Life Cycle of Shelter

by Karen Briscoe
September 9, 2013

As a Realtor® I have witnessed first hand a form of life cycle that people fall into in terms of choice of shelter.  The young person after completing their education and moving from the parental home typically seeks out apartment/condominium or town home living.  This selection of housing is usually in a more urban environment near shopping, restaurants, nightlife and transportation.  Access to employment centers is greater in an urban environment, so commute time is usually minimized.  Further many of these communities offer amenities that people in this stage of life desire, such as:  workout room, swimming pool and club room areas.  In exchange for the convenience, the trade off is often dwelling square footage and land.  Over the years I have sold a number of properties to people in this stage of life and they all have these similar qualities in common.  Recently our 25 year old son Drew purchased a condo in the Car Barn on Capitol Hill and his reasoning encompassed practically all of the above mentioned reasons.

As one matures in their professional career and marry, many start to think about getting pets and having children.  It is interesting how many young people and couples get a dog as preparation for family life.  Some urban areas have designated dog parks in response to this phenomenon, which is interesting because most parks in cities were originally designed for family recreation.  What this stage turns to in housing choice is more interior living space and a yard!  If having children is part of the long range family plan, then school consideration usually moves to the top of most people’s list in terms of housing location.

Location is the most basic determination of value in real estate because as we all know it is the most fundamental quality of real estate since land uniquely cannot be moved.  Next in line in determination of value in my view is school quality as perceived by the public.  Thus the public school where the home is should be researched, even if one does not or will not have children in the public school system nor or in the future; it will more than likely have a significant effect on value for many years.

I recall working with a young couple who after marrying I assisted in purchasing a condo in the PentagonCity area of Arlington, Virginia.  They were happy there for a few years until they were expecting their first child and needed more space, so I helped them sell the condo and purchase a townhouse in the Ballston area of Arlington.  In my view the town house did not really provide any more space and there was a deck but not any yard.  Because of this I urged them to look instead at purchasing at the top of their comfort level financially a single-family detached home with a small yard.  They resisted my counsel, not ready yet to give up the life style they loved of living in an urban area, walking to shopping and restaurants and metro.

Lo and behold, it was but 2 years later when that same young couple called me and said that they were totally out of space, what with the stroller, the high chair, all the toys and other young child paraphernalia.  They also explained that their son needed a yard to kick a ball in and space to learn to ride a tricycle.  They even sheepishly admitted that they should have listened to me because to sell their town house after only living in it 2 years in a time of no market appreciation meant that they didn’t break even on the costs of home ownership.  So goes the next stage of life, which reflects the expansion of the family unit.

Typically at this stage, most people are moving into their peak earning years, thus they usually have the income to qualify for what will probably be one of the largest home purchase they will make.  If not at this point, it will probably occur sometime during the next 7-10 years as one enters middle age.  This is when many people move up and out to the suburbs, in order to gain the most living space and land for the money.  Often times this is when people are in the sandwich stage, caring for children and aging parents – this may require the conversion of a basement or other space in the home for a separate apartment for aging relatives.

We are now at the top of the bell curve in terms of size and expense for the primary residence.  What happens on the downhill side of the bell curve, in my experience typically is the reverse of the stages it took to get to the top.  Next in line is the gradual occurrence of the nest emptying out.  As children go off to college or their own lives, then oftentimes a couple will look at each other and think “what do we need with all this space?”  The yard that was so much part of the family life what with the swing set and a place to kick a soccer ball around, now has become the weekend noose – requiring more work than anyone has time and/or desire to attend to.  Sometimes this stage is accelerated by the fact that one of the couple has deceased or there is a divorce, but most arrive at the juncture at some point.  Those that don’t and chose to “age in place” in my experience leave to their heirs the task of cleaning out a lifetime of possessions and memories.

Where do these empty nesters tend to go to downsize?  Into town house or condominium living, where there is less exterior maintenance demands, more turn-key so that they can travel and spend time with the grandchildren that are coming along.  The Washington Post front page story on August 10, 2013 addressed this topic in the article entitled:  “For boomers, the simple life is in the city”:  Some move in with family members who can tend to their personal needs, some go directly from the family home into a retirement community or an assisted living facility.  It is interesting to note that community living in the later stages of life often mirrors those in the early stages.  Think of how dorm life compares to retirement center – social opportunities abound in both and 3 meals a day are served.

We have now come full circle in the shelter life cycle.  Do you see where you are?  If you are contemplating the next stage in the shelter life cycle, Karen Briscoe and Lizzy Conroy are active and experienced Realtors ® in the Northern Virginia, Washington DC market place and would be delighted to assist whether for home buying or selling.  Please contact via the means most convenient for you:, 703-734-0192,

Karen Briscoe is Principal of the Huckaby Briscoe Conroy Group (HBC) and author of "Real Estate Success in 5 Minutes a Day". She is an Associate Broker in Virginia, a Certified Luxury Home Market Specialist, and a member of the Women’s Council of Realtors. Karen began her real estate career developing residential lots with the Trammel Crow Company in Dallas, and in commercial real estate with The Staubach Company in the Washington, DC Metro area. Karen has a Masters Degree from Southern Methodist University and her BA from Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri – her hometown.
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