Washington Post: Baby Boomers Enhance the Empty Nest11/21/2013
The kids are grown. The mortgage is paid. The nest is feeling big and empty.
The next logical step is to sell the family home and buy a smaller, less expensive house or condominium unit, right?
Many baby boomers, the generation born from 1946 to 1964, prefer to stay put and enhance their homes rather than relocate.
"I don't want to move," says Bethesda homeowner Maureen O'Bryan, 59, a retired nurse. "I like our home's proximity to grocery shopping, Metro and bus lines."
Rather than downsize, she and husband, Ray O'Bryan, 55, a trade association executive, decided to upsize their 1950s brick rambler.
Part of the reason, they say, is the high price of real estate in the region, leaving little money left over for retirement or renovations after buying another home.
"We looked around at other houses in the area, but they were so expensive," Maureen O'Bryan says. "That's when we decided to get everything we wanted in this house and stay in the neighborhood."
Research shows that most boomers are reluctant to move from their dwellings. Nearly seven in 10 of the 2,260 adults age 45 to 65 who participated in AARP's 2011 Boomer Housing Survey said they want to age in place. More than eight in 10 said they want to stay in their homes because they like their communities.
The O'Bryans added on to create "me" spaces, the kind of personal luxuries passed over while raising their three kids. They turned their attic into a second floor to accommodate a spacious master suite, his-and-her walk-in closets, a convenient laundry room and a home office.
On the main floor, they expanded to create a family room opening to a new kitchen in what had been their daughter's bedroom. The living room was turned into the dining room, and the basement remodeled to create a TV room and bedroom suite.
"I love to cook and entertain, and the house wasn't conducive for that before since the family room was in the basement and the kitchen was small," Maureen O'Bryan says. "We frequently entertain five to six people for dinner and have more formal dinner parties of eight to 14. That has become so much easier in the new space."
In enlarging the home, Bethesda architect Jim Rill and builder David Clark of Woodhaven Contractors in Ijamsville, Md., created the look of a Craftsman bungalow with a spacious front porch and an outdoor stone fireplace at the rear. Aidan Design of Bethesda reworked the kitchen to incorporate top-of-the-line appliances, a breakfast bar, an island and a walk-in pantry.
"Most boomers have been through a remodeling at least once, and they are very specific about what they want this time around - easy maintenance and organization above all. They don't want froufrou," says kitchen designer Nadia Subaran, co-owner of Aidan Design. "Aesthetically, they want a more modern look and are open to less traditional finishes."
Potomac boomers Marcia and Dave Gelfand reflect this embrace of contemporary decor in the upsizing of their family home. They bought their 1980s house in 2004 but didn't remodel until their two sons had graduated from college.
"Our house was getting to the age when the cabinets wouldn't close and the windows were worn," says Marcia Gelfand, 55. The couple found their two-story great room was expensive to heat and cool, and the noise from the space could be heard upstairs.
"There was lot about the house that bugged us," says Dave Gelfand, 54, a lawyer.
In 2011, the homeowners considered downsizing to Georgetown, but instead decided to overhaul their Maryland home because their mortgage was paid and they liked their large back yard planted with roses and raspberry bushes.
"Once we decided to stay," Dave Gelfand says, "we tried to make it the perfect house."
The couple hired Carnemark, a design-build firm in Bethesda, to undertake a substantial renovation of their four-bedroom house that was completed in August. Inside the Gelfands' brick home, the two-story family room was reduced to one story to make way for a home office on the second floor. An addition over the garage accommodates a new master suite and walk-in closets.
On the ground floor, the family room and kitchen were joined to create an open space with a fireplace. The kitchen was expanded into the laundry, which was moved upstairs, to allow for a rear hallway with a pantry.
"Boomers have worked hard all their lives and are willing to spend a lot on adding amenities to suit their lifestyles," says the company's president, Jonas Carnemark. "More than half of our clients are boomers, and they are all thinking about aging in place and creating their forever home rather than thinking about resale." He says these boomer homeowners are willing to spend more than $100,000 for a master suite and $350,000 to $500,000 for an entire house renovation.
In addition to renovating, the Gelfands hired D.C. interior designer Nestor Santa-Cruz to redecorate the ground-floor rooms in a restrained modern style. New oak floors were installed and hieroglyphic-like patterns painted on the floor of their two-story entrance foyer.
"This was our time to make the house exactly the way that we wanted it," Marcia Gelfand says.
That wish drove Brian and Trish Oliver to upsize their 1990s home in Oak Hill, Va., with a master suite addition designed and built by Carnemark.
"I'm not ready to downsize," says Trish Oliver, 55. "We have already invested a lot in this house and want to continue to enjoy it."
In the years since they built the house, the Olivers added a swimming pool, a pool pavilion, a screened porch and a wine cellar, among other improvements. But they had sacrificed space in their master bedroom to carve out another bedroom on the second floor so their four children could each have their own room.
In 2012, after their three daughters and son had left home, the homeowners decided it was time to build the master suite of their dreams. "It started as a facelift of our original bathroom but grew into a larger project, including new hardwood floors in the bedrooms," says Brian Oliver, 57, a telecommunications company executive.
Carnemark expanded and reconfigured the second level to accommodate a new master bathroom with heated floors, a glass-enclosed shower and his-and-her walk-in closets. The master bedroom was expanded into an adjacent bedroom and a closet and furnished with a contemporary bed, bench and nightstands.
As for living with unused bedrooms now that their adult children have left, these homeowners say the extra space comes in handy for visits from the kids, relatives and guests. The beds, they say, aren't empty for long.
"Our kids enjoy coming home to the house they grew up in, frequently with their friends," Brian Oliver says. "We plan to stay here as long as we still have enough pep in our step to enjoy this house."