For baby boomers, the question of when—and where—they'll retire is a perennial topic of discussion. But with the novel coronavirus sweeping the globe, it has become an especially pressing question these days.
Many are feeling the pressure to ramp up their decision-making and act fast—between concerns over COVID-19 contagion, rampant layoffs, and new rounds of self-reckoning where they ponder "Why wait to realize my dreams?" Many believe that the time is now to make real estate decisions they've been putting off—or they're changing course entirely.
Whether you're a boomer yourself or just paralyzed about your next move, these stories might inspire you to get unstuck, or at least realize that you aren't alone. Here's how the current coronavirus crisis has radically transformed three people's best-laid real estate plans for the better.
Kristin Donnan, 57, an author and arts advocate, had her retirement house all picked out: a one-level cottage in a vibrant, bustling 55-plus community near San Diego. She was preparing to make an offer.
There was just one thing she had to do first: Help her mother sell the property where she'd grown up in Hill City, SD. With 20 tree-filled acres, three buildings, and a barn, it needed some sprucing up and purging before it could fetch top dollar.
Donnan had moved back home temporarily to assist her mother in readying the compound, but had vowed to move on with her own plans once the property sold. But no buyers came knocking, and then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
By April, "my urban friends in California were telling me what lockdown looked like," Donnan says. This prompted her to reconsider her plans to return to the "civilization" where she'd always assumed she'd end up.
“A lot of things made me think about leaving Hill City—including politics and the scarcity of cultural activities," she says. "I was eager to return to the conveniences of Southern California, willing to deal with traffic, too many people, earthquakes, smog, blackouts ... until COVID-19."
While Hill City may lack California's cultural buzz and arts scene, she realized there was value in "being out of the rat race and out of the panic," she explains. “The danger is very low here. My yoga studio just reopened. I can go to the grocery store, take a hike, visit others who are as isolated as I am, see a friend for tea. It’s calming."
So although her mother's house is still for sale, Donnan's life plans have changed course.
"I'll stay here until it sells and then move elsewhere in the area," she says. "There are events like wars and 9/11 that change everything. This is one of those moments. The pandemic has made me realize the benefits of having a place in rural America.”
Allyson, 60, a college consultant, and her husband, Al, a psychiatrist, always knew they’d sell the Westchester, NY, house where they'd raised their kids someday. The coronavirus, however, prompted these empty nesters to fast-forward their home-selling plans to right now.
“Selling our house has definitely become a priority,” Allyson says. The underlying motivations for unloading their Colonial—“our high taxes, not having kids in the schools anymore, and having more house than we need”—hadn’t changed. So what had?
“I heard that many New York City residents are trying to quickly move to the suburbs," Allyson explains. "I plan to hustle to get my house on the market and take advantage of that.”
Allyson says she's been talking with a friend who is a real estate agent, and is busy booking a painter and handyman to get her home in perfect shape for prospective buyers.
Since hiring professionals to come to the house is still dicey, the place may not hit the market until late summer or early fall, but it will definitely happen this year. Although it's stressful to deal with this work and a move during the coronavirus pandemic, they feel glad to get the wheels in motion for a process that can take many people years to accomplish.
As for where they'll move next, they haven't figured that out quite yet. But they are all but certain it will be farther away from the city, not closer. The coronavirus has crystallized that for them.
“I am a little fearful of living near New York City now primarily because of the density: What if this goes on and on or happens again?" she says. "I don't want to be cooped up with no place to go."
'COVID-19 convinced me to move to my retirement home early'
David, 66, who lives in Boston, thought he’d stay a New Englander for a few more years. But the COVID-19 pandemic galvanized his long-simmering plans to head south.
“I grew up in Georgia and miss some aspects of Southern life, including the weather,” he explains. "That becomes a bigger deal every year. But I wanted to keep earning as much as I could until age 70, the way you’re supposed to if you want the biggest Social Security income.”
However, since he works in fundraising for an arts organization, he’s seen his work hours dramatically reduced since COVID-19 came to town.
“Our organization came to almost a full stop, and, while still employed, I took a significant salary cut," he says. "And the fact that the arts will be among the last areas to reopen in hard-hit states makes me think my work life is over.”
David chooses to look at this as a glass half-full.
“It's a sign to move on to the next phase of life,” he says. "I've been talking about buying a little, cheap, beach-bum place in Florida for years. Now, I'm ready. This virus has brought me face to face with my mortality. The time to realize my dreams is now. There are no guarantees."
He is actively searching online for a cottage or condo near the water in the vicinity of Tallahassee, FL. Working with a local real estate agent, he’s doing virtual walk-throughs on FaceTime. While he's not sure if he'll actually buy a house sight unseen, he's excited to be laying the groundwork for the next phase of his life.
“Right now, I’m terrified to go to the Public Garden [in Boston] to see the flowers in bloom," he says. "The idea of having a laid-back life, listening to the surf, going fishing in Florida, that will be heaven! For me, this tragedy has a silver lining.”
Written by Janet Siroto for Realtor.com