By Charlyne Varkonyi Schaub
Yvonne and Tony Conza were living the good life with three residences – 10 acres in Woodstock, N.Y., an apartment in Manhattan and a home in Miami Beach.
They loved them all and the memories they made in them. Then reality hit: The responsibilities that came with all these residences were becoming more burden than pleasure. They wanted more time to live their lives, not to manage their homes. It was time to downsize.
“Downsizing makes what you own more precious,” Yvonne says. “You have to be more particular. Less really is more. Stuff weighs you down. It became such a burden in our lives. Downsizing is such a relief. I would recommend it to everyone.”
The Conzas are part of a growing trend in South Florida for empty nesters. It can mean reducing the number of residences. Others move from a big house in a suburban country club community to a condo in town or on the ocean. These buyers often leave not to save money but to simplify their lives. They want someone to receive packages, a valet to park their car and freedom from wheeling out the garbage.
The Conzas’ first step was hiring Lauri Ward, author of Downsizing Your Home with Style (Collins, $24.95), and founder of a business that helps people to live well in smaller spaces. Ward advised them on what to get rid of and rearranged the furniture to make it look roomier in preparation for the sale of their Miami Beach home.
Before they sold the home, they found their dream residence – a 1,933-square-foot condo with a 700-square-foot terrace on the 40th floor of the Icon building on Miami Beach. The Miami house went first, then a year later Woodstock sold.
“I wake up and see the beautiful water view and love the fact that everything is taken care of,” she says. “When you downsize, you get particular in what you want. We didn’t lower our standards.”
BEACH AND CITY LIFESTYLE
Many South Florida developments aimed at empty nesters are close to shops and restaurants or on the beach because Baby Boomers are looking for a different lifestyle than their parents had when they retired. An example is 1200 The Ocean, a three-story condo with 18 units on Hillsboro Mile. Prices range from $800,000 to $1.95 million for units that are 1,825 square feet to 2,450 square feet.
Caprice Weber, president of the Florida office of Baker Real Estate, says potential buyers for 1200 The Ocean are coming from the western communities of Broward and Boca Raton.
“They want something that feels like home and they want to lock it and leave it,” Weber says. “They are empty nesters and traveling more. They like the size because they don’t feel confined. People love to live the dream walking everywhere and enjoying the beach.”
Lon Tabatchnick, developer of 200 East in Boca Raton and Positano Beach in Hollywood, says his buyers are empty nesters who started out in large homes in golf course communities. The condos range from 1,800 to 4,000 square feet and sell for $700,000 to $2.8 million.
“The active adult wants to be in the middle of things, not buried away in a retirement community,” he says. “The downtown and beach lifestyle play into that desire. They want to be in the heart of downtown. They want restaurants and nightlife.”
MAKING THE DECISION
Downsizing is not for everyone. Just ask Christine and Bill Juneau, empty nesters who considered selling their four-bedroom residence on an acre in Parkland and buying a home with less upkeep in the same area.
“We started talking about it a few years ago,” Christine says. “As we got older, it got to be more of a grind to take care of the property. It is an older house built in the 1980s and something always needed to be repaired.”
They contacted two real estate agents and received a similar message.
“They told us we would probably have to move to a gated community and pay dues that we don’t pay now,” she says. “We would be looking at a smaller property and give up privacy, space, our fruit trees, pool and outdoor kitchen. And we would probably pay a lot more in taxes. It seemed like we would be paying more and getting less.”
The Juneaus concluded it would be wiser to stay in their home and hire a handyman who also could help with the gardening.
So what should you consider before deciding to downsize?
Ward, the downsizing expert who has offices in Boca Raton and Manhattan, says you need to ask yourself some questions. Do you want the maintenance of a large place? Are you connected in a home you feel you can’t leave? What do you envision your life to be?
“The bottom line in getting older is to make things simpler and easier,” Ward says. “You still want the same standards and lifestyle but you want a place that says, ‘This is who I am.’ It doesn’t have to mean bigger. Living simply can mean living a richer life.”
MAKING THE KITCHEN WORK
Susan Rocco, a designer with The Kitchenworks in Fort Lauderdale, says her empty nester clients want to simplify their kitchens. They don’t want something with a lot of maintenance. Storage is still important for the items they will need for big family dinners.
“Even when they are downsizing, they want an emphasis on the kitchen,” Rocco says. “We are not doing the formal, stuffy traditional that we used to do. We are still doing nice size kitchens with room for all their kids and grandkids, but we are not doing fussy details. They want the kitchen to be relaxed and feel comfortable.”
Popular items include convection ovens, induction cooktops, wall ovens, roll out drawers behind doors, full extension drawers and handles rather than knobs. Almost all the faucets have an arc with a pull-down spray and single sinks are popular to be able to easily handle pasta pots and chafing dishes.
“A new trend is a more sleek compact kitchen with all the bells and whistles of a high-end kitchen typically found in a much larger home,” says Ken Cooper Jr., appliance specialist for Coral Springs Appliance Center, which caters to the design trade.
Cooper says manufacturers are making it easier to do a compact kitchen because they are designing appliances with multiple functions, such as built-in ovens with the speed of a microwave combined with a halogen light. Built-in cabinet depth refrigerators can add versatility to the smaller kitchen. One of the innovations is the use of modular columns to customize size of refrigerator and freezer units to fit the space. The modular units are available in stainless steel or panels to match the cabinetry.
Some final advice from Ward: “Less is best in a smaller space. Edit what you have.”
Coral Springs Appliance Center: 3500 Coral Ridge Drive, Coral Springs, 954-752-3880, csappliances.com.
1200 The Ocean: 1200 Hillsboro Mile, Hillsboro Beach, 954-418-8033, 1200the ocean.com.
200 East: 200 E. Palmetto Park Road, Boca Raton,
Positano Beach: 3415 N. Ocean Drive, Hollywood,
Susan Rocco: The Kitchenworks, 1808 E. Sunrise Blvd.,
Fort Lauderdale, 954-764-1482, thekitchenworks.com.
Lauri Ward: Use What You Have Interiors, Boca Raton office, 561 994-2800, redecorate.com.