Downsizing – a threat or an opportunity?
There comes a time when the house suddenly seems empty now the family have all grown up and moved away. It doesn’t make sense to hold on to such a large home but it’s a big wrench moving somewhere else and downsizing, and the decision is easy to put off.
But the house still needs looking after and maintenance and garden upkeep is becoming more of a chore than a pleasure. At some point after retirement it will all become too much – but wait too long and the complications of downsizing can become overwhelming.
Many people dread the idea of downsizing, but it can also be a big opportunity. Getting rid of a lot of responsibilities that take up too much time and energy can be a big relief. Freeing up time to do the things you really want to do opens up lots of new possibilities.
Downsizing can also help reduce the costs of looking after the home, particularly as most people’s income declines after they retire or give up full time work. Heating and council tax and other utilities will cost less, and with a smaller garden you won’t have to spend so much time just keeping everything tidy.
So downsizing should form part of everybody’s retirement plan. After all, very few people are able to manage a large family house for ever, and everybody has to accept the inevitable. Better to grasp the nettle sooner than later and enjoy the benefits.
Downsizing will always be a challenge
Logic dictates that we should sell up and move to somewhere smaller. But that’s a big decision and one that can be put off for too long. We know it makes sense, but where to go and how to get there? We have to decide where we are possibly going to live out the rest of our lives.
On top of all that we will have to cope with the logistics of selling one house and moving to another. It is still common practice for a chain of transactions to complete all on the same day. A nail-biting experience indeed!
Moving house is often said to be the most stressful time second only to looking for a new job. It’s bad enough when scaling up to meet the needs of a growing family. The emotional strain of clearing and selling out a house for retirement can be far worse. After all, it means pulling apart a home built up over many years and each room brings back its own memories.
A home is not just a house, and but also all the furniture, pictures and other bits and pieces we have picked up from time to time. Each with its own little history, a print purchased one sunny April day in Paris, table lamps carefully selected to match the shape and decor of a living room. Even pieces handed down to us when we were younger.
So putting everything together, downsizing can be one of the most challenging experiences of retirement life. On the bright side, moving to a more suitable home can have enormous benefits. Rightsizing frees up money, energy and above all time to pursue new interests, make new friends and enjoy new experiences. It allows us to clear the clutter out of our lives and look forward to the future not as a slow decline from the past but as a door to a future of new opportunities for enlarging our lives.
When to start thinking about downsizing
For many people downsizing means just moving into a smaller place and making do with less room to live in. But there’s more to it than just that.
Retirement is a big lifestyle change, and where you live and what sort of home you want to live in all depend on your own personal retirement plan. What are your priorities and how do you want to live your life?
You may have few family responsibilities and the idea of a home in the sun is becoming increasingly attractive. Or you might want to move closer to your immediate family. Or you might just want to stay in the same area but just get rid of the burden of an unnecessarily large home.
These are choices you have to think about, and the earlier you start and discuss with your partner or other family members the better. Or you may just decide to stay put – but if you do, make sure that you have your contingencies in place for getting help with maintaining a large home.
How to set about downsizing
You can spend an awful lot of time thinking about where you want to live, but you won’t have any options until you have sold the house you already live in.
And that can take a lot longer than you might think. Also you must find out how much it’s worth. With very few exceptions house prices have not increased much over recent years, and in some parts of the UK have actually gone down.
You have to be realistic if you want to sell your house. And there’s no point in waiting for the market to improve. Every expectation is that there won’t be any meaningful recovery in the housing market for the forseeable future.
Remember, you are starting to put into practice a plan for the rest of your life, and moving on requires some determination and courage!
Putting your home on the market
You might decide to use a local estate agent to sell your home, or one of the many new on-line alternatives such as Purple bricks. In any event it’s worth asking two or three different agents for a valuation.
The estate agent business is very competitive, so agents are tempted to overvalue your home in order to win your business. So it’s worth asking whether they have sold any similar properties recently, and if so, how much they sold for and how long it took.
Also take time to check out websites such as Rightmove and Zoopla for any similar properties on the market. Rightmove will also tell you how long a house has been on the market, but only through the latest agent. We have come across properties that the owners have been trying to sell for over year, but have obviously been taken off the market and relaunched. If you are going to sell what is probably your most valuable asset you need to understand the market you are selling in to and the competition from other similar homes.
Estate agents always tend to overstate the amount of activity in the local housing market and the price you can expect to receive from the house sale. At the end of the day they will all be marketing your home in the same way – posting details in their shop window and on internet sites such as Rightmove, Zoopla and so on. Over a third of properties listed on the internet last month were originally offered at a higher price. Over-priced homes don’t sell.
At this stage all you are trying to do is find out how long it will take to sell your home, and how much you are likely to sell it for. You don’t have to rush into things if you plan well ahead, so it’s worth keeping all your options open.
Preparing your house for selling
If you’ve been living in the same home for any length of time most likely it is full of clutter and other stuff that you haven’t got round to getting rid of but don’t really need.
Well before putting your home on the market you should start clearing out all the old stuff you have been thinking about getting rid of but never got round to.
It’s worth starting in the garage and any out-buildings. Sort out your stuff into what you want to keep, what can be recycled or sold on ebay, what you could pass on to a charity shop and finally what you will have to take down to the local recycling centre.
The garage will probably present the biggest challenge and will take several weeks. However, the objective is that when you have finished the floor has been swept and clean, and the only stuff left in the garage is what you are going to carry on using day by day. Everything else should have gone. It’s hard work, but you might find the end result more than satisfying!
You should then start to do the same in the house. It’s best to work methodically through the whole house one room at a time, and you might have to repeat the process more than once before you are fully satisfied with the result. Set yourself a target of one or two car loads each week, and you will be surprised how much progress you can make.
It might take you 6 to 8 weeks to clear out your home, but at the end it will suddenly appear more bright and spacious. Certainly you should have been able to check each room as you clear it, make sure all the light bulbs are working and touch up any paintwork that has been knocked around. Modern paints are surprisingly tough, and many marks can be removed with kitchen cleaner and a light scrubbing.
Putting your house on the market
Whether you go through an agent or one of the new online property sites you will still have to get your home ready for a photographer. This means making sure that your home looks its best and can be shown in its best light.
However, you don’t want the house to look like a show home. You still need to keep in place the personal touches and possessions that make it a home rather than just another box. And the same applies right up to the point when contracts are exchanged to sell your home.
Moving on to your next home
You may be in the fortunate position of already owning another home you can move into straight away when you have sold your property. For most of us unfortunately we will have to find somewhere else to live in – and quickly too.
Downsizing means that a lot of the furniture you had previously will be redundant because there just will not be enough room for it all. The same applies to clothes, books and many of your other possessions.
What to keep and what to shed? Fashions in home decor will have changed dramatically over the years since we all bought or inherited our possessions. You may finally have decided to get rid of some cherished pieces of furniture. You may have thought that family members would be delighted with your heirlooms. You will soon find that no-one wants them as they lack your attachment. They are old and don’t fit well with their idea of a modern home. Try to send them to auction and find out they are virtually worthless. Whatever they mean to us, for the rest of the world they have no value.
Getting rid of possessions you have lived with for years can be one of the hardest emotional consequences of downsizing.That is one very good reason why you shouldn’t put of the decision any longer than absolutely necessary.
Once you have decided to sell your house and contracts have been exchanged, only then do you need to consider your options for your next home.
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