Empty nesters on the move

Faye and Charlie Ruopp on the balcony of their Brighton condo, which they bought after selling their Newton house.
Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff
Faye and Charlie Ruopp on the balcony of their Brighton condo, which they bought after selling their Newton house.

Faye and Charlie Ruopp woke up one day to realize they were the oldest couple in their tightknit Newton neighborhood, and their son, a medical resident at Duke, was likely gone for good.

Instead of fighting change, the Ruopps decided to embrace it, selling their home of three decades and buying a condo at the Waterworks, just over the Boston line in Brighton overlooking the Chestnut Hill Reservoir.

A year later, the Ruopps have no regrets, despite the difficulty of parting with longtime neighbors who had become close friends, and worries about what their son, Marcus, might think of the sale of his childhood home.


“As people get toward 65, they start thinking about where they want to be for the next 10 years,” said Faye Ruopp, a mathematics consultant. “Part of the attraction is the simplicity of life — transportation gets a bit easier, and the yard and shoveling, you don’t have to worry about all those things.”

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Not alone, the Ruopps are among a growing number of empty nesters who are on the move again as the real estate market heats up, many choosing to trade in a big suburban home for a smaller house in town or a condo in Boston, Cambridge, or another urban center.

With prices rising in Boston’s suburbs, older couples who put their downsizing plans on hold during the recession are now finding a changed market.

In Newton, home prices are higher than they were during the height of the last real estate boom in the mid-2000s, hitting a median price of $855,000 in June, a 13.2 percent increase over June 2012, according to figures compiled by the Warren Group, an industry data tracking and publishing company.

The same category’s figure was $779,000 in 2005.


The median home price across Massachusetts hit $315,000 in June, representing a 12 percent increase during the first six months of the year compared with the same period in 2012, the Warren Group reports.

Some empty nesters are finding their biggest challenge is not selling their house, but finding a new place to live, especially if they have their hearts set on staying in the same community, notes Lesley Palmiter, with Keller Williams Real Estate in Newton.

“This generation of baby boomers is hit very hard by the fact there is no inventory, and no inventory in the towns they want to stay in,” she said.

Despite the challenges, many empty nesters are on the younger side, nearing retirement age and ready to embark on new adventures while they are still able to travel and fully enjoy life, notes Ilene Solomon, a longtime Newton realtor with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage who helped the Ruopps find their condo at the Waterworks, where she also lives.

“My children are in their 30s and my friends are in their 60s,” Solomon noted. “Much of my client base is facing the same dilemma — what should I do and where should I go?”


In Lexington, Amy Rubin and her husband, Stan Deutsch, are also starting to grapple with the question of what to do next — and where to live — as her last child prepares to fly the coop.

‘Part of the attraction is the simplicity of life — transportation gets a bit easier, and the yard and shoveling, you don’t have to worry about all those things.’

Both in their late 50s, Rubin and Deutsch find themselves sharing a five-bedroom, 5,000-square-foot neo-Colonial near Lexington Center and debating a range of options, from moving to Rockport to moving back to New York, where both still have relatives.

At the moment, they are leaning toward staying in Massachusetts and moving into a condo or town house, but have yet to fill in all the blanks.

“I just feel like we are rattling around a little too much,” Rubin said of life in their big and mostly empty Lexington house.

As the baby boom generation moves into its retirement years, it is a dilemma that more and more couples are facing.

In several area communities, nearly half — in some cases, more than half — of all homeowners are 55 or older, according to a recent report by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council.

And many of those older homeowners will be looking to downsize, typically to an apartment or condo rather than another single-family home, said Marc Draisen, MAPC’s executive director.

While the couples are looking for something different, they are increasingly opting to remain in the same community or general area where they have been living, eschewing the old dream of retiring to a balmy Sun Belt state, he said.

“Our senior citizen population is increasing very rapidly,” Draisen said. “At some point, seniors or empty nesters will sell the home they live in in order to downsize to another location. They are eager to stay in the community or the region — we are seeing a downturn in the number of people going to Florida.”

Sometimes their next place is a condo or an apartment in Cambridge, downtown Boston, or one of Boston’s more-fashionable neighborhoods, such as Jamaica Plain or the South End.

“The biggest dream is to go into Boston and get a wonderful place and start a new, exciting life,” Solomon said.

That can be an expensive option, though. In a neighborhood like Back Bay, they may need to spend $2 million or more to get something they are completely happy with, or settle for significantly less space and amenities than they are accustomed to.

Others opt to stay in the suburbs, perhaps buying a condo or renting, with Charles River Landing in Needham a popular destination, she said.

Sometimes it is just a smaller house where maintenance and yard work are handled by someone else.

Robert DeVasto, a branch manager for a mortgage company, has sold his sprawling Tudor-style home in Winchester and is having a smaller house built in a new development in Burlington.

Helping ease the transition, some of his friends have landed there too.

The house has a single-family feel but is set up like a condo, so yard maintenance and other upkeep duties are covered.

Looking ahead, DeVasto said, he was attracted by Burlington’s lower tax rate, which will be easier to handle as he and his wife enter their retirement years.

“It makes economic sense to move to the Burlington area, where the tax rate is really good,” he said.

But DeVasto is lucky in that he was able to find a smaller place that they liked.

In a tight market where the inventory of homes is down markedly from last year, some empty nesters are finding that while they can finally sell, finding a new place to live can be a challenge.

Lynn MacDonald, a real estate agent in Coldwell Banker’s Belmont office, said she is working with a couple looking to sell their four-bedroom, nearly 4,000-square-foot Colonial and move to a smaller house in town.

They have no interest in moving out of Belmont, a town they love, and where they can be close to their children and grandchildren.

They are looking at ranches and homes that offer single-story living, but are having a hard time finding anything, MacDonald said. “They don’t want to leave the area, they like it so much,”

Over at the Waterworks at Chestnut Hill, the Ruopps are grateful they were able to make the transition as they enjoy the benefits of city life, including the ability to walk to some of their favorite haunts, such as the Museum of Fine Arts.

They have also found one of their biggest worries — what their son would think of selling the house where he grew up — was all for naught.

Marcus has taken an instant liking to his parents’ new perch at the Waterworks, with its urban location in a city packed with students and young professionals.

“He was thrilled — that made us feel much better,” said Charlie Ruopp.

Scott Van Voorhis can be reached at sbvanvoorhis@hotmail.com.