Home Living Community Downsizing, Pre- and During a Pandemic

Downsizing, Pre- and During a Pandemic

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Cari Clement reports she is happy to have downsized to a condo on Murray Hill, where she photographed this stunning sunset. Photo by Cari Clement.

We knew it had to happen, but we couldn’t have picked both a better and worse time to downsize. However, now that it’s behind us, I’m so glad we did it.

But first a bit of background. As some readers may know, I’ve been working with Phil Dodd, Diane Derby, and others for a number of years on the Montpelier Downsizing Group, planning and conducting large public meetings with presentations on the topic, sending out the occasional e-newsletter, and replying to questions that come in to the group’s email address. We found there is a very strong interest among older residents of the area in moving from their large houses to smaller houses, condos, apartments, or even tiny houses.

Because I personally wanted to downsize and because developers were not building much new housing appropriate for downsizers, but also because I wanted to be part of a small, planned community, I helped lead a group of 12 interested downsizers who came together and created the Silver Maple Community, LLC, to build our own small houses. We searched for land, talked with landowners, realtors, and town officials, even made presentations to the City Council, and just when we thought we’d finally found the perfect spot, the commitments by a critical mass of members of the group fell through. Not to be deterred, it was on to Plan B.

I’d been getting Zillow feeds for a while, primarily looking for land, when in late October 2019 an interesting description of a condo on Cityside Drive on Murray Hill came up that I thought would be worth looking into. Working with Janel Johnson of Coldwell Banker Classic Properties, we looked at two condos there, but both needed a lot of work to get what we wanted. Then we heard of a third, a for-sale-by-owner condo, and that was the one that worked. 

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Nothing had to be done, not even painting — but we were months away from our house on Emmons Street being ready for showing, and we certainly couldn’t afford to have two homes with one lying empty. Sure, we could rent out the condo, but Cityside prohibits short-term rentals, so what to do? We then learned about Weatherby, the company that finds three-plus–month rentals for visiting doctors at Central Vermont Medical Center. So we put an offer on the condo shortly after having seen it, got a home equity loan on the Emmons Street house, and closed on the condo in early December, 2019. 

The entrance to Cari Clement’s new condo. Courtesy photo.

Our new condo tenant moved in on January 1, which gave us three weeks to furnish the condo enough for her to be comfortable. We moved in furniture we didn’t use, bought some we eventually wanted for ourselves, and bought a few pieces from the condo sellers. And the rental income basically covered the cost of the temporary home equity loan on the Emmons Street house.

Just a tip: if you haven’t bought or sold any property in many years, like us, we found it critical to have the input of someone like Janel Johnson. She was invaluable in educating us, as so much had changed since we’d bought the Emmons Street house nearly 20 years ago.

Things were going well, with my husband, Jeff-the-collector, spending hours figuring out how to get rid of SO much. I, with not so much, took off for Florida in late January of 2020 for 5 weeks. Just as my daughter and family were wrapping up their school vacation time with me in Florida in early March, you know what happened. Driving back to Vermont in the middle of a pandemic was no picnic, but the goal of prepping the house for sale was motivation to get back — and packing was certainly a way to be socially isolating. But, how to sell a house when no one’s allowed in it, including the realtor? And who knew what the real estate market would be like once the house went on the market? 

Thankfully, as a former magazine editor, I’d spent years styling for photo shoots in New York City both for fashion and home “dec,” so I knew how to prep a room and take photos, even if only with my phone. Janel put the house on the market (online showings only) in late April. But as soon as the house went up, Phil Scott’s “spigot” started to open to allow a realtor and one potential buyer into the house. 

When you take photos, you can push all the stuff you don’t want seen behind you, something that’s not quite possible for a walk-through. So it was another mad dash to figure out where to put all that “stuff behind me.” Thank goodness for expansive basements. The first day of the in-person showing is when we received our first and, ultimately, accepted offer. There was a bunch of negotiating (as there pretty much always is) post-inspection. This is both the joy and challenge of selling a very old house (ours was one of the chopped-up Civil War medical wards from College Street, plus a converted barn). 

But once the offer was in on the Emmons Street house, and the inspection underway, there was the endless packing. And the schlepping. And the assembling of furniture to fit in the newer, smaller space. (I was not doing any in-person furniture shopping.) We did save money by packing and moving so much ourselves, but, after an exhausting day, I slipped and tore my rotator cuff. So be wise: let the movers do what they do best! 

Ultimately all went well. We loved the people who bought our big old house, and we love the condo (especially me) even more. And my “partner in crime” in Silver Maple just bought the condo across the way! The community I’d always wanted is already here: walks with neighbors, interesting board discussions, having someone else plow, shovel, and mow — and those sunsets!