-- Real estate experts and promoters of "active adult" developments who tell you to downsize your home at age 55 may be right.
Wait until you're 65 or 75 and the decision to leave the family homestead may only become more difficult, say those who have studied the effects of aging.
"Some older people feel they are prisoners of their house and garden, but they are reluctant to downsize or move," said Steven Hovany, a consultant with Strategy Planning Associates Inc. in Schaumburg, Ill.
But selling the family home isn't for everyone.
"Moving to another place, especially a smaller place, tends to be a totally discretionary decision. It is very easy to put it off. People say, 'Let's talk about it next year,' " Hovany said.
Far from being reluctant, many of those who decide to buy after age 55 are eager to get into a newer house, said Suzanne Hamilton, marketing director for builder Hartz Homes.
"They want to travel, and they are ready to make the move, but they want a house with plenty of luxuries," she said.
For Bill and Ann Kunovic, the decision to sell their 2,900-square-foot house in Vernon Hills, Ill., wasn't difficult.
"We were tired of doing maintenance on a big house, and our four grown sons all had left the nest," Bill Kunovic said.
The couple, who are in their mid-fifties and are semi-retired, are buying a 1,800-square-foot duplex in a development in Waukegan, Ill. They had no problems selling their house in Vernon Hills.
Ann Kunovic said part of the attraction of moving 20 miles east is that they will be nearer to Lake Michigan. Their new development has a clubhouse and swimming pool and is next to a golf course and a forest preserve. Friends also are moving to the development.
"We'll still be able to entertain family members when they come to visit. Also, having a low-maintenance home will give us more time to volunteer at our church," Ann Kunovic said. "And we'll be able to do some additional traveling."
Were they apprehensive about downsizing?
"Not at all," she said. "We're really excited about making the move."
The decision to move wasn't easy for Fran and Ray Hoglund, who moved to a new townhouse in Inverness, Ill., after more than a quarter-century in their home in Barrington, Ill. Making up their minds took them several years.
"It was a very tough decision for us," said Fran Hoglund, a tax accountant. "We knew that moving would be traumatic. Moving is always difficult."
The couple, who are in their sixties, included an elevator in their new home to make it easier for Ray Hoglund, who has diabetes, to get up and down. The townhouse includes numerous upgrades, including custom cabinets and a spiral staircase. It is slightly larger than their former home.
Of their move, Fran Hoglund said, "it was the best decision we ever made."
Mary Lou Pollpeter and her husband, Ralph, found it easy to move to a new house in Lockport, Ill., because their former house, where they lived for more than 20 years, was only 21/2 blocks away.
"We were tired of shoveling snow, and my husband was tired of hearing me talk about moving," Mary Lou Pollpeter said. "We were eager to be around people our own age."
Their new house at an adult community is almost the same size as their old one. Ralph Pollpeter, who is in his mid-seventies, was able to continue his woodworking hobby by putting his shop equipment in the basement of their new house.
An appealing aspect of their new home is a clubhouse, which includes a swimming pool where she can exercise for an hour a day, Mary Lou Pollpeter said. She spends part of her time at a nearby church, where she helps by providing computer advice.
On a recent weekend the couple held a block party for new residents, which attracted nearly 40 people.
Heather and George Fisher, who are in their mid-fifties, decided it was time to downsize from their 3,500-square-foot house in Wheaton, Ill., which was built in 1924. Next year, they are moving to a 2,000-square-foot condo in a high-rise on Chicago's Near North Side.
"We went back and forth and debated the idea for quite a while, but finally we decided this was it," Heather Fisher said. "We had friends who live on the 18th floor of another building downtown and when we saw their view, it made up our minds."
Their son, Jeremy, 22, recently finished college, which helped spur their decision to move.
The couple held an estate sale and gave a lot of items to charity so they wouldn't need to bring along huge amounts of furniture.
"We had all kinds of stuff, including antiques, but now it's gone and we don't miss it at all," Heather Fisher said.
There is a common conception that older buyers are eager to live in a development that includes a swimming pool, recreation center and walking or biking trails.
While there is a sizable group that seeks such places to live, others simply want a home that is newer and perhaps smaller. Roughly two-thirds of retirees stay in the community where they have lived for years. Many cling to the houses where they raised their families.
The idea that everyone wants to move to the Sun Belt also is doubtful.
Experts say droves of Northerners, who traditionally flock to Sun Belt states when their working days are over, are increasingly choosing cold-weather communities closer to where they already live.
Those who believe the need to downsize is urgent often cite fears that housing prices could fall, cracking any real estate nest egg accumulated by those approaching retirement.
Ian C. Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at of High Frequency Economics Ltd. in Valhalla, N.Y., thinks real estate will be hard-hit within months.
A rise in mortgage interest rates will occur in 2006, causing house prices to shrink, Shepherdson said.
"Nothing terrible will happen in the housing market immediately," he is telling clients. "But if Treasury yields continue their upward creep for another few months, things will take a very serious turn for the worse."
Hovany said that in the suburbs, older buyers are strongly attracted to elevator condo buildings, which are being constructed near downtown shopping areas and commuter rail stations.
"The average buyer of a suburban elevator condo is over the age of 60," Hovany said.
While Florida remains the top destination for home buyers older than 60, experts say the state's popularity as a retiree destination is slipping as cold-weather retirement communities lure more retirees.