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Downsizing and the high rise condo
Old 09-03-2012, 02:08 AM   #1
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Downsizing and the high rise condo

So our kids are now both in college, and the house is really big here in suburbia. For a few more years the kids need their bedrooms at home for summer, etc., and who knows whether they'll be able to find w*rk once out of school.

But at some point we really won't need all the space. We could downsize here in suburbia (which we generally really like) to a smaller home that is still decent sized. Yet one thought is the totally different lifestyle of a high rise condo - with sweeping glass views, keeping perhaps only one car, and walking a lot in a vibrant city.

We've never done this and for us it's a bit of a wild idea. I'd really be intrigued to try it out if there was some way to do it for a year where the decision wasn't irreversible. The other issue is that here (in Southern Calif) there aren't a lot of highrise condos, and the ones that do exist are very expensive (much more for much less space than than our 3000+ sf home in suburbia). So we'd have to move somewhere else.

Ideally we'd be in a city like NYC that's walkable and vibrant, but no way with the prices there. Miami is a bit intriguing as it seems the prices are almost doable there -but it's hot and humid and has a bit of a seedy side to it.

So has anybody here embraced this lifestyle? Any thoughts? Any location ideas for a reasonably priced, safe city? Could this be equivalently affordable to our semi-mcmansion in suburbia?

Just exploring the idea - thanks in advance for the feedback.
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Old 09-03-2012, 02:51 AM   #2
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We have done just that. We left our 2,500 sqft suburban house in the south and moved into a 1,100 sqft high rise apartment in downtown San Francisco a few months ago. The move is reversible: we kept our house in the south (turned it into a rental property) and we are renting the apartment. We might make the move more permanent later on by purchasing a high rise condo here, but we are in no hurry.

So far, we are really liking the lifestyle change. We live in a very walkable and bustling neighborhood and we walk or use public transportation almost exclusively to move around SF. But we have kept both cars for now (we use them only to travel outside of the city). Compared to suburbia, this is a very different way of living with its own set of challenges. I would recommend trying it out for a year or two before making a commitment.
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Old 09-03-2012, 04:01 AM   #3
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I did this as part of an expatriate deal. I am renting out my 3 bedroom house in north Cambridge Massachusetts while I live in Sydney Australia. I have a nice one bedroom in Sydney and am living without a car. I ,ve been doing this for 18 months . I do like it but do miss having a car.
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Old 09-03-2012, 05:26 AM   #4
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Yet one thought is the totally different lifestyle of a high rise condo - with sweeping glass views, keeping perhaps only one car, and walking a lot in a vibrant city.

We've never done this and for us it's a bit of a wild idea. I'd really be intrigued to try it out if there was some way to do it for a year where the decision wasn't irreversible. We'd be in a city that's walkable and vibrant.

So has anybody here embraced this lifestyle? Any thoughts? Any location ideas for a reasonably priced, safe city? Could this be equivalently affordable to our semi-mcmansion in suburbia?
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We have done just that. We left our 2,500 sqft suburban house in the south and moved into a 1,100 sqft high rise apartment in downtown San Francisco a few months ago. The move is reversible: we kept our house in the south (turned it into a rental property) and we are renting the apartment. We might make the move more permanent later on by purchasing a high rise condo here, but we are in no hurry.

So far, we are really liking the lifestyle change. We live in a very walkable and bustling neighborhood and we walk or use public transportation almost exclusively to move around SF. But we have kept both cars for now (we use them only to travel outside of the city). Compared to suburbia, this is a very different way of living with its own set of challenges. I would recommend trying it out for a year or two before making a commitment.
An urban, walkable living situation sounds very intriguing to us too. We're really tired of having to jump in a car to do anything! But we've lived in suburbia our entire lives as well, so we'd want to try it for a while to be sure. We're looking at the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area among others (though not necessarily a "high-rise"), and we'd hold on to our house up here in Chicagoland and rent for a year to experience the urban world. Hoping to kill two birds with one stone, try out urban, while also experiencing a new metro area.
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Old 09-03-2012, 06:16 AM   #5
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My parents did that 40 years ago in Chicago. They moved from a far south side single family house to a two bedroom apartment on the 19th floor with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the lake in Lincoln Park. They loved the change and we kids liked visiting. I suspect that a similar place would cost a few bucks in Chicago these days but not as much as California.
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Old 09-03-2012, 07:18 AM   #6
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My parents did that 40 years ago in Chicago. They moved from a far south side single family house to a two bedroom apartment on the 19th floor with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the lake in Lincoln Park. They loved the change and we kids liked visiting. I suspect that a similar place would cost a few bucks in Chicago these days but not as much as California.
Yes and no? Chicago is still expensive by my standards, but it's surprising what you can get for $300K in many nice neighborhoods, even in or close to Lincoln Park. But the property taxes, sales taxes, parking nightmares and other expenses and nuisances still make Chicago more expensive than real estate prices alone might lead one to believe. All relative though, Chicago is a screaming bargain compared to NYC, San Francisco, DC/NoVA, Silicon Valley, Beacon Hill, etc.
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Old 09-03-2012, 07:40 AM   #7
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There are a couple of recent threads that touch in this

Poll: What's Your Walkscore?
The Death of the Fringe Suburb

We lived in city life for many years, far more than our current suburban based existence. The reality of magnificent views and walking everywhere is difficult to achieve, especially on a budget. It can be done without dealing with NYC prices, as HaHa has shown.
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Old 09-03-2012, 08:40 AM   #8
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DW and I have done this (downsized from suburbia to urban condo) several times...and loved it every time. We have no children, which allows a bit more flexibility. In fact, we've just done it during the past year; moved from ~4,000SF suburban home to 2BR/2BA condo downtown in southeast US city. And, we love it. Previous experiences doing this were: 4BR/2BA house to 1BR/1BA beach-front condo in Florida; and 1BR/1BA condo in downtown San Francisco. DW has also lived in apartments in Eugene, OR and Arlington, VA. Our dream location is a vibrant downtown on the water.

I think there are lots of choices for what you seek, outside the usual suspects (NYC, San Francisco, DC, Chicago, etc.), which are all way overpriced and have crap weather (except SF). Choices include: FL coastal cities (Sarasota, Jacksonville), SE coastal cities (Charleston, Wilmington), other mid-sized southern clime cities with lots going on (Asheville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, Charlottesville), and NW cities if you can stand a little more rain (Seattle, Portland).

My advice would include the following:
- Rent in the new location until you're sure; rent your old home as well
- Adjust (by this I mean don't carry your old lifestyle with you)
- Purge your stuff (goodwill, trash, etc.); storage unit if you have to
- Go down to one car; really, you can do it
- Learn to use public transport, ride bikes, and walk (seem experience more)
- Be ready to tolerate city sounds (ambulances, police sirens, trucks, and just more people closer together)

My personal opinion is that a richer life awaits you in a vibrant urban environment. DW and I will look for exactly that (on the water of course ) when we retire.
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Old 09-03-2012, 09:14 AM   #9
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Definitely, I'd rent for a year first!

I love the idea, too, since I really do not use my yard at all. The idea of being able to just lock up and travel so easily is appealing even to someone like me, who doesn't travel much. Walking everywhere seems like such a healthy lifestyle. A high rise condo seems like it would probably have much greater security than a house, an issue that matters to me.

I can think of a couple of possible disadvantages. With purchase price, fees, and assessments, it could be more expensive for me than my small house. Also, there is always the possibility of having to endure inconsiderate, noisy neighbors although I imagine that that would be less if one can afford a penthouse.
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Old 09-03-2012, 11:59 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by Surfdaddy View Post
We could downsize here in suburbia (which we generally really like) to a smaller home that is still decent sized. Yet one thought is the totally different lifestyle of a high rise condo - with sweeping glass views, keeping perhaps only one car, and walking a lot in a vibrant city.
We've never done this and for us it's a bit of a wild idea. I'd really be intrigued to try it out if there was some way to do it for a year where the decision wasn't irreversible. The other issue is that here (in Southern Calif) there aren't a lot of highrise condos, and the ones that do exist are very expensive (much more for much less space than than our 3000+ sf home in suburbia). So we'd have to move somewhere else.
So has anybody here embraced this lifestyle? Any thoughts? Any location ideas for a reasonably priced, safe city? Could this be equivalently affordable to our semi-mcmansion in suburbia?
Just exploring the idea - thanks in advance for the feedback.
You know you want to rent a Waikiki snowbird condo and surf Queen's through Christmas & New Years'...

I'm typing this from our ground-floor familyroom. I can walk 30 feet to our lanai to check out the greenery and the view. It's shady and breezy. Sure, I have a buttload of yardwork to catch up on, and I'm not going to enjoy it much more when I'm 82 years old and paying a groundskeeper $82/week for it. But I'm connected to nature.

The thrill of high-rise condo living has lost its appeal for us. I don't know if the Mainland condo fees are as bad as Hawaii. It's not uncommon to see >$400/month around residential neighborhoods like Kailua, and downtown can be even higher.

Wherever you downsize, are you able to handle visitors? Adults who need parking spaces and key cards and guest permits? Grandkids who want to go outside and play? Can they use the pool on their own, or do you have to be sitting on the pool deck supervising them? Does everyone have enough room to find some personal space when you're spending time together? That's just the start of all the other HOA rules about visitors.

A couple years ago we rented a very nice high-rise condo in Houston. It was late September-- still hot and very humid but much better than summer. By the second day we realized that we were living in an insulated box that was completely isolated from the natural environment. We didn't open windows because of the heat, and the tiny 10'x4' lanai was blasted by morning sun. It would take a considerable amount of effort to get to the nearest blade of real grass. Of course inside the condo we had bandwidth and HD satellite TV and air conditioning and all the other conveniences of modern tech, but we were completely cut off from our surroundings. We could've been anywhere.

Then there are the issues with noise. I wish builders would spend real money to insulate the entrance door to the owner's part of the property. It's annoying to listen to people galumping up and down the hallway all day, perhaps hearing kids calling or conversational snippets. It's annoying enough when you're fixing breakfast-- let alone when you're hearing it at 2 AM.

There's also the noise issues from the condo above-- another acoustic insulation challenge that's frequently skimped.

Finally there's the problem of being hostage to the elevators. You have to haul groceries up & down from the car (perhaps with a pull cart). If the elevator breaks, your entire building is inconvenienced. If you need to move a large object then you're dealing with the freight elevator. If you're renovating anything in your condo then your contractor is dealing with the freight elevator.

I don't have any solutions for these problems, other than to find a townhouse a few blocks from the desired neighborhood. But that might come with its own issues.
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Old 09-03-2012, 01:41 PM   #11
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What Nords said, especially the part about feeling cooped up in a box. Plus, as convenient as things can be in the middle of a city, grocery stores, Target/Walmart, and Home Depot/Lowes type places that are geared towards suburbia in many cases. It's all personal preference, but this isn't mine.
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Old 09-03-2012, 01:48 PM   #12
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The thrill of high-rise condo living has lost its appeal for us. I don't know if the Mainland condo fees are as bad as Hawaii. It's not uncommon to see >$400/month around residential neighborhoods like Kailua, and downtown can be even higher.
Good point. Though we really want to try an urban lifestyle (post above), this post reminded me that when we've looked casually, the HOA or other monthly fees have usually been staggering. That probably wouldn't do for us...
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Old 09-03-2012, 01:58 PM   #13
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Plus, as convenient as things can be in the middle of a city, grocery stores, Target/Walmart, and Home Depot/Lowes type places that are geared towards suburbia in many cases.
That was one of my concerns before moving downtown. Suburbia is so convenient in that regard but it turned out to be a non-issue. We don't have a large Target or Walmart but Amazon will deliver an amazing range of products right to our door. Grocery stores can be scarce but we chose a neighborhood with a Safeway, Whole Foods, Trader Joe, and 2 farmers markets, all within walking distance. We don't have a Lowes or Home Depot close by, but we have a surprisingly well stocked neighborhood Ace Hardware store. I mean, this store is amazing. From nuts and bolts, to appliances, tools, paint, lumber, garden equipment, it has everything we need stuffed in less than 5,000 sqft.
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Old 09-03-2012, 02:17 PM   #14
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Chicago is very walkable and vibrant but it is expensive to buy. You can rent affordably, though, while trying it out for a year. The snow will be an adjustment from SoCal.

I would check out smaller cities with a vibrant college scene. You'll have lots to do and walk to and it will be affordable.

Earlier in this thread Huston had some great suggestions. Ashville, Chattanooga, Providence, Boston maybe, Denver, Boulder, Austin are some I'm familiar with.
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Old 09-03-2012, 02:24 PM   #15
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That was one of my concerns before moving downtown. Suburbia is so convenient in that regard but it turned out to be a non-issue. We don't have a large Target or Walmart but Amazon will deliver an amazing range of products right to our door. Grocery stores can be scarce but we chose a neighborhood with a Safeway, Whole Foods, Trader Joe, and 2 farmers markets, all within walking distance. We don't have a Lowes or Home Depot close by, but we have a surprisingly well stocked neighborhood Ace Hardware store. I mean, this store is amazing. From nuts and bolts, to appliances, tools, paint, lumber, garden equipment, it has everything we need stuffed in less than 5,000 sqft.
That's another good point. We're way out at the end of a cul-de-sac, a mile away from the nearest bus stop. However it's only 1.4 miles to the local shopping center, and even when I'm 82 years old I hope to be able to stagger that round trip for my daily constitutional.
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Old 09-03-2012, 02:25 PM   #16
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We had to make a similar decision six years ago. My only input to DW was either find something downtown or out in the country on some land, no more suburban neighborhood. She found a place with a lake. Best decision we could have made. But to each his own...
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Old 09-03-2012, 02:53 PM   #17
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I have never lived in a typical US post war suburban neighborhood, and I wouldn't want to. Many people do however, and for them it seems to be an excellent choice.

I was born in a "streetcar suburb", built in the '20s, and as its name suggests, built on a streetcar line from the city center, and with short streets branching out from that line to allow people to walk from their homes to the streetcar.

In high school we moved to an urban university district, as my mother was attending university. My parents lived there until they died. My Dad quit driving in his late 40s, he always hated cars and preferred walking.

After school, I lived in dense city neighborhoods, though Venice Beach required a car to be handy. However I never did have a high rise. In the east, lots of walk-ups, and in west coast sities a selection of different sizes and shapes. Other than the very largest cities, even all of downtown is not true towering high rises, though most buildings will have elevators, which I consider to be a plus to handle health changes as you age.

We moved to the country for our child-rearing years, and that had its charms too. But after we divorced and the kids were grown, I headed back to the city which I consider my natural envoronment. This is it for me, I like it better than anything else I could think of.

Sounds like buses and garbage trucks and delivery vans just rememind me that whatever I want or need is easy enugh to get.

Ha
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Old 09-03-2012, 03:41 PM   #18
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As many have indicated I would try it out first. Every trip I make from an east coast city is rewarded by being back home in the midwest burbs. A few years ago DW and I thought about moving to Fla. as well. After a couple months we decided it wasn't for us either. To each his own.
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Old 09-03-2012, 05:10 PM   #19
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As many have indicated I would try it out first. Every trip I make from an east coast city is rewarded by being back home in the midwest burbs. A few years ago DW and I thought about moving to Fla. as well. After a couple months we decided it wasn't for us either. To each his own.
I have to agree with you. Just got back from a weekend getaway to downtown Minneapolis. What an excellent place to eat, drink, and shop. I have vacationed there 6 times in the past 4 years and that city doesn't appear to have nearly the weirdos on the streets as other downtown cities seem to have that makes this small town boy feel uncomfortable. But, in the end, I always enjoy returning back to small town suburbia to live, until I am ready for another big city adventure.
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Old 09-03-2012, 06:12 PM   #20
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I did this type of move twice (I did not get it right the first time).

I went from a 3000 SF 4 bedroom family home to a 1800 SF 3 bedroom condo in the sky with huge windows, views, great soundproofing and very good walkability when my kids were college age. But the monthly fees were ridiculous and I got tired of the elevator as well as the need for chitchat with the neighbors all the time. This was in the same city I had the big house.

Next move was to a townhouse 1000 miles away (New England) that is walkable to everything in this college town of 30,000. No common walls with my neighbors except in the one car garage. Small urban yard that gives me something to take care of. I gave up the high-up views but gained privacy and the feeling of a home even though it is a condo with someone else doing the snowplowing etc. I think this is heaven.

I highly recommend the close in neighborhood vibe of a condo but there are lots of alternatives and you have to live it to see if it is right.

Two thoughts:
"Home Exchange" for 3 months--maybe more than once?
Think about the quality of the urban life and how you want to spend your time. If I have Farmer's markets and a library I can walk to, that seems a fair trade off to have to get in the (one) car to drive to Lowe's.

I am a big fan of college towns for the robust restaurant, music and cultural options. Smaller cities also have their charms; I would have Ann Arbor, Boulder, Victoria and Nashville as intriguing options.
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