In the Mix

Jeanne Reed, a resident of the District Lofts in Morrisville, and her dog, Brandi, walk about two miles every day. “When I walk Brandi, I never get to just walk Brandi. I have to talk to somebody,” she says.

Mixed-use developments seem to be tailor-made for young, childless professionals — no yard, close to entertainment, just a quick walk to the coffee shop or farmers market. As it turns out, retirees and empty-nesters want those same things.

It’s all about living large in a smaller space.

“There are more people who are retirement age who we see in the mixed-use than necessarily your traditional apartment communities,” said Ashley Paulovits, senior community manager for the District Lofts in Morrisville’s Park West Village. “The walkability and the proximity to everywhere are what really draw people.”

There is growing demand for this type of housing, she says, and an April 2019 article from supports that observation. “The coming wave of boomers have made it clear they want to live in walkable communities, preferably in 24-7 live/work/play environments,” it reported.

Jeanne Reed enjoys the hubbub of living close to shops and restaurants, but also likes that the door to her balcony is solid and soundproof. “I sit on my porch in the summer. We don’t go out like we used to; we come to bed early,” she says. “We sit and watch people.”

Developers are responding by building more mixed-use communities or integrating condominiums and apartments into vibrant urban centers. Going up near Cary Towne Center, Fenton will include a mix of retail, office space and 900 luxury condos when it opens next year. In Apex, Lennar Corp. recently filed plans for Depot 499, a 200-acre, mixed-use development west of downtown Apex that will include 850 apartments and around 600 townhomes.

Boom in boomers

Paulovits, who has worked at the 118-unit apartment community since it was built, wasn’t expecting the number of older people leasing at the District Lofts. She calls it the “barbell effect,” with 40% of residents under 30 and 40% older than 50, with other ages making up the remaining 20%.

“We thought it would be a lot of people who were working in RTP or close proximity,” she said. “So, we were surprised when we started seeing more people who were downsizing from homes coming to our community.”

Paulovits also says older residents don’t have to give up the upscale amenities they might be accustomed to. The apartments are fitted with granite kitchen countertops, spacious bathrooms, open floor plans and balconies.

“A lot of the people who live here, it’s a choice to live here, because they could easily afford a home,” Paulovits said. “They can be moving from a 4,500-square-foot home, but they’re done taking care of things and ready to have more experiences.”

Safe and easy

Jeanne Reed moved to the area from Greenville, S.C., to be closer to her daughter’s family in Apex. The independent 79-year-old needed an elevator because she has heart problems, and the place had to accept her sheep-doodle Brandi. She also wanted something nice.

“It is a neighborhood, rather than just an apartment,” said Reed, who has lived at the District Lofts since November 2017.

Although her current place is smaller than the 1,700-square-foot condo she left, there’s plenty of room for her treasured curio cabinet and king-sized bed. It’s easy for her to take care of, and the responsive maintenance staff allows her to live independently.

“I don’t have to do anything. If these lights go out, they come and replace the bulb,” said Reed, recalling when her dishwasher was making an unusual noise, she had a replacement installed within an hour.

Ashley Paulovits, senior community manager at District Lofts, left, and her team, plan monthly socials which attract residents of all ages. “Being a smaller community, I find that more people come out to the events, because they get to know us a little bit better and want to participate,” she says.

She dismisses the idea of a seniors-only community, explaining she likes to see and chat with people of all ages. Her younger neighbors carry her groceries, offer to walk her dog and generally look after her.

“I think the younger people give you a lift,” Reed said. “Rather than somebody every day in a walker or in a wheelchair complaining about their aches and pains, we don’t complain about our aches and pains, because they don’t understand it.”

She compares the community to a little family, where even the Park West store owners greet her by name.

“You get to see everything still in the world, but you’re safe, and you’re not in a big house and lonely,” said Reed. “As soon as you walk out the door, if you want to speak to someone or to be with somebody, there it is.”

A place to walk

Ted and Serena Buckner look forward to moving into the Chatham Walk condominiums in downtown Cary this summer. “We’re really going to enjoy not having to get in the car a lot. That’s going to be nice,” she says.

While not technically a mixed-use development, Chatham Walk in downtown Cary also has one-level floor plans, low maintenance and a location in a bustling, walkable urban environment.

The prospect of living in downtown Cary is attractive to Ted and Serena Buckner, who are ready to leave their two-story, Raleigh home behind — but not their active lifestyle.

Location and walkability are key for the couple, who plan to move into a two-bedroom unit at Chatham Walk in June. He works at SAS and frequently bikes to work. She works off of Trinity Road. So, they drew a big circle and landed on downtown Cary.

“We want to be in a walkable place. And the park is going up in downtown Cary; that’s exciting. We love Bond Brothers, the Pharmacy, and the theater has fun stuff going on,” said Serena Buckner.

Serena Buckner checks out the produce at the downtown Cary farmers market. “There’s so much more in downtown Cary now than there was just three or four years ago,” says Ted Buckner.

The couple, both 58, considered staying where they were for a while longer. But Ted Buckner struggles with walking and balance, and a frightening incident made it clear that they needed to relocate.

“I did a backward somersault down the stairs,” he said. “I was fine, but she went into emergency mode.”

“We had already been looking, and I just called the real estate agent for Chatham Walk,” Serena Buckner said. “That pushed me over the edge on selling the house.”

Because of the one-level unit and the elevator, the Buckners can safely remain independent and age in place. The balcony gives them some outdoor living space without the hassle of raking leaves. And by trading their 2,600-square-foot home for a 1,500-square-foot condo, they won’t have mortgage payments. As an added benefit, because of its location, the Buckners are confident their new home will hold its resale value.

The Chatham Walk development, located on East Chatham Street, will include 33 condominiums when it is complete this summer.

With nearly all 33 units sold, Chatham Walk residents are split fairly evenly between empty-nesters and young professionals, says Jackie Caprio, vice president of marketing at Fonville Morisey Barefoot. Nearly all — 95% — say location was their top reason for purchasing their condo.

“You step out your door and within less than four minutes, you have this vast array of new breweries and eateries and entertainment options,” Caprio said. “It’s all at your doorstep.”

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