When Cindy and Van Wrenn bought a four-bedroom, four-bathroom home in Omaha’s Seville neighborhood in 1998, they had three small boys and desired a larger home in a family-friendly area in the well-regarded Millard School District. And for 15 years, their home near 156th Street and West Dodge Road fit the bill. The couple raised their boys in the 3,000-plus square-foot home, and Cindy got a job at nearby Grace Abbott Elementary as a secretary and began teaching piano lessons out of her home.
Fast forward to 2014 and the Wrenns began kicking around the idea of downsizing. “We really love this part of town and enjoyed that house,” Cindy Wrenn said. “We weren’t in a big hurry…Our youngest was still sort of bouncing back and forth from apartment to home, and me living two minutes from work was definitely huge.” And her piano students—many of whom attended the elementary—were nearby.
“While we loved the two-story, we knew someday we weren’t going to be able to do the stairs and we wanted less square feet to take care of,” Wrenn added. “Van was also doing all the snow and yard care and traveling a lot at the time, so he wanted to outsource all of that.”
The Wrenns agreed they wanted to remain in northwest Omaha and sought out a ranch-style house with a formal living room for holding piano lessons. Wrenn said they looked at several options including villas, which they found “pretty pricey.” They settled on a three-bedroom, three-bath townhome in the Waterford neighborhood near 156th and Ida streets, about 10 minutes further north.
The Wrenns spent about nine months prepping their home for sale and listed it the following spring in a strong housing market. It sold fairly quickly, and the transition went well.
Four years later, Wrenn said they’re both very happy with their decision to downsize and their choice in homes. She said she rarely misses the space of the old place, “except at the holidays. We have a growing family—three granddaughters and another grandchild on the way. It can be a bit tight when everyone’s over.” She retained all but one piano student, and her work commute is only a few minutes longer.
Lisa Andrews, a real estate agent with Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Ambassador Real Estate, said the Wrenns are typical of downsizing clients, a growing market as the population ages. “They’re usually in their 50s or 60s and looking for homes with the same or a bit less space but a better layout and utility,” she explained, “A nice master with a big master bath on the main level, plus an office, a family room, and maybe a spare bedroom.” Large kitchens with pantries, good storage, main-floor laundry, covered decks, and a fenced yard for pets are also in demand. “And maybe an extra TV room or play space for the grandkids—just a bump-out space.”
Formal dining and living rooms are not as desirable among older clients, who often “pass the torch” of hosting holiday dinners and family gatherings onto the next generation, Andrews added.
Buyers moving locally almost always want to remain within their same quadrant of the city, Andrews said. “People become very attached. I’ve only had one couple in all my years that downsized and moved to a different part of town.”
Andrews admitted that finding a villa or ranch townhome with the desired amenities within budget can be a challenge. “The price point for new construction can be high. Downsizing from a large two-story to a smaller ranch is often not going to save you money. Ranches generally cost more.” And while existing villas and townhomes may be cheaper, they’re in short supply. “Maybe you want to buy a place that provides snow removal and lawn service, but that’s not available. I tell people to go with the layout and house and just outsource that stuff. It helps to be flexible.”
Staying flexible is exactly what Cathy Bolton aimed for when she decided to downsize four years ago. While she envisioned staying in the large Elk Creek Crossing two-story she built in 2000 until retirement, a divorce and five years of maintaining the home on her own changed her perspective. With a strong housing market and desire to move on, she decided to sell her home a couple months after her daughter graduated from high school.
“Mowing a big lawn, cleaning three bathrooms, fixing things or breaking the bank to hire a repair man…it just became too much on my own,” Bolton said. Reducing her mortgage payment and maintenance costs became her goal.
With her younger son still in high school and daughter commuting to community college, Bolton said she wanted to remain in northwest Omaha near their schools, her doctor, her regular grocery and shopping, etc. She was less certain about what type of house she wanted. She opted to rent a three-bedroom townhome and move in before listing her home. Once empty, she had remaining home repairs made, cleaned, painted, and had her real estate agent stage it for a quick sale.
“I think it would have been impossible to do while living in with a family,” said Bolton, who has a history in mortgage lending. “It was the best decision.” Doing so enabled her to get her full asking price.
Bolton said the layout of the townhome—half the size of her former home—made all the difference. “It was laid out great so everyone had their own private areas, so we didn’t feel on top of one another.”
Renting had its pros and cons, Bolton said. “It was good because I wasn’t sure what I wanted and I didn’t want to buy and get trapped or have to move two years later.” It proved disappointing when her landlord decided to sell the property and she was forced to relocate after just 18 months.
“It totally caught me off guard,” Bolton said. “But moving again was a lot easier because I didn’t have near as much stuff, and we weren’t as attached. There were a lot of emotions with the first move…it was especially hard on the kids. But I think it made them resilient and reinforced that ‘home is where the heart is,’ as cheesy as that sounds.”
Today, Bolton’s daughter is on her own, and she and her son live in a smaller three-bedroom home near Eagle Run golf course, which she purchased in 2019. She said she’s glad she waited to buy until she was certain what she wanted and set her priorities, like a bigger garage.
“[With the townhome], I was surprised by how much I missed the garage space.” Bolton said. “Now I have a two-car plus a tandem space for garden tools and a work bench, and a longer driveway for everyone to park when they come over. It’s those things you don’t think of.”
This article was printed in the January/February 2020 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.