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Katie Seymour never thought she’d want to leave the house where she and her husband, Thad, had lived for 31 years in Lake Mary, Fla. Katie had asked me to come by to offer staging tips to help the house sell. As she showed me around the lovely 3,000-square-foot lakefront pool home, I couldn’t help but pry.
I’m always curious to learn what motivates those long settled in a family home to roll up their rugs, empty their closets and drawers and move. It takes courage, vision and fortitude. While more retirees — Katie’s 65 and Thad’s 67 — should move once their kids are launched, many stay tethered to homes that no longer serve them.
“We knew we would eventually sell the family house and move to something more fitting for empty nesters,” Katie said, adding that Thad embraced the idea first.
“Though I loved the house,” he said, “I was ready to let go and move on to the next chapter. The amount of work involved in keeping it up felt like more every year.”
Katie hit her tipping point last fall when she learned their first grandbaby was on the way.
“The baby changed everything,” she said.
She started packing with her eye on Milwaukee, where her daughter, son-in-law and soon Grandbaby live. The Seymours’ son lives 90 minutes away in Chicago, and five of Katie’s siblings also live nearby. But while a Wisconsin home made sense, they didn’t want to abandon Florida. Their plan: buy two smaller, lower maintenance homes for the price of the one they were selling.
They bought a smaller home in Lake Nona, a planned community about 25 miles south of their current home. The house has almost no yard. The weekly fee to maintain the small strip of grass out front is $15, which sounds great after years of paying several hundred dollars a month on pool and yard maintenance. The home still has four bedrooms, so the kids and ultimately grandkids can visit.
And they’ll want to. The property has access to three pools, a ropes course, and hiking and biking trails. It’s walking distance to restaurants, just six miles from the airport and 20 minutes from Orlando’s major theme parks.
Next, the Seymours will hunt for a small, single-family home in Wisconsin “after we sell this,” Katie said, which reminds me that I am supposed to be helping her stage. I apply the advice I’ve doled out in this column and followed myself many times: deep clean, declutter, de-pet, depersonalize, de-politicize, de-religicize and sell a lifestyle – margarita pitchers and glasses on the patio table.
Katie and Thad are doing this right. They thought through what they want their lifestyle to be in retirement and what matters. They figured out where they want to live, how much house they need and want to maintain, and how they want to spend their time and money.
Rightsizing in your later years doesn’t always mean downsizing; it can mean resizing. As we talked, I gathered several pieces of good advice for others contemplating such a move:
Don’t wait. Maintaining a large home doesn’t get easier as you get older. Neither does moving. Katie and Thad know a couple in their 80s who couldn’t keep up with their home’s necessary maintenance, and now it needs so much work, they will have a hard time selling it. “We didn’t want that to be us,” she said.
Try before you buy. The Seymours spent the last two summers in Milwaukee, so they know the area and, more important, know they’d like to live there.
Get a pre-inspection. Katie and Thad had their home inspected before they listed it. (Another smart move.) That’s when they learned they had to replumb their home, because its waterpipes were made of polybutylene, a resin material common in homes built in the ’80s and early ’90s. In 1995, builders stopped installing polybutylene pipes because some failed, and insurers stopped insuring homes that had them. “If a buyer can’t get insurance, that would be a deal breaker,” Thad said. “Better we found out beforehand.”
Focus on the upside. Clearing out a home you’ve lived in for decades and getting it ready to sell is overwhelming. The task is often so daunting many hit the default button and stay put. Not the Seymours: “We’re looking forward to spending less time on a home, yard and pool, and to spending carefree summers in Wisconsin and winters in Florida.”
Don’t listen to the kids. “The kids wanted us to keep the house,” Katie said. But they don’t have to maintain it. These parents did what was best for them.
Marni Jameson is the author of six home and lifestyle books, including “Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go.” Reach her at www.marnijameson.com.
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