Optima Old Orchard Woods, Skokie

Asher Bronfeld and his wife, Ellen Garber Bronfeld moved from a house with 3,500 square feet to their condo of 2,000 square feet at Optima Old Orchard Woods in Skokie. Upsizing and downsizing homeowners remain active in the housing market. Read more (William DeShazer/ Chicago Tribune photo / January 20, 2012)

Downsizing is much more than an economic move.

"We had to throw out 25 years of our lives to move from a 3,500-square-foot house to a 2,000-square-foot condo. It was emotionally and physically daunting," said Asher Bronfeld.

He and his wife, Ellen Garber Bronfeld, bought a three-bedroom condo at Optima Old Orchard Woods, a 691-unit, three-tower complex in Skokie.

"The children were grown, and we both were looking forward to high-rise living," Asher said. "We didn't need all the space in a single-family home. It had two rooms we used less than 10 times a year."

Bronfeld said it took almost eight months to sell their two-story home in Northbrook.

"Selling is all about price. If you're motivated, you'll sell."

He added that condo living does require some adjustments, but a major positive is maintenance-free living. "Now when there's a 20-inch snowfall, I don't worry."

"Moving down is definitely a trend with the huge boomer market," said Suzy Kogen Friedman, president of KZF Development. "Our duplexes and town houses at Meadow Ridge in Northbrook appeal to buyers moving down from much larger houses in the surrounding North Shore area. They are tired of keeping up their old homes, and like the gated feature."

Price declines have benefited first-time buyers.

"We've been in a buyer's market for the last five years, and now first-time buyers can afford neighborhoods with the best schools," said a real estate agent Emery Moorehead with the Koenig & Strey office in downtown Northbrook.

His advice to first-timers is to pick the best school district they can afford.

"Don't shy away from foreclosures and short sales because the house is not perfect. Even mold can be fixed," he said. "There are a lot of opportunities for suburbanites to move down in Chicago because of the glut of condos."

Some 2,500 new condo units remain unsold in downtown Chicago, said Gail Lissner, vice president of Appraisal Research Counselors in Chicago.

Lissner noted that potential buyers have been putting off decisions for a long time, but "at some point people will start to move on with their lives," she said.

When that happens, she thinks first-time buyers will be especially motivated by need, such as a growing family. For suburban empty-nesters, moving down to a city condo previously was a popular lifestyle choice and could gain steam again.

One Chicago builder has moved down to entice move-up buyers. Paul Bertsche, president of CA Development, downsized the lineup of his single-family homes at Edgebrook Glen and Mayfair Crossing from a range of 3,600 to 5,000 square feet in 2007 to 1,700 to 3,600 square feet now.

"We did it with the same room count by reducing wasted space in hallways and other areas. Because of the corresponding price reductions, we now appeal to buyers moving up from apartments and condos," Bertsche said.

Though definitely upsizing, Chicago's professional athletes are watching the bottom line, said Moorehead. Before embarking on a career in real estate, he was a tight end on the Chicago Bears 1985 Super Bowl roster and had a 12-year NFL career.

"Million-dollar homes seem expensive even to highly paid young athletes. Many buy less expensive residences in Lake County rather than on the North Shore," he said.