Real Estate: Joe Blundo's empty nester dilemma

Joe Blundo

Neither my wife nor I could decide whether to stay in our house or move to a smaller one. So we let an unborn child make the choice.

A few months ago, we went to a family dinner where my son and daughter-in-law abruptly got up and handed out some envelopes that contained nametags. Mine said “Grandpa.” Suddenly, the remodel-or-move issue had a new urgency. No grandchild of ours was going to crawl around on family room carpet dating to the Reagan administration, I said. “Not even the dog likes that carpet,” my wife noted.

It was true. When the dog (actually the grand-dog) came to visit, she favored the newer, cleaner living room carpet as a place to sleep. You know it's time to update when a creature that thinks nothing of rolling around in unspeakable matter in the backyard finds your carpet beneath its standards.

The carpet looked better 24 years ago, when we moved from Clintonville to Worthington with a 9-year-old son and a 2-year-old daughter.

I was never that fond of the house. What I was—and still am—fond of is the ravine in the backyard, the Olentangy bike path just down the street, the proximity to a bus line, the inside-the-Outerbelt location, the school system and the neighbors. All the things you can't pick up and move with you.

We didn't really talk much about moving or staying until September 2013 when my daughter emptied the nest by moving to Chicago for graduate school. If we were indeed going to move, we probably should have done it that very moment because it seems as if there was about a one-week period between the time the Columbus real estate market recovered from the housing downturn and the time it rocketed into price levels I can't believe.

But moving seemed like way too much work and remodeling seemed like way too much money, so we dithered. Also, we weren't quite agreed on where to move if we were going to move.

My preference was to return to Clintonville, where we have a lot of connections. In fact, I'd taken to calling Worthington the Upper Peninsula of Clintonville just so I'd feel closer to the old neighborhood. My wife was less sold on the idea of moving to Clintonville because she likes Worthington's city services, which are indeed fabulous. Light snowfalls bring out the plows. Big machines come around every fall to inhale leaves. I think you could put nuclear fuel rods at the curb and they'd be picked up on trash day.

So we were split on location, but of one mind on this: We'd live near High Street, because between Downtown and I-270 in Worthington, it's an 11-mile stretch of restaurants, bus stops, hardware stores, car repair shops and many other things you need to conduct life.

I still harbored hopes of living on the Clintonville stretch of High Street, but that dream died after we casually stopped by an open house on Olentangy Street, where we'd once lived, to see a renovated American Foursquare last year. The price was $365,000.

It was an OK house in a walkable neighborhood. But $365,000? For a house smaller and older than the one we have now? My fantasy was to exchange a Worthington home for one of equal value in Clintonville, not take on another mortgage in my 60s.

We never seriously considered “empty-nester housing” because there's not much of it in Worthington and Clintonville. And I'm not sure I like the concept anyway. If you move to a neighborhood designed to attract empty nesters, you're going to end up living in close proximity to a lot of other baby boomers. I already did that in college.

For all those reasons, we decided to look at the remodeling option. True, it would still leave us with four bedrooms—three more than we need. On the other hand, we'd finally get a chance—after two kids' worth of college tuition—to make right some things that have always bothered us about the house.

This wasn't the first time we thought about remodeling. Over the years, we've gotten bids from contractors several times. They'd present plans that would address our imperfections, and we'd tiptoe right up to the point where we're supposed to sign our names. Something always stopped us. Inertia. Sticker shock. Braces for the kids. In fact, the biggest home improvement we ever did—new roof and siding—was the result of an insurance settlement for hail damage. I called it a miracle from the heavens. I was beginning to think it would take a second weather disaster—an interior hailstorm perhaps—to get any further remodeling done.

But this time, we had a grandchild-imposed deadline, and that forced us into action. I knew it was serious when we looked at an estimate equivalent to a year at a private college and didn't immediately back away in horror.

Actual contracts have been signed and actual money has changed hands, so we're committed. We're now in that phase when paint chips and tiny squares of countertop material are lying here and there. Within a few weeks, the telltale dumpster will appear in the driveway. In the weeks that follow, we'll have a more open kitchen with new fixtures. Ceiling damage from an old roof leak will finally get repaired. The hardwood floors that needed refinishing when we moved in 24 years ago will finally get refinished. And, yes, the family room carpet will be replaced.

Someday the house will indeed be too much for us, and we'll sell it. In the meantime, we'll enjoy the improvements and everything else we like about the location. I'd like to thank my future grandchild for prodding us into a decision. I hope he enjoys the new carpet. I'm sure the grand-dog will.