Empty Nest Syndrome: Should You Stay or Leave the Nest?

So, the kids are grown and gone. And you find yourself in a big, empty house all alone, possibly with your spouse and a pet or two. You are now an Empty Nester. But you don’t need to suffer from the typical empty nest syndrome.

Even though you may feel alone in that big house, you are truly not alone. In fact, Empty Nesters are a growing population in the United States. According to Zillow, as Baby Boomers age, the number and share of empty nests steadily grow – rising from 11.9 percent (13.2 million) of all households nationwide in 2005 to 15.5 percent (18.3 million households) as of 2015. An additional 3.6 percent of households (4.3 million) are “near-empty” nests, meaning they would be empty nests if an adult child currently living at home were to break out on their own. That’s up from 2.4 percent (2.7 million households) in 2005.

So, how are all of these Empty Nesters addressing their new ‘lifestyle’? And what should you personally consider doing?

What Makes Sense for You

There are several considerations that a newly-minted Empty Nester might want to review.

The Home That You Own

First, you will need to consider your current financial stance. Have you lived long enough in that big house to have paid the mortgage off? If not, can you sell that house and garner some positive equity from the house?

Over the past decade, the share of empty nests that carry a mortgage has also climbed steadily upward. In 2005, 36.8 percent of empty nesters – or 4.9 million households – had a mortgage still outstanding; by 2015, the share had increased to 43.7 percent or 8 million households. In a major city like Atlanta, that percentage can increase to 56.8%.

The equity from your home will be a helpful ‘fuel’ to get you to the next stage in life.

Your Current Surroundings

Secondly, how does your current home location suit your needs? If you bought it when your children were smaller, you probably bought a home in a good school district. Possibly, you bought into a quiet suburban environment that allowed your children to grow up with fewer distractions and concerns (for them and you).

But, we will assume that those issues are no longer important to you. So, the question that you must ask yourself is – “What type of lifestyle would I like to live today?”

  • Where are your grown children living now? Is it important to be close to them?
  • Are you still working? What does the commute look like?
  • Is it important for you to be around people of your age group?
  • Are travel and adventure important to you now? Would a ‘lock and leave’ home allow you to feel more comfortable jetting off the Caribbean for that month-long trip without having to cancel the paper or get a landscaper to cut your grass?
  • How important is social interaction to you? Do you currently have the social outlets to replace the soccer games and teen social chaperone jobs?
  • Would you consider a more ‘pedestrian-friendly’ environment?
  • Is golf, swimming or tennis a passion of yours? How much would those amenities mean for you?

Answers to these questions (and several more) will help you to visualize your ideal lifestyle.

Do I Stay?

The first option that most empty nesters consider is to remodel and stay in the home. Especially, if you own the home outright, it might appear to be the safest option. An empty nester can turn a child’s room into a crafts room. Or, it might make sense to finally open up the house to create more visibility.

These are all good considerations. But, one thing that you need to keep in mind is the cost and time required to keep up the house. Either you are cleaning the big house for no one in particular, or you are hiring people to mow the lawn or clean the house. Also, consider the additional utility costs for heating and cooling that house for the one or two occupants.

Also, does the neighborhood that you currently live in better suit a younger family with kids? Are you still engaged with your neighbors, now that your interests have changed?

Or Do I Go?

So, what if you do decide to ‘downsize’ and sell your current home? Where would you go?

Have you always dreamed of living along the coast? There are some exciting options available along the southern U.S. coast, such as the Walton County/30-A area of the Florida panhandle. If you have the money, you could buy a nice, modern home for around a cool million. But, you might be in a similar sized house, with some of the same maintenance issues.

Campbell Mountain
Campbell Mountain, Bryson City, NC

Have you considered a mountain retreat for your relaxation? Well, there are similar options in Highlands, NC or Bryson City, NC. You could really ‘get back to nature’ in some of these quaint areas. (Want to get a ‘taste’ of mountain living? Book a weekend at “The Cabin Nestled in the Wood“.)

Do you need to stay in the same area to be close to kids and grandkids? This is one of the major factors for Empty Nesters. You may enjoy that the kids are out of the house… but, you want them to be able to visit with you as much as schedules allow.

Many options arise for empty nesters when they decide to stay in a larger community like Atlanta, Miami, Chicago, etc. Many choose to look at ‘congregant’ living – condominium developments, apartment homes, or golf club communities. These options often offer the amenities that we tend to like as we get older – perhaps valet/concierge services, workout facilities, a pool and/or spa, etc.

And, many of these communities cater to your age group – the 50+ group. Many people like to be around people of similar age. And often, people don’t necessarily enjoy being around children, except their own.

For many reasons, these age-specific communities have developed over the last several decades, as the ‘empty nester’ and ‘baby boomer’ population has grown. And we are not referring to ‘old folks homes’ or ‘retirement homes’. The trend in the development of many of these new communities is anything but ‘retirement’. They come with a level of luxury that we often only dream about.

Now referred to as ‘Active Adult Communities’, one of the most well known of the developers is Del Webb. Their business model, like many, is to develop a community that a 50+ couple or an individual buy a custom-built home. It can sometimes be located in a resort area with a golf course. Or it can be in a larger metro area.

Another type of Active Adult Community type is the luxury rental option. These developments often include multi-story structures surrounding a pool and garden environment. High-end services like on-site restaurants, room service, spa and workout facilities come included with the residential unit. This is the classic ‘lock and leave’ environment.

It’s Not Just a Cure for Empty Next Syndrome

Even though this thought process is good for the empty nester, it can also be equally of value to the newly retired or widowed. Any of these life events – both good and bad – allow for one to reassess their current lifestyle choices. Changing your lifestyle and surroundings can be especially helpful when one has lost a partner.

For whatever reason, we encourage you to take a fresh look at your life and ask yourself – “Am I living life on my own terms and definitions?”

We invite you to add your personal ’empty nester’ perspective to this article in the comments section below.

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