Cindy and Bruce Sommers were a bit hesitant to leave the single-family house they called home for 18 years. But  after just four months at the Four Bridges landominium community in Butler County's Liberty Towsnhip, the doubts have evaporated.

"We love it," Cindy says. "Bruce says we should have done this two years ago."

The coupled considered downsizing for some time, but "it just seemed like too big of a job" to move from their two-story home with a finished basement. When their daughter moved out they put the house on the market, and it sold more quickly than expected, forcing them to rethink the next move. The Sommers were pleased to find that in their condo "we can spread out," Cindy says.

"We've got a million-dollar view," she adds, noting the golf course and lake vista. "My husband says the happiest day of his life was when he sold his riding lawn mower."

Sharing those sentiments is Alberta Merrill, a resident of the Monte Vista condo development in Green Township. She enjoys the convenience of living on just one level and the space in her three-bedroom home, which allows for entertaining and "feels and looks more like a home" than an apartment. Merrill also loves the setting and the activities. "The view is awesome," she says. Residents can walk or to the pool, club house or exercise room. "That's very convenient to have everything in your community like that."

While the downtown condominium market sizzled in recent years, options in upscale condos grew in a variety of other Greater Cincinnati communities. And "downsizing" doesn't have to mean going small: some condos are 3,000 square feet or more.

Where to begin

Joy Amann, chief operating officer for Huff Realty, says the search for a new home often begins on the internet. People can search at their leisure and request more information or set up appointments online. At www.huff.com and other web sites, searches can be tailored for certain property types, including condominiums in specific price ranges and communities. But Realtors and other agents can still provide more personal services and comprehensive searches, Amann notes Think about what's most what's important to you, says Mary Anne Sasser, a real estate agent with RE/MAX Unlimited. Do you want activities or shopping within walking distance? Do you want a full-service condominium building with a concierge"”which most likely will mean higher association fees? Most important: what fits within the budget?

Empty-nesters are attracted to condos, but they're much "younger-thinking" than they used to be, Sasser says. Many want recreation and activities nearby.

Maureen Pippin, an executive sales vice president at Sibcy Cline Realtors, points to the new, exclusive Michigan Terrace condo building in Hyde Park. Residents will be able to walk to restaurants, shops, a post office, library and churches. "It's for somebody who wants to be in the middle of everything."

Some agents have received additional training to earn the Seniors Real Estate Specialist (SRES) designation. But Amann says a condo salesperson might be more helpful than an SRES for empty-nesters seking upscale properties.

Suburban options

The Towne Square Lofts, part of Blue Ash's vision for redevelopment, adds a residential area to the suburb's central business district, and provides the new residents with shopping and dining options within walking distance. Groundbreaking for the project is set for October. "I tell people it's urban living in a suburban setting," says Steve Pick of Towne Square Partners. The 26 units range from 1,350 to about 2,000 square feet, with a price range of $300,000 to $590,000. Features inclue nine floor plans, 10-foot ceilings, 8-foot doors, granite countertops, two direct-entry garage spaces (and an option for an additional garage space.

Another hot development is the Lofts@4120 in the area of Oakely that is witnessing a trendy renaissance. What makes these condos worth $740,000 or more? For starters, buyers get movie theater-quality sound insulation. No worries about sounds from the neighbors. "We thought it was absolutely paramount to spend extra money on that," explains Brent Van Lieu, president of Seven Hills Development. The Lofts@4120 also offers standard features and appliances that Van Lieu says beats the competition's upgrades, from the 4-foot-wide, 7-foot-tall refrigerators to a custom shower that's "almost like a human car wash."

At the Four Bridges Landominiums in Liberty Township, units range from 3,000 to 3,600 square feet with prices in the $300,000 range, and include a social membership to the Four Bridges Country Club.

Ron Parmiter, sales manager for Towne Properties, which developed Four Bridges, says mature residents love the layout: first floor master bedroom and bath, kitchen, dining room, living room, attached two-car garage and covered porch. A lower level adds recreational space and another bedroom. Buyers appreciate the upgraded finishes.

"Typically the home they're coming from is dated. They want things they didn't have in the home they're coming from," Parmiter notes.
Kitchens with the latest features and large master baths are important to empty-nesters, he adds. "The covered porch is a big deal, too."
Rob Stansel of Stansel & Associates says it's important for planners to know that people over 50 years old want choices that make their home personal. Builders also should recognize that such prospective customers are busy, employed and educated on home features.

"They don't want to get away from it all. They want to be near it all," he remarks, noting a symposium he attended that focused on the needs and desires of mature buyers. Fitness and health are key interests, so residents want leisure spaces and walking areas. Technology is critical to allow them to pursue work and hobbies. Proximity to cultural and spiritual centers, as well as to family and friends, also means a lot, Stansel says. Most people moving from single-family homes into condominiums want to stay within five miles of their old homes.

Stansel's Horseshoe Falls in Lebanon allows for the individuality Stansel says buyers crave. Sizes range from 1,500 to 4,000 square feet, with costs going from $200,000 to $350,000. As with most landominiums, buyers own the ground under the building and some land surrounding the home as well, giving residents an opportunity to use the land as they like. Space for gardening is popular.
"What's nice about Horseshoe Falls is that there is flexibility," he says.

Terry Sojda, director of sales and marketing for Ameritek Custom Homes, is clear on the attraction of "maintenance-free living" for older residents.

"Some of the mundane tasks of upkeep"”it just doesn't fit into their plans." Instead, Ameritek's Monte Vista development in Green Township allows residents to spend their time enjoying walking trails, ponds and stone waterfalls. Inside, the units are open, with bright kitchens, generous closet space and elegant, efficient designs.

Sojda says most builders, including Ameritek, understand that it can be difficult to give up land and a single-family home, so they provide security, convenience and ways to save time in return. The larger homes in Monte Vista are ranch condos with 1,700 to 2,200 square feet, with prices starting in the $190,000 range.

Indian Hill Place is another example of the best in suburban condo living, with units ranging from 2,400 to 3,500 square feet, and priced from $499,000 to $600,000. Dutch Cambruzzi, CEO of Camden Homes, notes that half of the property there is a woodland preserve. Camden has built homes costing more than $1 million, and some of those customers return later, seeking luxury in a smaller, no-maintenance package. These condos are for those who say "we like all those amenities" but are ready to scale back, he explains.

Northern Kentucky also offers a growing number of suburban condo options in addition to those along the Ohio River. Tara at Plantation Pointe in Florence, for example, provides owners with access to a community of walking trails, a stocked lake, fitness center, two clubhouses, two pools and a screened-in casual gathering area. The homes run from 1,100 to nearly 3,000 square feet and cost from $90,000 to the low $200,000 range. There's an emphasis on entertaining space and openness, with the transition between kitchen, living and dining areas considered key because the kitchen becomes a gathering point, according to the sales staff.