Brad Ali and his wife, Lori, skipped the meet-and-greet formalities with their neighbors after they moved into their new Needham home in 2011. They didn’t have to test out all the routes to the grocery store to find the quickest back road, or measure commuting times to work, or find new doctors and dentists for their family. Their three children even avoided that awkward first day at a new elementary school.
For the Ali family, selling their starter home and moving up to a nicer, and bigger Colonial, meant settling less than 100 feet away — into the house next door. They changed their address from 26 to 20 Bennington St.
“We effectively didn’t move, but we sort of did,” said Ali, 41, a lawyer.
For many families moving is a life-altering, town-shifting, scene-changing, anxiety-ridden experience that involves switching schools, changing jobs, and making new friends. But for a small group, the radical change is that there is little or no change with a move. For these families moving is just a tweaking of their address, to the house next door, down the street, or two streets over.
Most of these short-distance movers love their neighborhood too much to leave, but they have outgrown their current house, said Janis Urbanek, a realtor with Gibson Sotheby’s International Realty. They have had more children, or they want a pool, or they feel like they can afford more space.
“The location is ideal but they want a different house,” Urbanek said, adding that she often sees the trend in sought-after ZIP codes. If the property next door is vacant, some neighbors may decide to buy it, if they can afford to, in order to control who moves there in the future or to add onto their own land, she said.
Heidi and Henry Benson thought they already had the right house in Westwood and were getting ready to renovate their kitchen when the property at the end of their cul-de-sac went up for sale last year.
“We were not looking to move,” said Heidi Benson, 42. “We liked the neighborhood.”
Benson and her husband had spent 11 years in their ranch-style home, transforming it to suit their modern tastes with clean lines and light wood. They built new windows, relocated stairs, and turned a mudroom into a welcoming utility space with a washer and dryer.
But they took a look at the house three doors down and fell for the great room, a downstairs bedroom that elderly family members could use when visiting, and a pool that brought to mind summer parties to bookend their annual holiday open house in December.
“We have no plans to move,” Heidi Benson said in early March after three months in their new house. “This is it.”
There were some practical benefits to moving nearby, said Henry Benson, 52. They were, for example, able to help their basset hound mix, Sophie, adjust slowly to the new place by splitting their time between the two houses during that first week. And the movers just had to drive a few hundred feet, Benson said.
Being walking distance from your new house can definitely make it easier to make improvements to the property before you move in, said Todd Mikelonis, a real estate agent who moved with his family two streets over from their Roslindale condominium to a single-family house this past winter.
Mikelonis had to do some minor renovations, including painting, refinishing the floors, and replacing the fixtures, before he, his wife, and their 17-month-old son moved in. But during this past winter’s endless string of snowstorms he was able to just walk three minutes from their condo to their future home to make sure the work was going well, Mikelonis said.
Still, despite the short distances of their moves, all of these families say that moving still has a way of upending your life, whether you’re changing your address to 100 feet away or 100 miles away.
You still have to change your address with every credit card, hospital, bank, and pharmacy and yes, you will need a new driver’s license. And, unless you plan on carrying your own beds, bureaus, and bookcases down the street, you will need movers (though the moving costs should be cheaper since they won’t be spending much money on gas).
In mid-March, the Bensons were still living out of boxes and with half their furniture, since they left some of the pieces in their previous home to help stage it to lure prospective buyers.
The Alis of Needham crammed into their in-laws’ house for four months because renovations on their new place took longer than expected and their old home, the one next door, had already sold.
There’s one other factor to think about when moving so close by: Staying in the neighborhood puts additional pressure on families to sell their old house to buyers who would get along with their neighbors, and with themselves, since they would be neighbors, too.
In many of these neighborhoods turnover is minimal and the neighbors all know one another and their children play together.
Ali said he was there for open houses at their old property and immediately introduced himself to prospective buyers as the homeowner and mentioned that he would be living right next door.
“We were selective of who to sell the house to,” Ali said. “For one, you’re living next door to the person. . . . It was something that was on our mind.”
In the end, the families said the decision to move nearby was right for them. And, they say, there’s another bonus: If they are ever nostalgic for their former digs they don’t have far to go.
Mikelonis said when his son gets older he will be able walk over and show him the house they lived in when he was born.
“We got engaged, we got married, we had a son, we had a lot of important moments in our lives there,” he said. “It’s good to have it nearby.”