WASHINGTON — Robert Solymossy doesn’t remember when he last gassed up his one remaining car. His other two cars are blissfully consigned to memory, along with his lawn, his driveway, and “a lifetime’s worth of furniture” accumulated over the 23 years he lived in a detached single-family house in Oakton, Va.
In 2005, Solymossy, now 67, and his wife, Diana Sun Solymossy, 58, traded all that in to live in an Arlington, Va., condo with a gym, a rooftop pool, and dozens of shops and restaurants right downstairs.
They bought it unbuilt, choosing from a floor plan. “It was a leap of faith, to say the least, but the location was really good,” he said. “After we moved in, I realized that this is really, really great; this really rocks.”
The Solymossys were front-runners of a mini-trend taking root in some parts of the nation: Baby boomers swapping out their single-family suburban homes for the bustle of city life.
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Reversing the trajectory of the Eisenhower generation, which fled cities for the suburbs, these boomers are following a path that younger people have embraced in droves. Many are empty nesters, and freed of the need to factor in school districts and yard sizes, they are gravitating to dense urban cores near restaurants, shops, movie theaters and subway stations.
Between 2000 and 2010, over a million baby boomers moved out of areas 40 to 80 miles from city centers and a similar number moved to within 5 miles of city centers, according to an analysis of 50 large cities by the real-estate brokerage Redfin.
While a 2010 AARP survey showed that 85 percent of people 50 to 64 prefer to stay in their current residences, the percentage decreases with income, a relevant detail in the Washington, D.C., region, where household income is double the national median. And those who move increasingly want to live where they can walk and bike to amenities.
“The millennials and the boomers are looking for the same thing,” said Amy Levner, manager of AARP’s Livable Communities, adding that she is hearing more and more about people over 50 migrating to urban areas.
Surveys of boomers’ preferences show that they are more interested in “smart growth” areas than in sprawl. And they are such a large generation that even if only a small percent embrace city life, the effect could be dramatic, Levner said.
“This is just the tip of it,” she said.
Chris Leinberger, a professor at the George Washington University School of Business and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said that while comprehensive data won’t be available for another decade, the shift toward urban living is “the largest social trend of the early 21st century.” Although boomers aren’t driving it, he said, some are jumping on.
The boomers’ generation had embraced a more extreme version of suburban life than their parents had — adding to the burdens of home and garden care and commuting, Leinberger said. “The baby boomers’ lots are much bigger and they moved further out,” he said. “They’re tired of mowing their lawn; it takes sweat equity, or you have to write a check to someone to do it.”
Real-estate agents around the metro area say they are noticing a change. “There is definitely a shift occurring in this age group,” said Andy Alderdice, an agent with W. C. & A. N. Miller Realtors in Bethesda, Md., adding that she made a similar move recently after living for 31 years in a house in Potomac.
To be sure, there are trade-offs. When Ricki and Lee Peltzman, both 64, left a single-family house in Maryland to live in Washington’s Chinatown, they whittled down their square footage by two-thirds, which meant giving up some treasured art and books. “My husband came down here kicking and screaming,” said Ricki Peltzman, who owns a boutique in Washington. But “he didn’t have to take care of the house. … I was tired of working all day, having a 45-minute commute, and then coming home and taking care of the house. It was too much.”
Now, the couple goes out two or three nights a week, walking across the street to go to dinner or the movies.
Boomers tend to prefer large condos with two or more bedrooms, which are scarcer than smaller ones. When they do find them, many face sticker shock: the median price nationally for a condo or co-op has risen 15.4 percent since last year, according to the National Association of Realtors. Condos in Arlington and Washington can sell for up to $1,000 a square foot, locking out many middle-class people.
When Harold and Betsi Closter sold their four-bedroom house in Annandale, Va., to move to a two-bedroom condo in Washington, “It was pretty much a wash, but this has allowed us to get rid of one of our cars and we feel good about having reduced our carbon footprint,” said Harold Closter, 63.
The new location has also been good for their health and their social life; they walk regularly, and they have met people involved in the arts, local government and small businesses.
“The spirit on the streets — there’s a kind of vitality, a regeneration,” Harold Closter said, adding that most people in their building are younger than they are. “We’ve made a lot of new friends, and we’ve found that it’s a lot easier for our friends to get to us, because we’re right on the Metro … Our (adult) son and his friends think this is pretty cool as well.”
Sitting on his terrace with his wife, the Washington monument and the National Cathedral rising in the distance, Solymossy grinned.
“I don’t have to spend my time taking care of the house, replacing the gutter, sealing the driveway,” he said. “After you make the move, it’s like a big rock lifted off the back of your neck.”