When less is more


Yvonne Cater downsized to a small but stylish energy- efficient home built by Tommy Williams in southwest Gainesville’s Longleaf Village subdivision.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Thursday, January 31, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 25, 2013 at 2:27 p.m.

Good things do come in small packages. At least that's the way Yvonne Cater sees it. After her husband passed away five years ago, Cater, 64, downsized from a 2,100-square-foot home on five acres in Myakka City just outside of Sarasota to a 2-bedroom, 1,200-square-foot home in Longleaf Village here in Gainesville.

Facts

A less-is-more checklist for empty nesters

Here are some of the amenities downsizers find attractive:
❏ Granite countertops
❏ Ceramic tile floors
❏ Energy-efficient construction, including tankless hot water heater, high-efficiency heating and air conditioning systems, more insulation, and low-e windows that let light in but keep the heat out
❏ Space-saving efficiency with spacious kitchen/great room configuration
❏ Flex space for either formal dining room or study
❏ High, spacious ceilings
❏ Large, luxurious master suites
❏ Walk-in showers instead of (or in addition to) bathtubs
❏ Narrow, deep lots with plenty of green space behind the house
❏ Common area/clubhouse and swimming pool
❏ Multi-generational neighborhood

Facts

14th Annual North Central Florida Home and Garden Show

Looking for inspiration for an upcoming home or garden project?
You'll find hundreds of booths and exhibits and a full schedule of seminars at the 14th Annual North Central Florida Home and Garden Show, sponsored by The Gainesville Sun and the Builders Association of North Central Florida.
The show will be held Saturday, March 9, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, March 10, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the University of Florida's Stephen C. O'Connell Center.
The event highlights all things home, from repair and remodeling to landscaping, bathrooms, home security, décor and electronics. The Builders Association of North Central Florida will contribute a number of educational displays.
A Home and Garden Show program will publish in The Gainesville Sun on March 9. Additional copies will be available at the show.
Admission is $4 at the door, free for children 16 and under.
For more information on booths and seminars, call Lynda Strickland, senior advertising sales manager at The Gainesville Sun, 374-5079. More information is also available at www.ncfhomeandgardenshow.com.

“I am totally convinced this was the right move for me,” says Cater, who works part-time with the Guardian Ad Litem program in Gainesville. Cater decided to move to Gainesville because her daughter and two of her grandchildren live here.

Cater is not the only empty nester who's on the move. Her decision to relocate reflects a national trend in which members of the Baby Boomer generation are moving to vibrant college towns like Gainesville, where the living is affordable and easy. In 2012, the AARP ranked Gainesville among its top 10 best places to retire, citing the city's “funky-hippy-meets-world-traveler” vibe, its 205 sunny days per year, and its rich cultural offerings, including the Hippodrome Theatre, the University of Florida's art and natural history museums, and the city's two performing arts halls (at UF and Santa Fe College).

And, of course, there's football.

“I'm a big football fan,” Cater says.

Todd Lewis, director of marketing for Longleaf Village just off Archer Road in southwest Gainesville, says, “People who retire in Gainesville are not looking for the same things that people are looking for at The Villages or Top of the World in Ocala. They're looking for a younger, more vibrant neighborhood and people.”

And although they're downsizing to smaller homes, they're not interested in sacrificing high standards or quality construction.

“People who are downsizing are willing to give up size, but they still want a really nice house,” he says. Standard features in the Tommy Williams homes in Longleaf Village, which range in size from 1,200 to 3,000 square feet, include granite countertops in the kitchens and bathrooms, extra tall cabinets, ceramic tiled floors in the kitchen, dining area, laundry and baths, and a ceramic tiled shower in the owner's suite. Cater says she appreciated the fact that she had 14 different kitchen cabinet styles to choose from as part of the standard package.

Gay Robinson, president of G.W. Robinson Homes, says clients of theirs who have downsized in the Garison Way subdivision off of Tower Road were drawn to the large lanais of the homes in the neighborhood—the better to relax over a cup of coffee and read the paper while their neighbors hurry their children off to school before heading off to work themselves.

Robinson says empty nesters and active retirees also like the idea of a master suite that still feels large and luxurious, with large closets and large master baths.

What's more, “A lot of our models with smaller floor plans have both a breakfast nook and a formal dining room,” Robinson says, because many people who are downsizing like to keep their formal dining set. For those who don't want a formal dining room, the area can be repurposed as a study.

“They like the larger backyards, as well,” Robinson says. Garison Way properties are narrow but deep, providing ample green space for homeowners with a green thumb.

Of course, not everyone is looking to relocate—especially when they already live in a city that's recognized as a great place to spend an active retirement. Pat and Gerry Hale had been living in a spacious, 3,000-square-foot home in the Kenwood subdivision along Tower Road when they decided to downsize. Pat, 74, says that after her mother died a few years back, she and Gerry, a retired FBI agent, wanted a smaller house that was easy to care for and energy efficient. They bought a 1,700-square-foot, 3-bedroom home in Longleaf Village that exceeded most of their expectations.

Lewis says energy efficient green homes are becoming increasingly important to empty nesters, not only for preserving the environment, but also for protecting the pocketbook.

“People are starting to be adamant about putting their money there,” Lewis says, adding that the average utility bill for most Tommy Williams homes is about $90 per month.

The Hales say their utility bill dropped from $500 or $600 per month in their Kenwood home to $73 per month in their Longleaf Village home. Utility bills may be even lower for those living in net-zero homes, in which homeowners sell the solar power generated from the home's solar photovoltaic panels back to the utility company.

And though many of the new homes are smaller in size, the standard 10-foot ceilings lend a sense of spaciousness to the house.

The Hales also appreciate the fact that they don't have to care for the front lawn—fertilizing, trimming and mowing is covered by a monthly maintenance fee at Longleaf Village. And yet, there's plenty of room in the backyard for them to cultivate a vegetable garden. They use the community clubhouse when their grandchildren come to visit.

Both Cater and the Hales say they like their new neighborhood precisely because it is not a retirement community.

“It's a nice, quiet neighborhood, but with kids and young people,” Pat Hale says.

Cater says that one day over the winter break, a neighbor and his two young sons knocked on her door and asked to borrow a cup of sugar. An hour later, the whole family was back at Cater's door, this time bearing a plate of homemade holiday cookies for her.

In Myakka City, Cater says, “I spent weekends mowing the yard and taking care of the house.” Now, her monthly maintenance fees cover lawn care for the front yard. And the house is small enough that it takes very little time to clean, leaving her free to spend more time with her daughter, her grandchildren, and her new friends and neighbors.

Pat Hale says she misses the trees in the couple's Kenwood neighborhood, but not the house. “I didn't want to spend the rest of my life cleaning house.”

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