Future Friends?
When you have young children, your community tends to form around the school, the camps, the neighborhood. Once children are older, kids are no longer a method for meeting people. So it’s important to keep in mind whether a potential suburb has activities and opportunities to meet people your age.
Bernstein encourages social empty nesters to research opportunities for bumping into their peers. “What are the social and cultural activities? Is there an amazing dog park?” she says.
Something else to keep in mind, Bernstein says: whether you’re considering moving to a place that’s year-round or seasonal.
“If you’re meeting a bunch of people and they all end up in Florida or Arizona from November to April, what are you doing? What’s your plan?” asks Bernstein.
Connors has had clients who learned the hard way that having a good circle of friends is no less important later in life. “They weren’t finding the right value in the suburb they wanted, so they opted for one nearby,” she says. “Ultimately they were very disappointed. It didn’t have that friendship circle they thought they would have. They sold and moved to downtown, which satisfied them from a social perspective, although it was more expensive.”
She recommends doing a little investigative reporting on the social scene. “Go to the local restaurant, go to the local watering hole, to go whatever’s nearby, and ask people what they think,” says Connors.
Marlene Caroselli, a 75-year-old retired author and corporate trainer moved to Pittsford, N.Y., a Rochester suburb, and discovered a form of civic pride that’s important to her. “It’s very progressive. We had an incident where some residents were the target of bigotry and almost immediately signs began to pop up on Pittsford lawns saying: ‘Diversity is our strength.’ The community responds in a great way to wrongs. I like it here,” says Caroselli.
Is There Stuff to Do?
All suburbs aren’t created equal when it comes to cultural events and town activities. Some are rife with community doings; others aren’t. Hoffman enjoys the weekly concerts in Lisle: “You bring a chair, bottle of wine; it’s free.”
Caroselli, who moved from Los Angeles to Pittsford, became impressed by her new town’s offerings despite initial misgivings. “I somewhat arrogantly said to myself, ‘It’s going to be so provincial compared to Los Angeles.’ But in truth, Rochester has so many cultural events going on all year round. Pittsford is close enough for the city to participate in the jazz fest. It has a great many art exhibits and a museum. At Christmas, the streets are decorated. It’s almost a throwback a hundred years. Carolers go up and down the streets and they serve hot toddys in town.”
Will You Be Happy?
Caroselli never envisioned that life in the suburbs could be for her, but she truly enjoys Pittsford. Based on her experience, she would advise other downsizers to assess what brought them to their original community and then see if they can replicate those things in their new location.
“So, if cultural events are important and easily accessible now, how difficult would it be to find those things in the smaller home and in the suburb?” she says. “Some suburbs are just outgrowths of the city, but here in Pittsford, the things I want are either here or very close. But not every suburb is as wonderful as mine.”
Resources to Help Find a Suburb
Interested in suburb for the next phase of your life? These resources may help: