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Planning Their Next Move / Empty-nesters are taing stock of their new lifestyles -- and looking for the housing that best fits them

Three years ago, Elly Gold did something she had long

resisted: She sold her four-bedroom house in Plainview and bought a smaller,

two-bedroom co-op in a development called Apollo of Bethpage.

"For 10 years, I was fighting with my husband, Stan, who wanted to

downsize," said Gold, a Plainview resident for 30 years. "I didn't want to give

up my house and my closets, and my children didn't want us to move either."

But since moving to Apollo of Bethpage, an age- restricted complex, Gold,

the mother of three married children, said she couldn't be happier in her new

home. "It's warm, friendly and like living with family," Gold said, adding that

she enjoys the clubhouse, outdoor pool and many parties.

What's more, the development has given the couple a new sense of freedom.

With the complex responsible for the grounds, including landscaping and snow

removal, "we can lock the door and just go away anytime - without a second

thought," said Gold, 68, who works part time at the Boucheron perfume counter

at Macy's in Roosevelt Field.

Stan Gold, 72, had owned a Pepperidge Farm cookie route before retiring 15

years ago. "When a friend from Florida asked me why I don't move there, I said

'What for? I have Florida here,'" Elly Gold said.

Throughout the metropolitan area, empty-nesters like the Golds are taking

stock of their lifestyles - and the housing that best fits their changed

circumstances. Sometimes the decision to move follows anticipated events,

including retirement and the marriage of grown children; other times it results

from unexpected occurrences such as a spouse's severe illness or death. For

most empty-nesters, the decision-making factors involve the need for less

space, the concerns about reduced income and high taxes, and the need for

greater independence from household maintenance. But there also are inevitable

psychological struggles in leaving a home that has so long been the heart of

the family's life.

In many instances, dealing with their children's emotions can be as

difficult as coming to terms with their own, experts say.

"Children don't want to let go," said Peter S. Kanaris, a Smithtown

psychologist and the director of public education for the Suffolk County

Psychological Association. "But if parents are still young enough, they should

plan and structure their own retirement, because no matter how much we want

life to stand still, life's landscape continues to change, and these changes

can be discombobulating."

At the same time, more parents, too, are acknowledging they don't want to

let go - at least not entirely. According to a Newsday Retirement Poll about a

year ago, 57 percent of Long Islanders and 47 percent of New York City

residents don't plan to move to another state when they retire. The main

reason: the desire to remain near family members.

Many of these short-distance relocators are moving into age-restricted

communities - upscale, market- rate or subsidized condominium, co-op and rental

developments on Long Island, according to real estate experts. An estimated 25

percent of local residential construction today is for new age-restricted

communities, said Robert Wieboldt, executive director of the Long Island

Builders Institute, an Islandia- based trade group.

Other folks-in-transition, such as suburban empty- nesters who work in the

city, are moving into Manhattan, trading jam-packed railroad cars or bumper-

to-bumper highway traffic for a subway-commute lifestyle.

To be sure, lots of older Long Islanders and city residents are still

migrating south.

Estella Wilder, a real estate broker with Laurelton Realty in Queens, said

that in the past year her firm has sold about 15 homes of seniors-in-transition

- and these home sellers from southeast Queens are generally heading to

Georgia, North and South Carolina, Virginia, Florida and Nevada.

"They are leaving not so much to join their families but they want the sun,

the warmer climate and a lower cost of living," Wilder said. "Some are going

back to where they originally came from and where they or their family already

own a home."

John Lee, associate real estate broker at Arash Real Estate & Management

Co. in Little Neck, said married retirees in his market are generally moving to

Florida, while widowed seniors are buying a co-op or condominium in Queens or

in an age-restricted community on Long Island or in New Jersey. In the past

month, three of the five houses his firm sold in the Little Neck area were the

result of "seniors moving out," he said.

At the same time, financial considerations cause many seniors in Queens to

"hem and haw" about selling their homes, Lee said. "A lot of times, people are

hesitant, because they are living in a house that costs them $1,000 a month

for upkeep. Unless they already have a house in Florida, where else can they

live as cheaply and as spaciously than in the house that's already paid for?"

In many parts of Long Island, however, high living costs and real estate

taxes are giving some retirees no choice but to sell their homes and head to

living complexes more hospitable to fixed incomes, according to Pearl Kamer,

chief economist for the Long Island Association and professor of finance at

Adelphi University.

Many can't afford to live on the Island at all, she said, even in smaller

units which often are not affordable to seniors with modest incomes.

Despite the desire to remain near family and friends, people 65 and older -

representing nearly 13 percent of Long Island's population - and baby boomers

beginning to approach retirement will increasingly move to Florida and other

Sunbelt areas in the coming years, Kamer predicts.

Among those gearing up to settle in Florida - for most of the year - are

Wheatley Heights residents Charlie Kruger, 56, a retired teacher, and his wife,

Ellen, 54, a kindergarten teacher who plans to retire in the fall.

"Charlie has been talking about moving to Florida since we were married 31

years ago," Ellen Kruger said. "But every year, when we would go to Florida to

visit his mom, the conversation was, 'This one died, and that one died,' and I

could not live in an environment where people were dying all around me."

But in recent years, seeing more of their peers buying vacation and

year-round homes in Florida and growing increasingly weary of the cold weather,

Ellen Kruger began viewing the Sunshine State in a positive light, she said.

Finally, in October 2002, a visit to their friends' spacious new home in an

upscale, active adult community in Palm Beach County convinced her that she

could live in Florida after all.

Concerned that the area's real estate prices were on the upswing and eager

to take advantage of low mortgage rates, the Krugers went to contract on a new

lakeside, three-bedroom house - just a day after visiting their friends. Since

then, the couple has vacationed in their Florida home, which cost more than


"Everyone is very friendly and says hello, and it's a nice mix of ages,"

Charlie Kruger said.

While looking forward to relocating, the Krugers said their feelings are

tempered by reservations about leaving their two grown, albeit single,

daughters, Wendi, 26, and Lissa, 24. The couple plans to put their five-bedroom

Wheatley Heights home on the market in the spring, and they hope that its sale

will give them the financial means to juggle a Florida home with a Long Island

residence of some sort, whether a house, condominium or rental unit.

"I can't see myself being in Florida the entire year, when our children and

most of our friends are in New York," Ellen Kruger said.

The Krugers' ambivalence is shared by many spurred to move by life's


Rose Dobrof, a professor of gerontology at Hunter College in Manhattan, is

well-versed in the challenges of such transitions, yet after her husband,

Alfred, died in 2001, Dobrof's expertise did little to ease her mixed feelings

about selling her six- bedroom, four-bath home in Mount Vernon, N.Y.

"I knew it was foolish to live alone in a house that big, since it became

too much when things broke, and there's a limit to how much you can impose on

your sons-in-law," said Dobrof, 79, who had lived in the house for 43 years and

raised her four daughters in it.

In October, she moved into a two-bedroom rental apartment in Manhattan

within walking distance of Hunter College.

Still, "after moving into the city, I felt as though I was losing Alfred

again, as well as the life I had in Mount Vernon," Dobrof recalled. To get

through the acclimation period, which took about two months, she reminded

herself of another stressful period in her life - when new jobs required her

and Alfred, a social worker, to uproot their family from Indianapolis to New

York in 1960.

"It was a big move and brutal," she said. "I was able to get through that,

so I knew I could get through this."

Like Dobrof, Ines Dotson's decision to sell her home in Hollis was

precipitated by the death of her husband of 47 years. After living in a

rambling five-bedroom, four-bathroom home for 28 years, Dotson moved in

mid-December to a three-bedroom co-op on the South Shore of Nassau County.

"Not only was the house too big, the memories of my husband, Wilfred, were

there, and moving was a way for me to assuage the mourning," said Dotson, who

retired in 1990 as a school social worker.

In her new home on Long Island, she lives near her two married daughters.

Dotson said she expects to make friends at church and at a local senior citizen


"It's rather like before I was married," Dotson said. "I had my own

apartment and managed for myself, although it was a much shorter period than my

married life."

While empty-nesters often acknowledge that they help their children adjust

to the loss of the family homestead, Libby Baskin, a widow since 1997, credits

her five children, too, with helping her adjust to her change of address. For

43 years she had lived in a four-bedroom home in Little Neck before moving in

August to a one-bedroom co-op in North Shore Towers in nearby Floral Park.

The night before she moved, her children - two daughters from Los Angeles

and two sons and a daughter from Manhattan - gathered for a barbecue at their

childhood home. They also slept over.

The following day, with champagne in hand, each person recalled "his

memories in the house," Baskin said. "We all sang, danced and cried." The

event, she said, was cathartic, enabling her to walk out of the house, close

the door and have no second thoughts about leaving.

Cara S. Trager is a frequent contributor to Newsday. She can be reached at


After years of living in a single-family home, many empty-nesters have a hard

time coming to grips with the need to move - and what style of housing to

choose. Here are some questions that can help make the right decision.

1. How much does snow affect your life? Is there someone dependable who

shovels your sidewalk and driveway? Does the snow and ice prevent you from

getting out of the house for days on end?

2. How difficult is it (financially and physically) to clean and maintain

your home?

3. How difficult is it for you to get around in your home's interior? What

about exterior entrances?

4. Does your home need repairs that you have avoided because of the expense

and your lack of interest?

5. How much more flexibility would you have in your budget if you didn't

have the cost of maintaining your home?

6. How attached are you to your home and neighborhood?

7. Do you frequently feel isolated?

8. Would moving put you closer to your family?

9. Would moving improve your social life?

10. Are you able to part with many of your possessions?

11. Do you have the flexibility to adapt to something entirely new?

12. In what ways would moving make your life difficult? Would it be easier?

-Cara S. Trager

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