For Empty Nesters, Condo Renovations Are On The Rise

Condo renovation project in Parc Somerset, via BOWA Finished condo renovatIon project in Parc Somerset building, via BOWA

For Adam Wertheimer, the nationwide trend of baby boomers moving from green-lawned subdivisions to urban high rises has meant a lot of business.

Wertheimer is a project manager with BOWA, a Bethesda-based home design and remodeling company. In the past three years, an increasing percentage of the firm’s business has come from luxury condo renovations.

“People are moving out of these single family homes in Bethesda and Potomac and into condos in Bethesda, Chevy Chase and Northwest D.C.,” Wertheimer said. “We hear the same thing all the time: They don’t want the maintenance and they don’t need the big house.”

A lot has been written recently about baby boomers downsizing with apartments in walkable, urban areas.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Housing Survey, almost 10 percent of households age 55 and older in cities lived in condos in 2011, up from 7.3 percent in 2005 despite a shortage of condos.

“Baby boomers are tired of mowing the lawn,” George Washington University land use expert Chris Leinberger told the Wall Street Journal. “They’re looking for a more diverse environment.”

In our area, Wertheimer says that translates to a lot of 50- and 60-plus-year-olds moving into condos like the Somerset House and Parc Somerset in Chevy Chase and the Park Potomac just west of I-270 near Montrose Road.

“They really like having the elevator accessibility and easy parking. There are a lot of conveniences,” Wertheimer said.

And more and more people are realizing that while there are limitations, condo units can be remodeled.

Montgomery County requires a commercial permit for major condo renovations, the intricacies of which can be a learning process from former homeowners who have had an addition put on to their homes.

Luxury condo renovators like BOWA can shift walls and rework spaces to give a space a new look. But condo buildings usually don’t allow work to touch the parting wall shared by two units. Builders must also deal with common mechanical systems, plumbing that can’t be modified and buildings that include commercial space that typically means concrete floors or ceilings.

Most luxury condo rebuilds involve trim work molding and other design work.

Wertheimer said most of his projects involve condos that are five to 10-years-old. The new batch of luxury condos that have hit the downtown Bethesda market haven’t required much work.

“A lot of companies try to get into condo renovation and struggle because they’re not used to dealing with building management,” Wertheimer said. “But we’ve seen a huge surge in people who don’t want their unit to look like the other units in the building and who are looking for their unit to function in specific ways.”

Photos via BOWA

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