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New beginnings

Boomers use equity to reinvent themselves, usually outside California.

September 02, 2007|Chuck Green | Special to The Times

Sometimes it's spurred by a job drying up, a change of career or an empty nest, but many Southern California baby boomers who have owned homes for years are in the position to start over elsewhere -- and are doing just that.

For Tom Werman, a former L.A. record producer who now calls Massachusetts home, it started the day the music died.

"For 23 years I was out there, and for 20 of those years, I was knocking out records," he recalled. "I never thought my career would end . . . I was wrong," said Werman, who walked away from his job as an independent music producer, explaining that the business had changed and that he no longer related to it.

At that point more than five years ago, Werman, 62, and his wife Suky, 61, decided to leave their home of more than two decades in Studio City and open a high-end bed and breakfast in Lenox, Mass., a resort town in the Berkshires. The couple, both originally from the East, had visited Lenox and, when research showed it to be a popular B&B destination, took the plunge.

Today, their B&B is on an 11-acre farm, which they bought for $1.5 million. It includes four three-room suites and a two-bedroom cottage with living room, kitchen and porch. The couple live in a 2,500-square-foot unit attached to the main house. There is also a 14,000-square-foot barn. To finance the deal, the Wermans sold their Studio City home for more than $1 million and their home on Nantucket Island, Mass., for $2.5 million.

"We spent well over $1 million just renovating the B&B," Werman said.

Like the Wermans, most of the nation's 76 million boomers are far from retirement.

According to a survey by Robert Half Management Resources, only one in three workers polled said they plan to quit work entirely once they retire from full-time employment.

And although many give lip service to moving, a Census Bureau survey that appeared in AARP magazine found that fewer than 5% of people 55 and older move in any given year, and that the bulk of those don't go very far: 49% of those who move stay within the same county, and only 25% move to a different state. Of those who do cross state lines, the major lure isn't weather, tax relief or a new adventure: People usually move to be closer to family.

But slowing housing appreciation, the continued consolidation of major companies and increased jitters over pensions have spurred some boomers to get out of Southern California while the going is good and start new lives elsewhere.

After 34 years in law enforcement, Ray Terhorst works as a mediator, handling disputes throughout New Mexico, where he and his wife, Anita Soluna, moved after putting their Sylmar home on the market about a year ago. Priced at $ 699,999, the 2,505-square-foot house on just over a half-acre is still for sale.

Terhorst, 61, is a fourth-generation Angeleno. Initially, he and his wife looked to relocate to Northern California or one of the Southern states. They had never even heard about Mountainair, New Mexico's Deer Canyon Preserve, where 315 20-acre parcels were for sale. But then Soluna, 60, heard an ad on the radio and they investigated the place that would be their future home.

For the last several months, they've been renting a home nearby while they build an approximately 3,000-square-foot residence -- "something we never thought we'd do," he said. They paid $129,000 for the land, using cash from their savings.

"We'll be close to nature. It's a good, social atmosphere, but we'll have plenty of opportunity for privacy," Terhorst said of rural Mountainair in southwestern New Mexico, a town of about 1,100 people. "It was the kind of lifestyle we were looking for, although I certainly didn't think New Mexico was where I wanted to live. But we looked at it and fell in love."

Baby boomers seeking the simple life they had growing up make up a large share of clients for broker Neil Klemow of Celebrity Estates Broker, Pinnacle Properties in Encino. He said he is seeing more of them purchase rural properties out of state. "The real estate market in Southern California has been so ripe with appreciation for so long, that sellers want to take advantage of their equity and reinvest in a home at half the cost with double the value in land and amenities."

Before settling on New Mexico, Terhorst said he and his wife, who's seeking a position as a substitute teacher, also contemplated living outside the country. "We looked in Costa Rica and thought about places in Peru."

Although they didn't consider going that far, a discussion with a co-worker from Nova Scotia prompted longtime Malibu resident Gary Clark, 60, and his wife, Ann, to honeymoon there in 2003 and search for property to build a summer home. In 2003, they purchased a 2,000-square-foot, three-story lakefront home with a basement on about 13 acres in Queens County -- between Halifax and Yamouth -- for $150,000.

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