Boston's Empty-Nesters Say 'Adios!' to Suburbs

Young families moving out of urban neighborhoods and into the suburbs has been a predictable pattern for almost a century. Empty-nesters cashing out of their suburban homes to buy a place in or near Boston has also been a well-known (if less common) trend for about the last 15 years. While moving to the suburbs has been an evergreen phenomenon — as people look for more space and better schools — the other trend of older couples downsizing to urban locales fluctuates, but it is an important dynamic in home sales.

In late 2010-11, my business partner and I brokered listings for a half-dozen sellers in their 50s or 60s moving into Boston or Cambridge from Lexington, Lincoln, and other surrounding towns. Meanwhile, most of our sales as buyer agents, and most of the buyers of our listings, went to buyers coming from the South End, Back Bay, Charlestown, and Somerville. We might see more of this dynamic via our specialization in stylish, mid-century modern homes that mitigate the fear that young urbanites might sacrifice hip style in their moves to Boston’s suburbs.

This listing of an updated/expanded mid-century ranch in one of Lexington’s most desirable neighborhoods illustrates this trend perfectly. The sellers bought it about 15 years ago. They loved the location, where their kids could walk to the town center, middle school, high school, town recreation center and swimming pool. As their needs changed, they expanded and renovated rather than move because the value of the neighborhood and central location more than supported the investment. Now that their kids are grown up and gone, the sellers no longer see the need for the space and want to be closer to the office downtown. So they bought a beautiful condo in the South End. I am going to go out on a limb here and predict the buyers are going to be coming from the other direction down Route 2.

These sales are obviously integral to the health of the local markets. When I started in real estate in 2001, companies relocating their employees seemed to be a large segment of the real estate market. That took a hit along with the rest of the national economy. While the higher-end towns/neighborhoods in and around Boston (Cambridge, Brookline, Newton, Lexington, etc.) have largely been buffered from the extreme lows of the national real estate bust, the ramifications could certainly be felt in the slowing down of relocation business. And empty-nester sellers, with low or no remaining mortgages, generally do not sell unless the market is healthy enough to obtain a price for their nest egg. A relative lack of inventory of median-priced homes has been the main challenge for me on the buyer-agent side. Almost all of our own listings this year have sold right away, at or over asking price, most with multiple offers. The fact that we are seeing such empty-nester/young family changeover activity on a regular basis is a good sign for the Boston area.

I’m eager to hear your comments if you are in a similar situation. What has been your reasoning for moving from the suburbs into the city, or vice versa?


Marquee photographs via iStockphot/Gregobagel