Many empty nesters flirt with the idea: selling the big family house in the 'burbs and moving downtown.

It's a decision that sparks endless questions: Will they like living there? Will their dog? Will they miss their yard, their neighbors, their memories of where they raised their kids?

"We were infatuated with downtown, but hadn't lived there," said Eric Gibson of his and his wife's decision to sell their Maple Grove home and move to Minneapolis. "You wonder what that's like."

To find out, they rented an apartment instead of buying a condo. "It's a test — to see if we like downtown," he said. So far, they do, although he misses tinkering in his wood shop.

"It's a different lifestyle for us," said his wife, Kathy. "This is time to try something new."

Selling a large house in the suburbs, even in a seller's market, is often the first challenge, as Sam and Kim Thompson found out when they listed their 6,000-square-foot house in Long Lake.

"That size house is difficult to sell," Sam said. Still, they dropped the price and forged ahead.

Then there's the process of downsizing.

"You're naive if you don't think there was emotional attachment," said Eric Gibson of sifting through their possessions. "You think, 'Did we make the right decisions? Spending all that money on that?' "

After the move, there's the adjustment — to density, city noise and having a lot of neighbors closer to your kids' ages than to yours.

The median age in downtown's two primary ZIP codes is early 30s, more than a decade younger than in many suburbs, according to 2016 census data. On the west side of downtown, almost 42 percent of residents are between 25 and 34.

"On the street, I feel that I'm in a sea of millennials," said Chrysanne Manoles, who raised her two children in Orono before moving to a condo in the North Loop. "But not in this building [Tower Lofts]."

Her move downtown coincided with a divorce, and at first, her new life took some getting used to. "When I moved here, I was so shellshocked," she said. "I would sit at night [on the rooftop] and look at the stars. I got used to being by myself. For me, this building was very healing."

She's glad she took the leap.

"Orono is a fantastic place to raise kids," said Manoles. "But I'm really happy here."

Kelly Doran, founder of Doran Companies, which develops multifamily housing, recently felt the pull of the city himself. While building Mill & Main, a luxury apartment complex just across the river from downtown, he and his wife decided to sell their Edina house and finish a unit for themselves.

"It came to me after we started construction," he said. "Maybe I should do something different."

The couple moved in August, and Doran couldn't be happier.

"I'm in love with living down here," he said. "It's a great lifestyle. No more shoveling snow, no more cutting the grass. You don't have to deal with anything. Just lock the door and walk."

Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784


'Every day's a vacation'

Sam and Kim Thompson

Before: 6,000-square-foot house on 5  ½ acres in Long Lake.

Now: Three-bedroom condo in the Bridgewater, Downtown East.

Why?: "We always planned to come downtown," said Kim. "We both like an active pace," said Sam.

Upside: "We do more, walk more, eat out more," said Sam. "Every day's a vacation. When we went out [before], we took forever to get anywhere." Kim appreciates freedom from household chores. "No yard work, no shoveling. They wash our windows," she said. And their commute (both work in Edina) is now against the traffic.

Downside: "Downsizing is not easy," said Sam. "I'm still adjusting to less space. At first it was a challenge to sleep, with downtown noise, sirens."

Reaction: "Some people think [we're] crazy," said Sam. "They think downtown is full of crime and traffic. We feel really safe here."

Favorite haunts: Walking along the river and taking light rail to Twins games. "We love the Dakota," said Sam. "On our anniversary we walked to Nicollet Island Inn."

'This is my time'

Chrysanne Manoles

Before: 4,000-square-foot house on 3 acres in Orono.

Now: One-bedroom condo in Tower Lofts, North Loop.

Why?: "I've always loved city life," said Manoles, who works in downtown St. Paul. "I lived in Washington, D.C., after college. I like the vibrancy of the city."

Upside: "I love it after work," she said. "I'm more social here. Life feels a lot more impromptu. This is my time."

Downside: "I miss seeing the lake [Minnetonka]," she said. "I would always be driving around it."

Reaction: Her friends and two young-adult children are drawn to all the dining and cultural options around her. "If I have plans with someone, usually they come here," she said. "In summer, we hang out on the roof. I'm pretty lucky this is a destination location."

Favorite haunts: "I go to Parlour for the burger weekly. I spend a lot of time at the Walker Sculpture Garden."

They feel 'liberated'

Eric and Kathy Gibson

Before: 4,700-square-foot house in Maple Grove.

Now: 1,100-square-foot unit at Mill & Main, across the river from downtown.

Why?: "Suddenly we were banging around the house," said Eric, after their three children moved out in quick succession. "We were infatuated with downtown but hadn't lived there." So they decided to try renting first, as a test. They worried how their two dogs would adjust to not having a big fenced yard. "But they love it!" said Kathy. "They're energized by it."

Upside: Kathy likes the social aspects of apartment living. "Everybody knows who you are. It's a cool community of people." Eric enjoys being able to walk to theater and sports events. "My son works downtown, and at the last minute, we decided to go to a Twins game, jumped on our bikes and were there in eight minutes," he said. Both feel "liberated" by not having a big house to maintain. "Before, I had a checklist of 9,000 things to do," said Eric. "Now we can go for a walk."

Downside: Eric, a woodworking hobbyist, no longer has a home workshop. "I miss having a place to putz." Kathy misses old neighbors, "seeing them at the mailbox and seeing little kids play."

Reaction: Unlike a friend's adult children, who got upset when their parents sold their childhood home, the Gibsons' kids cheered them on. "They were so excited," said Kathy.

Favorite haunts: The couple and their dogs are regulars on the patio at Alma.