EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Focus

April 7, 2008

Focus: Trading suburban homes for urban lofts

Joanne Beauchesne and her husband had a three-bedroom home in Salem, N.H.

Built in the 1970s, it was short on character and long on things like yardwork and maintenance.

Last year, Beauchesne and her husband decided they wanted a change and traded in their home for a 1,000-square-foot loft in downtown Haverhill.

Now Joanne Beauchesne walks to her appointments or takes the bus. There's no lawn mowing in summer or shoveling in winter. Life has become simpler.

In the land of hulking sport utility vehicles and bulging flat-screen TVs, it's too early to declare a trend. But academic experts and observers with home-building and historic-preservation groups say America's bigger-is-better attitude toward housing may be shifting.

Consider:

The American Institute of Architects found last year that home sizes are leveling off and that as the population ages, buyers are increasingly prizing accessibility and features like fewer steps and wider hallways.

Census data show that the number of households without children is climbing steadily, and the Census Bureau projects they will account for nearly three-quarters of all U.S. homes by 2025.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation last month compiled 25 approaches that local governments are using to combat "teardowns" — the razing of older homes to make way for bloated, out-of-place structures.

While the factors driving downsizing vary widely, an empty nest is often the catalyst.

That's the target market for Haverhill Lofts, according to spokesman John Reardon.

The location in Haverhill, which offers urban amenities without the high cost of some cities, is one of the selling points.

"For us, the proximity to the downtown, the walk to the commuter rail, the walk to restaurants and bars — it's city living without the city prices," Reardon said. "If you do a cost comparison, it's dramatically cheaper and you still have access to great restaurants and great nightlife and still have a great apartment for a lot less."

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