Senior Living: Duluth ranch condo's upgrades make it easier for couple to leave home of 34 years

Ken Rabren had wanted to downsize for years, so he searched for a home that would convince his wife Kathy to move. The size and floor plans at Brookhaven at Sugarloaf in Duluth did the trick. Ken, 73, who is retired from MARTA, and Kathy, 75, chatted about their ranch-style condo in the active adult neighborhood by Jim Chapman Communities.

Q. Why was downsizing a tough decision?

Kathy: We had been in our house 34 years. I couldn’t even talk about leaving that house, with all of the 34 years of memories ... without crying. When Ken had mentioned moving into a condo I said, “Honey, forget it, there’s no way I want somebody above and below me and on each side of me.” So when we came out here, and I walked through the condo [the home is attached to neighbors’ condos], it was like a house. It was so spacious and it just did not feel like a condo. I said, “Honey, I can do this.”

Q. Since it was new construction, did you make any changes?

Ken: We took out a wall between the two small bedrooms [on the bottom level] and made one large bedroom. We have our guest bedroom with a full bath over the garage [originally meant to be a bonus room].

I told Kathy a long time ago, “If you will downsize one of these days, we’ll try to make it as nice as you would like.” We did about $78,000 worth of upgrades. We did granite countertops and granite in the backsplash. We upgraded the wall paint. We enlarged the mantle surround on the fireplace. On each side of the fireplace are built-in cabinets. We upgraded the master bathroom with tile and granite countertops. We got taller cherry cabinets in the kitchen. We had the patio finished with tile and windows.

Kathy: Carpet was one of the things I did not want. I was so tired of dragging a vacuum cleaner over carpet. So I got to have the hardwood floors, except in the bonus room. It was going to cost so much to put hardwood up there that I gave in on that.

Q. What are some age-friendly features?

Kathy: All of the doors are wheelchair accessible, and the thresholds going out the front door and into the garage might be an inch and a half or two inches. That’s really good.

Ken: I think the countertops in the kitchen and bathrooms are a little higher than normal. You don’t have to bend over.

Q. How did you downsize?

Kathy: We have three adult kids between us, some adult grandchildren and one little great granddaughter. We told the kids, “OK, what do you want?” Then we donated to a church inner city ministry [three truckloads of items] and Goodwill’s thrift store.

Q. What tips would you give senior buyers?

Ken: Consider, am I going to be able to move away from the friends that I’ve got next door or in the community? We only moved 7 miles [which helped them avoid any homesickness].

Q. What are the financial benefits to living in a county like Gwinnett?

Ken: If you’re 65 or older you’re exempt from school tax. That’s a lot of dollars.

Q. How do neighbors get together?

Ken: They have a ladies luncheon. Saturday mornings, they have coffee. They have potlucks. We have a nice swimming pool. The clubhouse has a nice exercise room that you can take advantage of, if you have the energy.

At a glance

Ken and Kathy Rabren’s home in Brookhaven at Sugarloaf has three bedrooms, three baths and about 2,500 square feet. They purchased it in November. Homes range from the $245,000s to the $255,000s.