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From Starter Home To Downsizing: The Westport Housing Arc

More than 30 years ago, Rick Shelman and his wife Maryanne visited Westport. They got ice cream (he can’t remember where). His wife said, “This would be a nice place to live.”

Their oldest child was 5 years old. The Shelmans learned the school system was excellent — and home prices were high.

But they found a house they could afford. It was near the Post Road, and a bit noisy. After 4 years they moved to a bigger home, off Sturges Highway. They were there for 17 years.

Rich had his own computer supply company. As the industry changed, he embarked on a 2nd career: real estate.

A few years ago, when the youngest of their 3 children left for college, Rick and Maryanne looked around. Their 5-bedroom ranch house sat on an acre of land. They’d spent so much time ferrying their kids to various activities around town, they knew their neighbors only to wave hello.

The Shelmans always wanted to live near the water. They found a fixer-upper on a side street between Soundview and Bradley. Soon, they were in their 3rd Westport home.

The Shelmans’ Compo Beach home.

The family’s trajectory — starter house, upgrade, downsize — mirrors that of many Westport fsamilies. Despite frequent complaints that there is nowhere for empty nesters to go here (except for condos), Rick says the Compo neighborhood is perfect.

“There’s always something going on here. People are walking, jogging or out with their dogs. On Halloweeen we have 1500 kids.”

The calmness of the water balances the summertime action.

Best of all, it’s a neighborhood. “We really know people here,” Rick says of one of the few places in town with cheek-to-jowl zoning. “We look out for each other.”

His neighbors are a mix of retirees and families with young children. Some houses have been renovated (and raised, to avoid hurricane damage). Some still need to be updated.

Rick and Maryanne Shelman love the neighborhood aspect of Compo Beach. They also don’t mind 1500 trick-or-treaters — many from outside the neighborhood, drawn by the denseness — every Halloween. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Living at the beach requires a certain mindset, Rick says. “We raised our house for a 100-year flood. A young couple across the street bought their home knowing full well Sandy had destroyed the 1st floor. They want to be here. When they can afford to, they’ll raise it.”

He thinks many Westporters in his age group — folks in their 60s and 70s — would like to downsize, and stay in town. “If they could afford to move to the beach, they would,” he says. “A lot of people have asked me for advice.”

Rick notes that the Compo neighborhood is not the only place to go. Smaller houses can be found in other areas, like Bauer Place and Oak Street — and for a lot less than the going price by the beach.

Those places will continue to be attractive for empty nesters, and young families looking to get into Westport.

Three decades ago, Rick and Maryanne Shelman were just starting out in town. They’re still here, in their 3rd home.

They have no plans to leave.

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