Home & Garden

Smaller homes a trend for empty nesters

Lanny and Rita Horton
Lanny and Rita Horton Courtesy of Rita Horton

Rita and Lanny Horton, like so many people their ages, dreamed of downsizing and swapping their suburban home for a smaller place in an urban, walkable setting.

Finally, they took deep breaths and a shared leap of faith.

“We sold everything we owned except for our clothes, and except for my kitchen dishes,” Rita Horton said. “We bought brand new furniture and started a new chapter in our lives.”

They love it.

“We wanted to simplify our lives,” Lanny said, “and we did.”

Now, Rita laughs and says, “I wish I’d sold those dishes.”

Rita Horton is 60, a longtime trainer for Allen Tate who opened her own real estate training business two years ago. Lanny Horton, 64, retired in January from Standard-Pacific Homes.

Their experience offers both inspiration and guidance for others considering the same sort of dramatic change.

They downsized for familiar reasons: They wanted to spend their free time on something besides yard work. “We both had busy careers,” Rita said, “and we’d wear ourselves out on weekends.”

Their daughter was grown and gone. They wanted to be within walking distance of restaurants and Bank of America Stadium, where they have Panthers tickets.

They wanted to volunteer, perhaps travel. Lanny said volunteering was one of his goals in retirement. He wasted no time: He retired on Jan. 1 and began to volunteer for the Red Cross on Jan. 3.

The Hortons had talked about downsizing for a couple of years, then spent about 18 months selecting a place to move and beginning to shed things they’d accumulated.

They didn’t want high-rise living. They were sure of that. They didn’t want to deal with noise – the No. 1 complaint of those who live in stacked housing – and they didn’t want the hassle of elevators. Some high-rise homeowner fees can be as high as the buildings.

They wanted new construction and they wanted a garage with private parking. No parking deck. And, like others considering the change, they wanted something within walking distance of everything.

That led them to Third Ward uptown.

Making the move

They changed more than location and square footage.

They had lived in a 3,800-square-foot home near SouthPark. They moved to less than half that much space – just 1,550 square feet – in a new townhouse.

The townhouse is strikingly contemporary. It’s built above a two-car garage. It has a flat roof and a vertical rectangular design highlighted by exterior accent panels. The interior is open and loft-like – and lacks even a foot of ornate suburban crown molding.

It’s in Octadia, a group of eight townhouses arranged as duplexes, so every home is an end unit. Octadia was built by James Fiscus, who also built Vireo I and Vireo II in Third Ward. Lanny Horton, a former builder executive, was impressed by energy efficiency and other environmentally friendly touches.

Rita Horton sold or gave away everything herself, with no help from professionals, following advice she often had shared during her years in real estate.

She invited her daughter and niece to choose items they wanted. Each took Christmas decorations and a few other things. The pros warn, and Rita and Lanny agree, that you shouldn’t be offended when relatives don’t want all your stuff.

Rita sold most of the furniture on Craigslist. “Everything I listed sold within three days,” she said. “People were wonderful. … Two or three people bought the bulk of it.”

One woman bought most of the furniture – and then asked whether a picture she liked was for sale. (It was.)

They gave the bed to someone who could use it. They gave the rest to Goodwill.

The Hortons used to have four bedrooms and four baths. Now, they have two bedrooms and 2 1/2 baths.

Downsides of downsizing

One downside of their move, which other active adults might consider, is that they can’t host extended family at Thanksgiving and Christmas. “Lanny has 38 people in his family, in this area,” Rita said. Family celebrations moved to a niece’s home in Huntersville or their daughter’s home in the Cotswold neighborhood, which works well.

Another issue they didn’t face in the suburbs is uptown parking. They have to buy passes to accommodate visitors.

Giving up all that space, though, hasn’t been as much trouble as you might imagine.

They placed a daybed with a trundle in the guest bedroom. They got rid of a desktop computer, and both now work on laptops. They tucked a wireless printer out of the way downstairs, and can print to it from anywhere in the house.

There was one scary moment, Rita admits.

“The only time I got upset was the night before we moved out,” she said. “Everything was gone except our mattress. … Voices echoed. … I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’ve just sold my whole life.’”

But the sun came up, and the adventure continued. Now, they’ve settled in. “And we’ve bought baseball tickets – so we can walk to those seats, too!”