Empty-nesters opting for city life, comfort

By Adam Smith | BostonHerald.com | May 15, 2015

A word of caution to college students in Boston who think they’ve escaped their parents back in the burbs: Your folks might soon be moving in next door.

Empty-nesters now make up one of the fastest growing segments of newcomers to the Hub, several real estate agents and experts say.

“It’s a trend that’s been going on for a number of years, and it’s growing,” said Michael DiMella, a managing partner with Charlesgate Realty Group in the Back Bay. “People are looking for a more conven­ient, urban lifestyle.”

The old stereotype of empty-nesters fleeing to Florida or holding onto the family home for their kids rarely holds true these days, agents say. The Back Bay and Beacon Hill are no longer the main destinations for the aging wealthy. The South End, Washington Street from upper Chinatown to Downtown Crossing, Brookline and the Seaport District are among the places where baby boomers are now heading in greater numbers.

“They want to be able to walk to dinner every night, walk to the Symphony … and walk the Esplanade,” said Elise Dubuque of the real estate firm Campion & Co.

After this tough winter, Dubuque says she’s seen a spike in the number of baby boomer buyers who want to ditch their snow shovels and move into so-called “full-service” condos, especially in the recently built high-rises along Washington Street near the Opera House.

“It’s affecting what people are building … and what people are selling,” said Hammond Residential real estate agent Michele Friedler, who specializes in senior citizen buyers and sellers. More and more buyers are opting for condos or one-story ranch houses that won’t require going up and down stairs or need heavy maintenance, Friedler said.

And the neighborhoods seeing an influx of older buyers are expanding to those traditionally dominated by students.

“We’re even seeing it in places like Brighton,” said DiMella. The Lancaster, a 55-unit condo project on Commonwealth Avenue, is gaining particular interest from empty-nesters, he said.

While some buyers may be downsizing their homes as well as their expenses, many are not as costs of small places downtown rise to the levels of big houses with big yards in the burbs.

“It’s a wash” for many, said Mary Devlin of Insight Realty Group in West Roxbury. “It’s basically a one-for-one swap.”

The trend, however, is having a ripple effect on the real estate market, exacerbating a housing “mismatch” in which Boston faces a shortage of family housing while the suburbs face an excess, suggests a Boston Foundation report.

Boosting the city’s population of residents without school-age children could also weaken support and investment in Boston schools and educational programs while at the same time increase demand for senior services in cities, say some experts.

While those with grandchildren are likely to support schools, others without them may wonder, “Why am I paying such high property tax to send others to schools?” said Barry Bluestone, an author of the Boston Foundation report and director of Northeastern’s Michael Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy.

Michael Johnson, an associate professor at UMass-Boston’s department of public policy and public affairs, has the same concern.

“Just as I think empty-nesters have a right to good quality housing in the city,” said Johnson, “so do people who are already here.”

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