Selling house, seeing freedom
The flexibility of a rental apartment appeals to some tired of homeowners’ responsibilities
She didn’t know the neighborhood or have friends nearby.
But that didn’t stop Judy Lipson from whipping out her checkbook on the spot to claim a charming Back Bay apartment. “If it’s in an area of the city I don’t want to be in,’’ said Lipson, 54, “I can move in a year.’’
Flexibility is just one of many advantages enticing longtime homeowners like Lipson to take up the renting life after the kids move out and the family house is sold. For these downsizing baby boomers, the next phase does not include the American dream of homeownership and the endless cycle of bills, home improvements, and rising property taxes.
Boston real estate agents say they are starting to see an increase in the number of people in their 50s and 60s looking to lease apartments. While real estate firms don’t break down statistics by age, Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Boston said aging renters have helped drive up its overall rentals by 25 percent this year compared to last year.
“Five years ago, none of my [older] clients were renting,’’ said Collin Sullivan, a Coldwell Banker agent. “In the past year or two, I’ve seen people who would normally buy, looking to rent.’’
The reason: “They don’t want the worry. They don’t want to have to call someone about ice damage in the winter. It’s about freeing up your time to enjoy life,’’ Sullivan said.
Lipson, a single mother, can tick off a litany of home repairs that she incurred over nearly 20 years of owning a split-level ranch in Newton Centre. She put on a new roof, renovated a bathroom, replaced the chimney, installed new floors, and updated the air conditioning. And that’s just the short list.
Maddening extras, like hiring someone to plow her driveway in the winter and trim her hedges in the summer, were hard to escape. “Now, all I have to worry about is writing a check at the first of every month,’’ Lipson said.
As easy as that sounds, renting can be an awakening for homeowners.
Among the factors to consider before signing a lease is whether you are comfortable with the temporary nature of the new living arrangement. Duration in any rental is at the whim of the owner; rent can always be raised, brokers warn.
For many people, renting is an intermediate step between selling and buying the next property, whether a suburban bungalow or a city condo. It provides a chance to get to know a neighborhood and test out a new life.
For someone like Lipson, slightly daunted by city life, renting is a way “to see if she likes it, because it’s such a change,’’ said Melissa Scher, a sales and marketing specialist at Keller Williams Realty in Boston, who helped Lipson find her apartment.
Renting is not one-size fits all. Lipson, for example, had one deal-breaker: garage parking.
The building she moved into has a place for her wheels and a lush, quiet courtyard, which appealed to her suburban sensibility.
It also has a concierge who can make restaurant reservations, handle dry cleaning, and keep a watchful eye over her home.
“At this stage in her life, she wants to travel and not worry about leaving an unattended property,’’ said Sullivan, the Coldwell Banker agent.
With her two daughters out of college and living in Brookline, Lipson put her home on the market in March and didn’t look for a Boston alternative until it sold in May.
She first planned to buy, viewing 11 condos before coming to the conclusion that investing in an unknown neighborhood was too risky. “I thought, oh my God, financially, what if this isn’t really where I want to live?’’
She tallied up condo fees, taxes, and mortgage payments and decided renting made sense. She fell in love with the first apartment she saw. Turned out, her impulse was right on.
Settling into her new address this month, Lipson sounded like a breathless freshman setting foot on campus for the first time. “I love not having to get into my car,’’ she said. “I walked to Best Buy and to the store to get groceries. The library is just down the street. Everything is right at my fingertips.’’
She’s looking forward to gallery hopping, strolling the Esplanade, and entertaining friends - free from demands of maintaining a property. And if she wants to try something different in a year or two, she doesn’t have to worry about selling a home.
“Who knows,’’ she said. “I may never buy again.’’