Kennedy, the realtor, says that access to the heart of a city is also important to some of her suburban clients, who are thinking about mobility as they get older.
“Sometimes they want to be in downtown Boston, so they have walkability,” she says, “and sometimes they want to be in the same community but have a first-floor master [bedroom]. It’s not necessarily that they can’t do the stairs now, but they’re looking down the road to when they might not be able to.”
Regardless of where empty-nesters move, selling a family home can be a weighty endeavor. When a family inhabits the same house for decades, its sale can conjure a flood of memories, separation anxiety, and grief; it’s not just that people mourn the sale of their home, but that they mourn their former selves who grew and evolved there.
Read: How a house can shape a child’s future
It can be especially difficult for kids who are in college or just starting off their careers, when a sense of rootlessness is pervasive. The transition from high-school student to working adult can involve a lot of boxes and packing tape, whether it’s moving from the parents’ house to a dorm or from one apartment to another. Through it all, having the chance to return to a family home can provide a sense of stability, but if their parents move, visits “home” mean traveling to an unfamiliar place.
Alene Bouranova, a 24-year-old resident of Brookline, Massachusetts, who grew up in Kirkland, Washington, was sitting in a dining hall at Boston University during the fall of her junior year when she she found out that her parents had sold her childhood home. Bouranova had not even realized the house was on the market.
“I started crying in the dining hall, just crying all over my plate of pasta,” Bouranova says. “I was not pleased at all. That was my home.”
But, as Robin Gordon, a 57-year-old who moved from Maple Glen, Pennsylvania, to Pompano Beach, Florida, told me, when you live in a home for several decades, it becomes the backdrop for not just the climaxes of life, but also the mundane. It’s where the kids haphazardly tossed their soccer cleats, where the family ate leftovers, and where everyone battled over access to dial-up internet and landline phone service.
“It sounds so dark, but [I remember] all the bad things, the crazy things that happened,” Gordon says. “All the injuries that the kids had in the old house … the parties that went wrong when they were teenagers, the birthday parties that we had, and the family dinners.”
Although her three children understood why she was moving, Gordon says they were still upset that she was selling the house: They had assumed that it would remain a steady constant in their lives, and had looked forward to bringing their own kids there one day. In this way, not only can the sale of the family home serve as a life marker for empty-nesters, but it can also bookend a stage for their adult children who haven’t actually lived there for years.