When empty nesters Mary Ellen and Chuck Kundschier were ready to move into a smaller home, they looked at dozens before finding the one they wanted.
Mary and Dale Klein, soon-to-be empty nesters also interested in downsizing, searched extensively before selecting just the right place.
Both couples eventually chose homes that met their needs and then some: updated design, open floor plans, rooms all on one level. Both couples found places free of lawn-maintenance headaches, with beautiful views and settings for lovely walks. But similar as their ideal homes were, the Kundschiers and the Kleins found them in pretty much opposite locations.
The Kundschiers moved from Minneapolis outward, to the far southwestern side of the metro area. The Kleins will be going in the other direction, migrating from Eagan to downtown Minneapolis. Their choices reflect the surprisingly divergent preferences of other Twin Cities residents who, when the kids move out, look for smaller homes they hope will meet their needs into their older years.
According to conventional wisdom, empty nesters are flocking downtown, lured by convenient access to amenities. And indeed, plenty are doing just that, said Mike Seebinger, a real estate agent with the Downtown Resource Group.
"I would say probably half the deals we do downtown are with empty nesters," Seebinger said. "They're looking for a place to downsize where they have little to no maintenance. They're kind of over doing the yard thing and they want to be near restaurants, theaters, stuff to do."
But these newly-minted city folk have a country cousin counterpart — people who still want single-family homes and their own patch of green space, who may be sick of shoveling but aren't ready to give up gardening.
"It's so against everything we thought would happen; we thought empty nesters would be moving into the city, and I'm sure they are," said Lisa Dunn, a ReMax Results agent who specializes in services for older adults. "But it's really hard to pigeonhole the baby-boomer group. … It's so big that there will be an influx of baby boomers that move downtown into condos, just as there will be an influx of baby boomers who move out to third- and fourth-ring suburbs to buy new construction that meets their needs."
After 26 years in the Nokomis area, the Kundschiers moved in 2012 to the brand-new Chevalle housing development outside Chaska. There they can sit out on their balcony enjoying the pond behind their house, or take long walks on the bucolic trails that wind through the community.
"You get that 'aha' moment and we're like, finally we found our home," said Mary Ellen, who like her husband is in her 60s and works as a manufacturers' representative. "We love listening to the frogs and the birds."
"Plunk me out there where I can watch all this nature," Chuck agreed.
Meanwhile the Kleins, who have lived in Eagan for 18 years, will soon be closing on a condominium in the Ivy Residences in downtown Minneapolis, an easy walk to stores, restaurants and sporting events.
Visiting a daughter at college in New York City, the Kleins discovered that "it's kind of fun to have a walking community," said Dale, 48, CEO of Parallel Technologies in Eden Prairie. "To our surprise, we found we just might be city people."
"What I really like are the views — they're just amazing," said Mary, 47, a painter, of the cityscape that stretches below the condo's floor-to-ceiling windows.
The two kinds of downsizers aren't different in every way, though. As they tour properties for sale, many empty nesters share some common criteria.
• They're looking for places with living areas, bedrooms and laundry all on one level. They don't want to have to run up and down stairs, especially if their mobility eventually becomes limited. (On the other hand, they aren't concerned about other accessibility features, such as wide doorways or grab bars; those sorts of modifications can be added later, Dunn noted. As Seebinger put it, "I don't know that people are putting themselves in their coffins quite yet – it stops with the one-level thing.")
• They want a place that's move-in ready. That problem stymied the Kundschiers for a while. They looked extensively at one-story houses around their previous home in Minneapolis, finally coming to the conclusion that an older home would need too much updating. So they chose new construction instead. "They want the thing to be ready to go," Dunn said, speaking generally of this group of home buyers. "Not to say they're not willing to spend money to make it their own and customize it. But the idea of buying a 1950s rambler and trying to retrofit it — I haven't seen that work with the clients we have. They've shied away from those projects."
• They're done shoveling and mowing. The Kleins have neither a yard nor a driveway to bother with. The Kundschiers are part of a neighborhood association that handles those services. Both couples like knowing that they can pick up and leave town without worrying about maintenance or security.
"I don't have to worry about a cotton-picking thing," Chuck Kundschier said.