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Empty nesters opt to upgrade their existing houses instead of moving into the city

Dr. Michael J. Yaremchuk and his wife, Marilynn, decided to keep their house in Lynnfield, hiring contractor Blaise Scioli (right) to renovate. Dr. Michael J. Yaremchuk and his wife, Marilynn, decided to keep their house in Lynnfield, hiring contractor Blaise Scioli (right) to renovate. (Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe)
By Jay Fitzgerald
Globe Correspondent / February 26, 2012
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Dr. Michael J. Yaremchuk and his wife, Marilynn, considered moving from the suburbs into Boston a few years ago, after their daughter had grown and moved out of their longtime home in Lynnfield.

The Yaremchuks were looking to downsize to a condo on Beacon Hill or in the Back Bay. But they eventually balked at following other empty nesters migrating to the city. Their primary reasons: the high prices for condos in Boston, a considerably smaller living space, and other inconveniences associated with urban life, such as lack of parking.

So the couple remained in Lynnfield and instead began renovating the house they’ve lived in for 25 years. Outside, they’re installing new siding, gutters, and a roof, to make the home more efficient and its features more historically accurate.

They have a tentative plan for a second phase - remodeling the kitchen and making the interior “more attractive and user friendly for entertaining,’’ said Michael Yaremchuk, 58, a well-known plastic surgeon at the Boston Center in Back Bay and a professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School.

The Yaremchuks are part of a trend of empty nesters who have decided to stay put in their longtime homes. The common path for most empty nesters is to buy a smaller home or condo close in to the city, and enjoy an active post-child-rearing lifestyle surrounded by restaurants, shops, museums, and other urban amenities.

But others want to stay close to their friends and familiar sites, as well as have enough room to host their children, grandkids, and other guests. This trend might be more pronounced lately due to the slow housing market; some older couples cannot sell their longtime homes at the prices they had once envisioned, or even not at all.

Reasons aside, those empty nesters staying put are often aggressively renovating their homes to suit their older condition, or to have amenities and features they postponed when the house was full of kids.

“They want to make it a little more luxurious,’’ said Paul Apkarian, owner of Paul Apkarian Architects Inc. in Wayland. “They’re transforming space into things that were once considered unusual when they had kids. All of a sudden these types of remodeling projects account for a lot of my work.’’

Many such as the Yaremchuks, often start with exterior work, such as new roofs and sidings and windows, or tackle less glamorous projects, such as replacing an old heating system.

“They want to avoid the headaches of routine maintenance in their empty nester years,’’ said Paul Eldrenkamp, owner of Byggmeister Inc., a Newton home contractor. “They want to make their house more efficient and comfortable, less of a hassle.’’

After the basic maintenance and upgrades are complete, the fun part starts: transforming interiors to make them more adult friendly, as opposed to kid safe and practical.

Extra bedrooms become dens, media entertainment centers, or home offices. Outdoor decks are expanded for alfresco dining with friends and relatives. Basement playrooms transform into wine cellars. Laundry machines get moved from the basement to upper floors for added convenience.

And, of course, kitchens and master suites are often at the top of the list.

“Most people at this stage in their lives are looking to make their homes more adult oriented,’’ said Lynne Brainerd, owner of Lynne Brainerd Design, a Weston home design and construction firm. “They often begin with the kitchens. Many older homes don’t have lovely kitchens. The have the original countertops and old electric stoves and plywood cabinets. They usually want a sexy new kitchen.’’

Such work isn’t cheap - or quick. Home industry specialists said renovations can run the gamut from $20,000 to $200,000, and take years to implement.

Dorothy Howells, a former teacher and editor, said she and her husband embarked on empty nester renovations on their Wellesley home a number of years ago, after “feeling a certain amount of pressure’’ to sell their three-bedroom house and downsize to a smaller home or condo.

“We loved our home and neighborhood, so we decided we weren’t going to leave,’’ said Howells, who raised two daughters in the 2,500-square-foot Wellesley house.

The Howells opted to fix the roof and exterior siding, add a small deck out back, replace windows, rearrange and repaint the interior of the house. After her husband died three years ago, Howells said she elected to remain there and continue with the renovation.

“It comforts me to be here,’’ she said.

Howells also belongs to a new nonprofit group, Wellesley at Home, that provides a support network for empty nesters and other elders who want to stay in their longtime homes.

The Wellesley organization is part of the growing Village to Village Network of nonprofits that encourage people to keep living in their homes, for economic, social, and health reasons. It connects members with home contractors, repair specialists, and other service people who can make life easier for seniors.

Meanwhile in Lynnfield, the Yaremchuks are working with a renovation contractor who knows firsthand the issues empty nesters face. Blaise Scioli is 54 and lives with his wife in a four-bedroom house in Northborough. Their 21-year-old son is about to graduate from college, and Scioli acknowledged that downsizing and moving into the city was “tempting.’’

But he and his wife have opted to stay put, too, for social, as well as financial, reasons.

“We like where we live,’’ said Scioli, who naturally has some renovations in mind for his home. “There are too many people too willing to pick up and move. It’s not always necessary.’’

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