The Lion King called it the “Circle of Life”. In essence, we are born. We mature. We grow older. We move on. The same can be said for the homes we live in.
Often we start out renting a small home, eventually we buy a starter home, and later on as our families grow, and we expand into a move up home and plant roots.
Life is set until that day when you realize the kids have moved away and the nest is empty. This final process usually takes many years and time passes more quickly than any of us realize and too slowly, until it is gone.
As the days pass, we start to realize that much of the house goes unlived in. We spend time in the kitchen and living room. Only one or two of the bathrooms get used and the dining room and den begin to collect dust.
And our friends start to ask the age old question – “So, when are you going to downsize?”
For some that thought never crosses our minds. Our children still return to the nest, the family holidays are always spent there and guests still visit. Some of the kids may even resent and fight the thought of the home they grew up in, being sold.
For many though, the idea of ‘buying down’ has appeal. Still the process to do so is never easy and it does take time.
We recently went through this process ourselves and I can say it requires a lot of discussion and thought around the analysis to make the right decision.
Challenge 1 - Money
For some, the cost of maintaining a larger home becomes a burden. The taxes are steep, the utilities continue to rise, and the equity in the home reaches a point where it makes sense to take advantage of market conditions and reclaim your investment.
Things to look for in a new property: Ensure you review the total costs of any potential new property. Consider things like condo fees, taxes and the cost of upkeep on a different home. Sometimes it is more cost effective to trade single family home utilities and maintenance for community shared upkeep costs. Put the expected costs down on paper and compare them side by side.
Other options: Review the equity in your home and talk with your financial advisors about your long-term options. Tools such as Home Equity Lines of Credit (HELOCs) may be an answer. Bringing in tenants, such as students or family members, can ease the overall financial burdens.
Challenge 2 - Health
As the joints of the body start to age, obstacles that weren’t there before, now loom before us. Stairs, yard maintenance and the total upkeep of larger properties can become a significant hurdle that is hard to overcome.
Things to look for in a new property: Ensure the new property fits your long-term health needs. Smaller but with more levels might make things worse. A deep soaker tub may sound luxurious, but getting in and out of them may grow to be impossible. Look at the total property to ensure it meets your needs – total stairs, access to the garage and size of yard.
Other options: Some houses can be retrofitted with accessible tools. Elevators, ramps and walk-in baths and showers may work. Hiring yard maintenance companies may be a cost effective way to continue to enjoy your property without you having to put out the labour. A maid service to come in on a regular basis may be enough to keep the dust bunnies from multiplying. And finally, many communities have health organizations that can provide assistance.
Challenge 3 - Community
Not every community is ideal for everyone. What once was a great place to raise a family may no longer hold its lure for you. Friends may have moved on, the noise of the neighborhood has grown, and sometimes you just do not have the same sense of safety as you once had.
Things to look for in a new property: A sense of community can become even more critical as we age. Options such as 40 and 50+ community may hold appeal. Certainly finding others who share the same lifestyle values can be an asset and can add to your list of friends. Reviewing the crime statistics, age demographics, etc. will be important. Commutes can change and the need to be close to work may have gone away.
Other options: Community can be what you make of it. Perhaps the young families that have moved in around you can benefit from your experiences. Having a youth movement next door, may be a way for you to feel contemporary and energetic. And maybe you can find a responsible teen that will help out with yard maintenance for less than a landscape company.
Challenge 4 – “Stuff”
Let’s face it, in a lifetime we have a habit of accumulating stuff. Things that drew our attention as hobbies or collectables. Heirlooms, children’s school projects, report cards and so much more. We tend to fill empty spaces with stuff. Sometimes this, more than anything else, is holding us back and preventing us from downsizing. Start by determining what you love and absolutely can’t live without, and take it from there. Start 3-6 months prior to your anticipated move.
Things to look for in a new property: Much of what fills our attics, basements and garages are things with no discernible value to us anymore. Look at the things you use regularly, whether it is furniture, kitchen appliances, or keepsakes. When downsizing, look for a home that has the space for those things and let the rest go. Remember if you are downsizing, you are attempting to get rid of some of that stuff.
Other options: Recycled goods are a good way to help others. Whether you hold garage sales to recoup costs, donate to charities or simply give to families who are still growing, much of what we have can be cleared out. While not resolving some of the other challenges of properties that have outgrown us, cleansing the home of unneeded ‘stuff’ can help us and others.
In conclusion, the decision to downsize is never a light one. Much thought has to go into it and many emotions get churned up over the final decision. Sit down with your advisers – personal, financial, real estate and health advisers – to help move you in the direction you take, with a pragmatic touch.