Home & Garden


A couple in their late 50s spent weeks grappling with a big question about the right house to buy for their upcoming retirement.

They were torn between choosing a traditional two-story house versus a one-level ranch that would spare the need to scale the stairs as they grew older.

In the end, they surprised their real estate agent, Ashley Richardson, by opting for a majestic colonial with two levels of living space plus a walk-up attic for storage. They’re about to move in and are convinced they made the right choice.

“Both the husband and wife are physically fit and reason that living in a house with stairs will help them to stay that way.

Besides, they really love the colonial, which has a huge sunroom and big backyard for gardening. By way of comparison, they thought the ranches they visited were much less elegant,” Richardson says.

It’s a common debate, said Richardson, who’s affiliated with the Council of Residential Specialists. She says many baby boomers have a tough time deciding between the convenience of one-level living and the architecture of a two-story home.

Older homebuyers who want a detached house often seek to purchase a brand-new property to avoid upkeep and repairs.

But as Richardson notes, in some very high-cost areas, it can be very hard to find new single-level housing that’s affordable.

Mark Nash, a real estate broker and author of “1001 Tips for Buying a Home,” says some of the advantages of single-story living might trump the cost issue. “For one thing, it’s a whole lot easier to keep a single-level house clean,” Nash says.

Here are a few pointers for retirement-age homebuyers:

Through his more than three decades selling real estate, he’s noticed that buyers who are overweight or have chronic health issues, such as diabetes, often have a strong preference for one-level living.

Richardson, who sells homes in a popular suburban area, recently listed a ranch-style house in her community. And to promote its sale, she sent out a large-scale mailing targeted to older people in the neighborhood who might be interested in downsizing. Everyone on the mailing list was invited to an open house.

“The response to the invitation was tremendous. Obviously, a lot of people with big houses in my area are mulling over whether to trade down to a one-level house without having to move far away.

Also, many people think that buying a single-story house could be a good investment for the future,” she says.

In your retirement years, do you anticipate running a small business out of your home? If so, Nash suggests you factor in the pros of having an out-of-the-way second-story office rather than one on the first floor.

“Working from an upstairs bedroom can be especially helpful if you need to do a lot of solitary computer work or writing to keep your business going. That’s the case for a lot of people who do consulting work from home,” Nash says.

Another less obvious plus of a second-floor home office is that you’ll be farther from the temptations posed by your refrigerator or primary TV.

However, a business that involves more interaction with customers than a typical consulting company could be better positioned on the entry level of a home, he says.