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Want Dream Home? Don’t Move—Renovate

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By Barbara Williams

dream_home_renovateDavid Shanks longed for a bigger house. A roomy kitchen was on the list—he loved to cook and had a hard time whipping up specialties for his wife and two daughters in their old narrow one.

But his No. 1 priority was a shower stall in the bathroom large enough for him to maneuver without jamming his elbows against the tiles.

“We’ve always had a small house, including one small bathroom that I shared with three women,” says Shanks, a retired publishing executive. “I really wanted a shower where I could stretch my arms and not knock my elbows every time I moved.”

After the girls moved out after college graduation, Shanks and his wife, Elizabeth, were done with tuition bills and their mortgage was paid off. It’s a time when many empty nesters downsize, or find their dream home, or both.

But the Shankses are one of the many couples who decide to keep the houses where they raised their children, remodeling them into their dream home. Many have features in their current houses that they don’t want to give up, and they finally have the time and money to spend on such indulgences as walk-in closets, roomy master baths and cozy breakfast nooks.

Like many, the Shankses wanted to remain in their hometown—Tenafly—because, among other things, it provided an easy commute for David Shanks to his job in New York City.

“Our ties are really in Tenafly and we were very content to stay where we were,” Elizabeth Shanks says. “Our friends thought we were crazy to do this at this time of our lives but we renovated and put everything into the house that we wanted.”

The Shankses’ daughters didn’t want any changes to their childhood home—they didn’t want their parents moving out of it, nor did they want any renovations.

“They moved into their own places and we were left with this tiny kitchen and a shower that gave me bruises,” Shanks says. “They wanted a shrine to their childhood.”

Despite the girls’ objections, the Shankses looked at a few homes in Tenafly before deciding to renovate the three-bedroom colonial where they had lived since 1977.

Remodeling specialists in North Jersey says they are seeing a steady stream of customers who want to renovate and stay in the houses they’ve lived in for decades, houses where they created strong ties to their neighborhoods.

“Some clients are remodeling as soon as the kids go away to college—they want a bigger home so they can enjoy it when the kids bring friends home from college or their spouses after they get married,” says Mark Cobucci, owner of Dovetail Designs in Bergenfield, N.J.

“One client wanted a bigger kitchen that looked over the family room because when she was cooking she always felt trapped in the kitchen while everyone else gathered in the family room.”

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