Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Maryl pines: For a house with fewer memories

Photo by Svetlana Blasucci
This table sits in a dining room facing the Atlantic Ocean in an old Victorian house on the Jersey shore. It’s served up many a family celebration, including all the holidays, First Communions, graduations, anniversaries and, of course, birthdays. If you look in the pantry drawers you’ll find candles in the shapes of numbers 0 to 9….4 for my daughter’s first birthday in her new home in America and 80 for my mother’s milestone achievement. This dining room was where we cut our wedding cake and probably where the daughter of Thomas and Julia Wood, the original owners, did the same who was also married in the house. (Thomas Wood was a businessman from Manhattan and a Lieutenant in the Spanish-American War.) We’ve imagined celebrating our daughter’s wedding here as well but that eventuality remains to be sent. 

Last week we attended a House Packing party two doors away. You couldn’t leave without taking at least one item from their giveaway table. (I took a bamboo tray and some picture frames for my daughter's photography.)  This is the third family to move from that home since we’ve been in ours. The owners are becoming empty nesters and have already purchased their two bedroom apartment in Manhattan. But they are also having a new house built a few blocks away because they like this beach community and aren’t ready to sever all ties yet. It won’t be another Victorian or a McMansion but rather something smaller and simpler and not because of easy upkeep but so they can sell it more speedily in case they do want that rustic villa on a rolling hill in Tuscany.    

Their house used to be right next door but another was built on the open lot in between. Three families have lived there also, the current couple having relocated there so he can be close to his new job in the city and she could begin her second life as a writer after retiring from a career with the government. My neighbor on the other side took over her house after a divorce. She has just sold her second home outside the country and toys with buying and living elsewhere, maybe the city as well.

Because a second life allows us to redefine what we do next and retirement in general, flocking to Florida and the other sunbelt states has subsided. MSNBC reports “Battered by recession, more older Americans are staying put in traditional big cities to hold onto jobs, creating slowdowns in population growth at once-popular retirement destinations widely found in the South and West.” For the first time in decades, more people are moving into New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago and Washington, D.C than out in contrast to the opposite happening in Las Vegas, Orlando, Phoenix, Atlanta and Raleigh, N.C., the usual retirement locations.

Paul Bishop, the vice president of research at the National Association of Realtors, in their study, “Baby Boomers and Real Estate” confirms that boomers want to retire in urban settings for at least part of the year because they offer easy access to public transportation, health care, culture and restaurants. Older Americans also want to be in or closer to cities because they plan to keep working or looping between work and leisure according to Merrill Lynch’s “The New Retirement Survey,” and because they are unlikely to retire at the typical retirement age.

It may be true that we will need less space - and stairs - and more amenities in our second lives. Our house always had more rooms than we needed, which is why we purchased it in the first place as a beach getaway for our family and friends to enjoy. So I don’t feel it’s the need to downsize or economize per se that prompts me to contemplate starting a new home elsewhere even though the cost of painting our house this month will be more than what my parents paid in total for the house I grew up in. Maybe it has more to do with the absence of some of those familiar faces who gathered around our dining room table and who have now moved on or away. This weekend I will celebrate my birthday there and blow out a few candles (I don't use the numbered ones anymore) and be grateful for the family and friends who are still there with me and pine for those who are not. Sometimes a house can hold too many memories and that’s when you know it’s time to move on.

Recap of links: 
1) “Baby Boomers become buyers,”as they reenter the NYC real   
      estate market
2) Frances Mayes on buying a house in Tuscany
3) MSNBC Report: “Cities gain as boomers delay”
4) Merrill Lynch’s “The New Retirement Survey

I had a great birthday with family and friends gathered around the 
dining room table to sing to me but I took their picture instead. 
(I do remember 19 was a good year!)

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