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Originally published January 24, 2014 at 8:01 PM | Page modified February 1, 2014 at 10:17 AM

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The upsides of downsizing

A growing number of homebuyers look at smaller footprints.

Special to NWhomes

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In 2011, Jane Johnson doubled down on downsizing. She sold her 5,900-square-foot home in Seattle’s Broadview neighborhood and moved into a 600-square-foot one-bedroom condo in Belltown with a fireplace and patio.

While she’s sacrificed 90 percent of her former living space, she says she doesn’t feel that she has given up much. She can still entertain at home in an open-concept kitchen/living area, just as before.

And she swapped her former view of the Olympic Mountains for patio views of Elliott Bay and Olympic Sculpture Park.

Though she no longer has a home gym or driveway, she works out in the building’s fitness center and parks her car in its garage. She uses the amenity room for large-scale entertaining, and stows her spare stuff in on-site storage.

“I wanted my move to feel lateral,” says Johnson, 55, a Windermere Real Estate broker. “I didn’t feel any loss of creature comforts.”

A sizable trend

Going small is a growing trend. During 2013, some 29 percent of repeat homebuyers downsized into a smaller home, an increase from about 22 percent in 2010, according to data from the National Association of Realtors. Such a maneuver is common for seniors and those who move into a 55-and-older or “active lifestyle” community, where designs are often intentionally smaller than the average American home size of about 2,300 square feet.

Trilogy’s Shea at Jubilee development in Lacey, for instance, offers three home designs that measure less than 1,500 square feet, while Trilogy at Tehaleh in Bonney Lake has four designs with less than 1,500 square feet. Montreaux in Mount Vernon offers two-bedroom cottages with floor plans of less than 1,700 square feet, as well as a three-bedroom home with 1,920 square feet. (These developments offer larger footprints, too.)

But these days, downsizing isn’t just for retirees. Greg Bartell, a broker with RE/MAX Metro Realty who specializes in clients who are downsizing and also teaches classes on the subject, says he sees two types of downsizing.

In the “first downsizing,” like Johnson’s, an empty-nester single or couple moves into a smaller space in a more-urban environment or walkable small town. The second downsizing is typically out of necessity — frequently when an older adult can no longer remain in a large or multistory property due to health, mobility or financial issues.

Bartell generally advises first-time downsizers to consider spaces that are no smaller than half their home’s current size. Condominium homes and town houses are good options, and older cottages and bungalows in areas outside downtown also offer small footprints. “Most people I deal with are looking at in-city neighborhoods,” he says.

Recently Bartell has helped clients locate 1,000- to 1,200-square-foot condominiums for around $300,000 in Greenwood and Phinney Ridge, and says many older buildings from the 1970s and ’80s in neighborhoods such as Laurelhurst, Crown Hill and Sand Point feature condos in this size range.

Starting at about double that price, smaller-footprint new construction that caters to downsizers can be found in downtown Seattle and Bellevue, he says. Or locals may choose to move outside the area.

Try before you buy

Bartell says he’s advised some clients to consider renting in a new neighborhood (and downsized space) before committing to buying in it. That’s what Johnson did.

Drastically shrinking her living space wasn’t her initial goal. Long fond of the Belltown section of downtown Seattle, she rented a one-bedroom unit in her current building and grew to enjoy living in a smaller space and in a walkable urban environment. Then a condominium, which had the identical footprint to her rental but on a higher floor, hit the market. So she bought it.

“I feel fortunate that I had the ability to rent in my building first,” Johnson says of her transition to small-space living. “I’d advise others thinking of doing the same thing to try renting for a three-month period if they can.”

Indeed, trading in space for an urban address seems to be a deal more households are willing to make — even with children.

“There’s a couple living in the same size unit [as mine] in my building,” Johnson says. “Now they have children, but they haven’t moved. They’re urban — and they’re raising urban babies.”


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