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  • Writer's pictureMarni Jameson

Downsizing in the Golden Years? Not So Fast


One of the occupational hazards of being a real estate agent is that while scouting sale properties for a client, you can walk into a home you suddenly have to have.


“We were not looking to move,” said Suzanne White, a 58-year-old Realtor from Memphis. “My husband and I had never discussed it.”


However, like so many couples, they had had the wouldn’t it be nice if … conversations. She’d always wanted a pool and the space to host big parties. He wanted a music room and a woodshop. “But these were casual wishes,” Suzanne said. Not enough to drive them from their 2,800-square-foot home of 17 years, where they had raised their blended family of four now-grown children, and from a neighborhood and neighbors they loved.


That changed in the fall of 2020, when Suzanne walked into the 4,225-square-foot home in Cordova, Tenn., a 15-minute drive from her East Memphis home. “I quickly saw that it checked all the boxes,” she said.


Uh-oh.


The brick house had a pool, a detached garage perfect for a woodshop, all downstairs bedrooms, a covered porch, turnkey finishes, lots of room inside and out for parties, and plenty of yard for their two large Sheepadoodles to romp.


She went home and told her husband, now age 60, “You need to look at this house. But don’t worry, we’re not moving.”


Uh-Huh. By that afternoon they were writing an offer.


Suzanne and Mark White are among a growing number of adults over age 55 who are bucking tradition. Typically, when the kids leave home, parents downsize. However, more couples at this stage of life are choosing to upsize or same-size to a home that offers more of what they want, according to a new report out this week from the National Realtors Association.


“One of the persistent myths we have about retirees is that they want to downsize, but that’s not true today,” said Dr. Jessica Lautz, an economist and a lead researcher behind the 2023 Home Buyers and Sellers Generational Trends Report. Of those between the ages of 58 and 76 who bought homes last year, most were same-sizing, and nearly one in five bought homes over 3,000 square feet.


White sees the trend in her business, too. “In addition to a desire to live larger, what I also see in my retired clients is they are not as willing to settle. Where in the past, they would have sacrificed getting the house they wanted, so they could get in the right school district, now they know what they want and are getting it.”


Common items on the wish list: neighbors farther away, an upgraded kitchen, a soaker bathtub, a sewing or craft room, enough space in the laundry room for an ironing board, a covered porch, and a big pantry.


This group can often get what they want because, unlike younger buyers, they can afford to buy their new home without having to sell their current one first. With that pressure’s off, they have the luxury of taking their time to find what they want.


Today, the Whites enjoy every bit of their house, yard and especially the pool. “We loved our other house, but this one gives us so much more room to have the lifestyle we want.” It’s a lifestyle they hope to maintain for decades.


“Two-and-a-half years later, we still drive up and can’t believe this is our house,” she said. “It’s like we have our own retreat. I don’t know what 80 looks like, but this is where we plan to stay.”


Here are a few more findings the new NAR report revealed about older home buyers: which they break into three groups: Younger Baby Boomers, age 58-67; Older Baby Boomers, age 68 to 76; and the Silent Generation, age 77 to 97.

· Same-sizing. Among home buyers between the ages of 58 and 76 most bought homes that were the same size or within 100 square feet as the home they sold.

· Weighty demographic. Of all U.S. home buyers, 43 percent are 58 or older.

· The sweet spot. Over half of home buyers over age 58 bought a home between 1,501 and 2,500 square feet. However, 17 percent of younger boomers, 19 percent of older boomers and 13 percent of the silent generation bought homes over 3,000 square feet.

· Houses not condos. Among those buyers 58 and older, three-fourths bought single family homes.

· Independent living. Only 7 percent of all buyers over 60 bought housing in senior communities. “That number really speaks to the decline seen in older buyers seeking senior-related housing,” Lautz said. “It seems today’s seniors increasingly want to live

independently.”

· Bargaining power. Many in this age group have had a run up in their home equity, so have more leverage when buying a home, Lautz said. As a result, they are holding the cards. “They often come to the table with no contingencies, so in the case of a bidding war, they will win.” Among younger Boomers, 43 percent paid all cash for their home, and among older Boomers, 51 percent did, compared with only 7 percent of those ages 33 to 42.


CAPTION: Living larger — Suzanne and Mark White, in their Cordova, Tenn., home, upsized after their kids left the nest. Photo courtesy Suzanne White.

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