Downsizing - The How, When & Why

Downsizing

Downsizing. It’s not a phrase I particularly like, with its faintly negative air and assumption that ‘it’s all downhill from now on’.  But for most it's an inevitable part of getting older – either for medical reasons, to reduce living costs or move closer to family.  Like any house move, it can be a stressful process, but downsizing can also be a positive and even enjoyable experience.

Generally speaking, there are two types of downsizers. Firstly, those who want to have a more practical, manageable home to suit their changing requirements. Secondly, those who want to release some equity because they are more asset than cash rich. Sometimes it’s a combination of both. It is important to remember that downsizing can often be more of a lateral move, financially, because of how the market works. In other words, a 2/3 bedroom contemporary flat on the ground floor or with a lift and a balcony, comes at a premium. You may get less for your money in terms of square footage, but the practical and lifestyle considerations often still make it a worthwhile move.

So, here are my top tips for making a successful, streamlined move slightly later in life:

Declutter ruthlessly

If you’ve been in your home for decades, the chances are that you’ve accumulated a mass of belongings, not to mention those school reports in the loft and your children’s belongings that somehow you’re still storing for them.  The sensible step is to start sorting through things before you’ve even started thinking about a move. So many people leave this emotionally draining task until they do not have the energy to tackle it. Start now, and be strict. Personally we have a two year rule: if it hasn’t been used in that time, clear it out. Or you can take William Morris’ advice: unless it’s useful or beautiful, out it goes.

Be realistic and open-minded

If you’ve always lived in a period property you may instinctively steer clear of say, a contemporary open-plan apartment. However, this kind of layout can work really well as one gets older. Give it some lateral thought. You may not need a dining room, but a second bathroom could come in very useful if you ever need to have someone living in, even temporarily, if you are, say, recuperating from an operation.  Modern properties are generally warmer and more energy efficient which could lead to reduced living expenses.

Do it sooner rather than later

Plan to move when you are still fit and able.  Moving home is commonly regarded as one of the most stressful life experiences so make sure you have the energy to deal with it.  Too many people put it off and become too frail to cope with the upheaval.  This can mean that a) the actual move is traumatic and difficult, especially dealing with a lifetime of possessions and b) you don’t get to fully enjoy the newfound convenience and rejuvenating change of scene that other younger downsizers enjoy. My advice? It’s never too early to start reviewing your situation and planning ahead.

Focus on the positives

Leaving the family home can be fraught with issues, but it’s very important that sentimentality doesn’t get in the way of practicality. Focus on the positives: a modern apartment means fewer maintenance issues, a smaller space to keep clean, better energy efficiency (this becomes increasingly important as one gets older and need a warm home all day long), perhaps a concierge or caretaker on hand for added security and reassurance. Once a move is made, most people don’t look back and many wish they’d done it years ago.

Ignore your children

Well, not entirely, but beware of adult children who don’t want to see their family home sold. You must try and keep emotional factors at bay and do what’s right for YOU, however hard it is for others to accept. And don’t assume you still need room for everyone to come and stay – that way you’ll end up paying for bedrooms that are used perhaps a handful of times a year.  Think imaginatively and offer to put children and grandchildren up via Airbnb or even a nearby hotel. Far more cost effective and you do not need to change the sheets!

Think about light, outlook and outdoor space

Where possible, I always advise a west or south facing property for older clients. As one gets less mobile, a warm and sunny home becomes more and more important; ideally with a view or an open outlook.   If you are used to a large garden it is also nice to retain some access to outside space.  A balcony or factored grounds can provide this without the need for back-breaking maintenance.

DON’T hang onto your furniture

Again, I’m being provocative, but it's amazing how many people reject a property because ‘the wardrobe won’t fit’. Unless you have very special pieces that you just can’t let go, you’re often better off selling existing large-scale furniture and starting afresh with more appropriate pieces. Having said that, don’t think that a contemporary flat necessarily demands a matching interior. You can mix antiques and period art with a modern setting very stylishly.

Sell first

Unfortunately most downsizers need to sell before they buy.  If you can’t afford to pay for the new property without getting the money out of the old property then sellers will not really consider you to be a credible buyer and you may lose out to another party who are in a stronger position.  To ensure your offer is taken seriously it is best to sell first.  To reduce stress, try to negotiate a lengthy entry date and accept the fact you may have to rent for a while. 

If selling first is too daunting, it is sometimes possible to make an offer subject to the sale of an existing home by utilising a deposit clause.  There are also a few banks now offering bridging finance.  

If you can afford to buy without selling then you are very fortunate and it makes the whole process much easier and less stressful.

Enjoy it!

To finish on a positive note, downsizing can be something to look forward to. No more rattling around with too much space and far too much clutter. A property that’s easy to look after and cosy all year round, perhaps a little balcony for pots but no lawn to mow or hedges to prune. Maybe an underground parking space with a lift – a joy for those Edinburgh-dwellers used to circling round for a space and scraping the ice off the windscreen in winter. Weigh up the plus points, do your research, plan ahead and you could find that making a downsize move gives you a whole new lease of life, leaving you with more time and perhaps a little more money to really enjoy your retirement. Take more holidays – it is easier to lock and leave a flat than a house for two months.

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