Client Spotlight: At Home in the South End

Designed to perfection, this forward thinking couple created a transformative South End condo that evolves as their needs change from post-college crash pad to retirement haven.

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In the Fall of 2013, Bill and Kathy Corbin had a vision of finding a South End two bedroom that would serve as a home for their two sons in the short term and themselves for the longer term.  

Based in Chicago, the Corbins were excited their sons had flourished in Boston where Bill had spent his college years.  With the eldest son getting his footing in a post graduate job, the youngest had just a few more years in university to complete.  Faced with the prospect of needing to subsidize two separate rental apartments in the city the Corbin family got together, did the math and realized that buying made much more sense than renting.  

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One bedroom apartments were averaging around $2,500/mo and two bedrooms $3,000/mo. The two bedroom option would be the economical choice, but those dollars were much better directed to a mortgage payment. That redirection would allow the family to build equity and more stability for the boys while hedging against ever increasing rents.  Today, the average two bedroom apartment runs about $3,500/mo.  

The Corbins aren’t alone in working out that investing in Boston’s real estate market is more savvy than paying rent/college housing, but they didn’t stop the critical thinking there. They took it one step further.  Seeing how the boys were growing their own roots in Boston, Bill and Kathy realized that it was unlikely their sons would want to return to Chicago. If they were to live out their dream of a family-filled retirement they would be moving to Boston themselves. 

With this in mind, the goal was to find a place suitable for their sons to share for a handful of years but that could then be renovated to suit Bill and Kathy’s taste upon retirement.   They connected with South End resident and Burbs to Boston team lead, Sarah Mooradian, who applauded their vision and was motivated to help them find just the right place.

Read on for the Q & A …

What was your experience like trying to find a condo in Boston while you were based in Chicago?

 Bill: It was pretty stressful at first. In 2013, the real estate market was red hot—not that it’s not today! Properties were being sold within 48 hours after going on the market and were well over the asking price. It made it tough to compete from afar. Sarah guided us through the whole process and helped us organize our thoughts and deal with the market.

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Kathy: We also enlisted the help of our boys who were our eyes on the ground.  Since they were already in Boston they could check out anything Sarah felt fit our needs and would be a match. They made a great team, which made it easier for us to act when the right home came along. 

What advice would you give to those who are considering making a similar move?

Bill: Think about space and location with this question in mind: What do you need now and what will you need in 10 years?
Kathy: For us in the short term, we needed two bedrooms but upon retiring we will really only need one bedroom and more space for dining. Realizing this, we thought about how we could keep the two bedroom layout but make it flexible and function as a dining space. I worked hard on the design of these beautiful folding doors that mimic wood shutters and fold away when open. The doors and a murphy bed made it possible for us to have the space function as a bedroom or a dining room depending on our needs.

What was the best or worst investment you made when transitioning from a larger home to a city condo?

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Kathy: One of the smartest things we did was to hire a professional organizer. We worked with them when downsizing from our family home to an interim apartment in Chicago. This way we would be move-in ready when it came time to retire in Boston.  It was the best money we ever spent in terms of sorting, organizing and purging.

One other aspect that went well was using the floor plan for our Boston condo to size the Chicago pieces we purchased.  That way, if we wanted to keep something we loved from the Chicago apartment, we knew it would fit into our Boston home as well. 

Why the South End?

 Kathy: The location worked really well for us as an adult family. When both boys lived in the condo it was an easy commute for them to separate sides of the city. The location is close to the Green and Orange lines as well as the commuter rail which has been helpful as one of them now works in Providence.

Bill: While our primary goal was to provide housing for our two sons, Kathy and I love the neighborhood feel of the South End. I grew up in Albany and, although it may seem like a leap for Bostonians, the South End reminded me of home with its turn of the century brick brownstones.  We can walk to all of our favorite destinations, including Fenway Park, without ever getting in the car. In fact, we don’t own a car anymore and don’t miss it one bit!

What factors went into buying and renovating this home to suit your needs?

Original Kitchen

Original Kitchen

Bill: The condo hadn’t really been updated since the 80’s, so we basically gutted every room except the master suite, which had already been done. Sarah put us on the right track by connecting us with a great contractor which helped speed the process along. We raised the ceilings, redid all the lighting and flooring, reconfigured the kitchen and second bath and installed all new fixtures and appliances. 

Kathy: The key for me was to choose materials that were easy to keep clean, low maintenance, and durable. Anything with a ridge or a place that traps dust was eliminated! Bill and I both love to cook so we have a giant Thermador stove, farm-style kitchen sink and six chairs around the counter for the family.

What other details about the brownstone drew you in besides the location and space?

Kathy: One major consideration I had was, “Am I going to still like living here when I’m 80 years-old?” Fortunately, we found a street level condo so we won’t have to contend with too many stairs. We also have a terrific park across the street which lends the feeling of open space in the middle of the South End.

Reconfigured and renovated kitchen

Reconfigured and renovated kitchen

Bill: The fact that this unit came with some private outdoor space was a real selling point for us too. Having an outdoor patio makes it feel more spacious and home-like. It’s also really nice with the dog.  We weren’t focused on decor or interior style when we purchased because the plan was to redo it eventually. 

Now that you’re planning to retire here, what are some of your future goals?

Bill: I’m looking forward to settling in and returning to city living in Boston, including attending Red Sox games and making my way through the dining scene. There are so many great restaurants, but our go-to ones tend to be Giacomo’s,  Burro Bar, Metropolis and Barcelona, all within walking distance. We like the proximity of Charlie’s for breakfasts and Cafe Madeleine for coffee.  

Kathy: I plan to update the back patio so it is easier to maintain, has more seating for everyone and can grow veggies!


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