Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Downsizing up

From page HS4 | December 13, 2013 |

For years I was part of the move-up movement. Each time I moved, my home got a little bigger, a little grander, which felt, in that uniquely American way, like progress.

A growing young family and a usually promising housing market whisked those moves along the way like a strong ocean tide takes a soda can miles down shore.

And while I still love a big ole gallivanting house on an acre or more, it just doesn’t call to me as it used to, especially now that the kids are off to college and my full-time job means I’m home a lot less.

So lately — while I’m between permanent homes, serving as a foster parent for homes seeking permanent owners — I’ve been thinking about what sort of place does call to me.

The best part about thinking is it’s free.

Besides, I can’t buy a new home until my big ole gallivanting home on an acre in Colorado is sold, a plan for next year. That’s called that market protection. It protects me from myself.

Meanwhile, my housing fantasies know no bounds: City or country? Modern or vintage? House or townhome? No yard, big yard, room for a barn?

Most days, I envision an intimate home, but not a broom closet. I want an easy keeper with enough usable canvas for me to imprint my soul in three dimensions. I want a place where  my growing-up girls, guests and the dog I plan to have can live in comfort and style. I want to be close to some city life but not so close that I can’t see the stars. I want gracious but not grand, lovely but not lavish, pretty not pretentious.

And this for sure: I want to downsize up.

As I mull all this, I’m taking notes and watching how those a few giant steps ahead of me are doing just that.

Lori Brown, a talent acquisition executive in Chicago, is saying good-bye to her 4,000-square-foot home in a lovely suburb, to move with her husband to something smaller, but in many ways better. This month the Browns — she is 55, he is 70 — will move from their single-family home of 12 years to a luxury condo in a highrise.

“It’s not easy to leave,” said Brown. “We have a lot of great memories there, but it seems like it’s time.”

Leaving got a whole lot easier when they found their new place. The full-service lake-front condo is about 25 percent smaller with no yard duties.

“We’re excited,” said Brown. “Before, when I thought of people downsizing, I’d think they were compromising, but that’s not it at all. We have so many new places to explore. There’s nothing sad about it. We’re making an upgrade.”

The new place, which overlooks Lake Michigan, is a quick walk to restaurants, shops and public transportation. “That will make life easier. We’ll walk more and get out more.”

Like the Browns, Lizanne Bomhard and her husband, who live outside Orlando, are also plotting a move to a smaller place to live larger.

The Bomhards have downsized a few times since they married 20 years ago, mostly so they could be closer to family. Now, at ages 65 and 69, they are looking to move from their 1,600-square-foot cottage on five acres to “a new house closer to town and the grandkids with sidewalks and neighbors,” she wrote me in an e-mail.

Each time they downsized, she said, “We celebrated more freedom from taking care of unnecessary space and stuff.”

Sounds like right-sizing to me.

Though everyone’s criteria for the ideal home differs, depending on family, work and lifestyle, here’s what the Browns factored into their equation:

Must have — They definitely wanted an urban lifestyle, with an easy walk to the action. A big eating area was also a must. “When our family gets together for Sunday dinner, there are 14 of us,” said Lori Brown. “On holidays there can be up to 22.” She wanted enough room to gather, eat, watch football and have the grandkids sleepover.

Will sacrifice — Though Brown wanted an outdoor space where she could put couches and a fire pit, “That’s not what we bought,” she said. However, the condo complex has a pool, which wasn’t on their wish list. Their seven grandchildren, ages to 4-18, are excited about that. “They will be here every weekend. Now watch our grocery bills soar,” she jokes.

Net gains

  • Lower overhead. “We’ve been looking for ways to cut our overhead, and find better ways to spend our money and time, so we can do more traveling,” she said. After the move, their house-related expenses will go down by half, she estimates. Property taxes alone will be one-fourth what they were for their former home.
  • One level. The house the Browns are leaving is three stories. The new condo is on one level. “We are getting older,” she said. “This seemed like a good time to plan for that.”
  • Less driving. For her work downtown, Brown spends close to $4,000 a year on parking. Now she can easily take public transportation.
  • More convenience. Because their current home is just outside the city, “Once we’re home, we’re home. We don’t go out. That will change,” she said.
  • A view. Brown likes that her new place is on the third floor with lots of windows, so she can see the treetops as well as Lake Michigan.

“Yes,” she said, “we’re giving up being in single-family home that we really love and put a lot into. But we’re moving into a place where we will have a better life. It feels fun. It feels lighter.”

Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through





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