When facing a decision about downsizing your home, there are two most important questions to ask. Will it improve your finances? Will it improve your lifestyle? If you answer is ‘yes’ to both of these questions, you need to make the decision sooner rather than later. Don’t stay in your large family home until your children have to drag you out.
There is no set age to downsize – some empty nesters choose to downsize in their 50s. Others prefer to stay on in their family homes until they feel it’s time to move into a retirement community. Some couples take a few steps, from family home to smaller home, condo or apartment, before eventually settling in a retirement community. There is no right way or wrong way to downsize – it’s what’s best for all concerned that matters.
Fear of downsizing
Some couples have a fear of downsizing because their homes are filled with memorabilia collected over the years. They can’t bear the thought of getting rid of any of it and the memories are particularly important once their children have left home. They may feel that the entire process of moving is just too difficult. They do not even know where to begin sorting through years of accumulated possessions, let alone packing.
Fear of the unknown is another factor that keeps people in their family homes, even when they no longer need the space. They do not want to move away from a familiar neighborhood and go to strange surroundings. They do not want to leave their comfort zones.
Unfortunately, these fears only become more entrenched with age. Couples who stay on too long in a family home may find that they start battling to negotiate stairs and struggle with general upkeep. The longer they leave the decision to downsize, the more difficult it becomes. They often do not realize the extent of the burden they place on their children by not taking a decision to downsize earlier.
At a recent cocktail party, I was discussing this very issue with some friends. Jenny mentioned how much easier it was for her now that her parents had decided to buy a home in a retirement village. She felt reassured that if they needed help with any medical emergency, they could simply push a call button. Jennifer voiced how difficult it had been for her when her parents had to move in with her. Her father had cancer and she went through an incredibly traumatic time of trying to work full time and arrange suitable care for him as her mother could not cope. She and her husband have already put their names down on a list for a home in a retirement community, so her children will not have to face the same situation. Debby’s father had recently passed away and she was so grateful that he and her mother were already living in a retirement community. Now her mother did not have to face a move.
When my father passed away, the family home had already been sold and within a few months my mother had moved closer to me. I had found her a lovely but tiny flat in a retirement village. I was worried that she would find the transition from her large home to the tiny space quite traumatic. However, she loves her flat, has decorated it with only her most precious possessions and she can easily keep it clean herself. She quickly made friends and although she misses the company of my father, I am glad that she is not lonely. Within a retirement community, it is so much easier for a single person to become involved, make friends and find company. If she had still been living alone in her large house, I think she would have probably sunk into depression.
In Britain, many empty nesters would love to downsize but they are affected by three property taxes – stamp duty, capital gains tax and inheritance tax. Couples would rather employ home help than moving into a high priced shoe box with a kitchen in the corner. They don’t want to exchange what they have for a cramped little space that costs a fortune and this is not difficult to understand.
Some couples, however, are pleasantly surprised by how much money they can get from selling a home they have owned for 30 odd years. It makes their decision much easier and they find themselves looking at all their possessions with much less sentimentality. In the U.S., for example, house prices have risen steadily for years in some areas, giving some people an asset they probably never expected to have. When these people sell their family home, they have more than enough money to downsize in style.
Some couples who go the route of downsizing can’t believe they took so long to do it. They find it very liberating. They are forced to be selective with their possessions and only keep what is really important. They no longer have to heat, cool or clean a large space. They no longer have to mow a lawn or care for a garden. They often have more social interaction as they have far fewer responsibilities. They are able to lock up and go more easily, giving them more opportunity to travel. Many couples testify to the fact that it’s the best decision they ever made and their quality of life has improved as a result.
Help with making the right decision
When making a decision about downsizing, it is important to get advice from professionals. For example, a senior financial adviser will be able to help you find out what the best housing options are for you, taking your financial situation into account. A realtor will help you to determine how much your current home is worth and how best to market it. Professional moving companies will give you all the costs of moving and state exactly what services they provide.
When you understand exactly why you want to downsize, the process becomes easier. When you believe it’s the right choice for you and you are clear about the benefits, looking for a new home can be a pleasurable activity. When you start picturing yourself in it and imagining where you will put your furniture, you are ready for the change!