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Feeling the Squeeze

When homeowners, for whatever reasons, leave their 4-bedroom, 3-bath houses for smaller dwellings, the transition can leave them regretting the decision. For others, downsizing proves the right move.

August 31, 1996|BENJAMIN EPSTEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Just think of it as the empty-nest syndrome--in reverse.

Perhaps the kids have grown up and moved out. Maybe you no longer have the energy for the upkeep on thousands of square feet of space. Financial considerations may have entered the equation.

Whatever the reason, you've sold the big house and moved into cozier quarters.

And now you want to go back.

Inge Hawkins and her husband initially thought those cozier quarters, which in their case began as a vacation getaway, were a dream come true.

After all, Inge Hawkins points out, the Laguna Beach condo is "right on the ocean. That made it pretty special. You just go to sleep with the waves."

Unfortunately, they had to share those waves.

"First, the type of tenants above us!" Hawkins recalls. "Then, new people moved in and remodeled for nine months. It was like the old 'I Love Lucy' show; you hold your pictures on the wall when the train goes by. Now when their Jacuzzi goes on, you try to escape our room [below it]--it's very bothersome.

"Tenants coming and going all times of night, the noise level, it's a different life in a condo. Maybe when I get hard of hearing, maybe if I were not as active as I am, maybe it would be wonderful. But being in a condo and coming from a big home, big for two people at least, I just find it very frustrating.

"I'm yearning for my privacy again. My own garage to drive in. My own yard. Nobody above me, nobody below."

That's what the Hawkinses enjoyed in the San Francisco area, a 3,200-square-foot, four-bedroom, three-bathroom home.

The couple have two children, both grown and married, with one child each. Finances, more than the empty-nest syndrome, inspired the downsizing.

"To live in the Bay Area and also have this Laguna getaway required both of us working," Hawkins explains. "We [thought we] could live in a small place happily ever after without both of us working from morning to night. When our first grandson was born, we thought we could help the kids get into a new home with the money from selling the house.

"We didn't imagine what it would be like to live [in a condo] all year round, and it has become very difficult for us."

*

Financial considerations played less of a role in L. Robinson's decision to move from her home in Alta Loma.

"That house had four bedrooms on an acre and a half--and with three baths and a three-car garage," Robinson says. "It was getting too big for me by myself.

"I moved into a one-story house with four small bedrooms and two baths. Everything was smaller. Closet space was small, rooms were small. You could walk from one room to the other in 60 seconds.

"I thought one story instead of two stories would be better suited for me. But it wasn't. I really didn't like the way they put the kitchen right up to the master bedroom."

Amazingly, Robinson decided to unload a lot of her bric-a-brac and downsize further.

"I moved into an apartment, which was worse," she recalls. "Totally unacceptable. I didn't like having people living over me. If they were going to the toilet, you could hear it. I felt closed in. That was not for me. I like to have some space around me."

Robinson is now back in a two-story home in Fountain Valley. But this time she's renting until she's sure just where she wants to settle permanently.

In the meantime, she reports, "I am happier again. And this house does have some grounds."

The Hawkinses also look forward to a happy ending.

"We can probably get from the purchase price of this condo a very nice home in the Coto de Caza area," Hawkins says. "My husband can go back to golf like he used to."

Space and privacy aren't the only reasons people might want to return to larger quarters, according to Cal State Fullerton sociologist Myron Orleans. He begins by noting that people are living longer and are more vigorous in their senior years.

"They're continuing to be active with their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren all their lives, and they want a place where they can entertain them," Orleans points out. "If they're affluent, maybe they want a swimming pool. If they move to the smaller condo, or to a senior citizens development, the kids are not going to be as comfortable.

"Other people may realize that you never quite empty your nest out, that you do need room for children's visits and even longer stays. They may want to make it possible to have large family reunions. Or to have a shock absorber in case, in case. . . . In Southern California we have the threat of mudslides, earthquakes, fires.

"It used to be patriarchal; now it's the matrifocal home, where the mother seeks to ease the life journey of her adult children," he continues. "Of course, there's no data on this that I know of. That's just my speculation."

*

Be all that as it may, many people who downsize do so without a hitch and never look back.

Realtor Guy Livingston of Newport Beach, who went from a home to a condominium, believes one aspect above all others made his a successful transition.

"People who come from a big house like I did into a moderate-size condominium figure they're going to be most upset because they're going to have to get rid of half of their furniture," Livingston explains. "As it turned out, because I liked our place, that didn't upset me at all. The secret is, if you find a smaller place with privacy, you will never feel you have to go back.

"Coming from extreme luxury, with lots of land and a swimming pool, a library and a study, to a minimal situation--say a 1,500-square-foot condo in an average area--OK, you'd hate it. But coming from a nice place to a smaller nice place, you're not going to miss it."

Just avoid those pesky overhead Jacuzzis.

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