By Randi Mazzella
Years ago, Tracy Beckerman moved from New York City to the suburbs of New Jersey with her husband to raise her two children. But when the kids grew up and left the nest, her husband urged her to move back into the city.
“He is a musician and works in the city,” Beckerman says. “Over the years we had dreamed about moving back, renting an apartment and having the discretionary income to partake in all the great restaurants, music and shows the city had to offer.”
So, they sold their family home and downsized to a small apartment on the 43rd floor of a high-rise tower. At first, city life was everything they had hoped it would be. And then the pandemic hit and public health authorities advised people to avoid public spaces.
“I felt like a prisoner in the apartment,” Beckerman says. “We lived in a 57-floor building and I felt panicky when we would take the elevator and not everyone was masked. After all the years we talked about how fun it would be, I didn’t anticipate the downside of living in a big city and I certainly didn’t anticipate living there in a pandemic. Had we known what was going to happen, I never would have sold my home.”
Empty-nesters and downsizing
Many people buy a home when their kids are little because they want more space and maybe a yard. So when those kids become adults and move out, downsizing to a smaller house makes sense.
“Larger, older homes can be challenging and costly to maintain,” says Amanda Pendleton of Zillow /zigman2/quotes/204413973/composite Z +4.16% Home Trends. “Let’s say your retirement plans include lots of travel. It’s harder to lock up and leave a larger, older home for months at a time without worrying about potential problems like the pipes freezing during the winter or overgrown landscaping.”
In any case, the fewer people who live in your house, the smaller the house needs to be. “Regardless of how big your house is, older adults wind up only using a small portion of their space, maybe 500 square feet, daily,” says Matt Paxton, a downsizing and cleaning expert and host of “Legacy List with Matt Paxton.”
Longtime homeowners may see that their house has increased substantially in value, offering them an opportunity to profit if they sell in the current market. “They can use these equity gains and have a sizable nest egg for retirement, travel or purchasing a smaller home that may have more desirable features or be in a more desirable location,” Pendleton explains.
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The COVID pandemic scrambled the equation
However, the COVID-19 pandemic, now in its third year, has led many people 50 and over, like Beckerman, to reassess their next chapter.
Common reasons to move or downsize once the kids are grown have become less compelling. For example:
Need for less space . “Zillow research found nearly three million young adults moved back home during the early months of the pandemic,” Pendleton says. “That likely delayed downsizing plans for some former empty-nesters, who suddenly had a full home again.” Even though life is slowly returning to normal, many people are no longer sure they want to downsize, given life’s uncertainty.
Easier commute . While Beckerman’s husband has continued to work in the city, many other people’s jobs have become remote and may stay that way. That eliminates commutes from the equation about whether to stay or sell. “The ability to work remotely has allowed some older workers to move to a more affordable location or downsize,” Pendleton explains. “Those housing savings have helped them retire earlier than expected.”
Lifestyle changes . The pandemic forced people to examine their lives, their interests and redefine what is important to them. For example, if you have spent the past few years separated from loved ones, you may realize that it’s time to move closer to friends and family. Or maybe you thought your next move was into an apartment like the Beckermans did, but now wonder if a big building will feel confining or you will miss having a yard of your own.
“Even before the pandemic, downsizing was on the decline for empty-nesters,” says Jessica Lautz, vice president of demographics and behavioral insights for the National Association of Realtors. “Instead, many (people) are looking to maintain square footage so that they can still have room for their adult children to stay over for holidays. They are trading for comparable size in more affordable neighborhoods or small towns that are good for retirees. They are also selling older homes in favor of brand new, turnkey properties.”