Home Downsizing When to downsize – the big decision

When to downsize – the big decision

Downsizing can be the biggest decision in retirement planning

Why we decided to downsize

Our family home was just too big for the pair of us. We had to downsize.

We bought the house 30 years previously when I changed job, and in those days a generous relocation package meant you had extra money to spend on fitting out a new home.  Not that the house was by any means new or in good condition.  Built originally in 1907 as a small cottage, it had been extended and updated over the years.  The previous owners had carried out little maintenance or renovation.

However, we had to buy a large home, not just for ourselves and our two young children, but also for my own parents.  My father’s health was not good, and we pooled resources so that we could buy, with a maximum mortgage, a large enough house to provide separate self-contained accommodation for my parents.  It had taken 6 months to find a suitable property, even then it would be a major refurbishment challenge.

Over the years both my parents passed away. Our two children had grown up, moved away, got married and had children of their own.  So that left the two us living in a house originally bought for 6 people, and over half the house was almost never used. Time to downsize.

Maintaining a large house becomes a real headache

On top of that maintaining the house was becoming an increasing burden.  Not just the

Home maintenance can become a never-ending chore
Home maintenance can become a never-ending chore

house itself and the garden, but everything else that came with it – the boundary fences, the lily pond, cleaning out the gutters – the list was endless.  Every weekend I faced a list of jobs to do, and always first on the list were the jobs I had planned to do the previous weekend but hadn’t got round to.

Coupled with that, we had extensively modernised the whole house some 9 years previously.  It was now starting to show signs of wear and tear, and given a few more years we would be faced with updating the kitchen, bathrooms and so on to make it ready for sale.

It was obvious we had to sell up and move to a smaller, more manageable property.  Several times of the previous few years we had discussed whether it was the right time to downsize, but always the question arose – where would we move to?

When not to downsize

A number of our neighbours had been faced with the same dilemma.  Dick and Elizabeth held on for too long.  Eventually poor health forced them to downsize and move to sheltered accommodation within a local care home, which they hated. By then their large country home had become seriously neglected and the garden overgrown. When they sold up the new owners knocked the house down and replaced it with a new building. If the had taken the decision to downsize earlier life would have been a lot easier for them.

What we did

Finally we decided that the only way to downsize was to break the move up into stages.  First we would sell the house.  Once that was done we would move into a rented house for as long as it took to decide where we should live, and then make our final move.  That meant that we didn’t have to decide straight away where we were going to move to.  Also we avoided the horrendous stress of trying to co-ordinate a simultaneous sale of our house and purchase of another one.

Selling the house

So, we phoned up a local estate agent and put the house on the market.  We chose the local branch of a national firm.  How do you choose an agent?  You take pot luck.  After all you only want one buyer and odds are they will find you through any agent because every house for sale is now advertised on websites like  Rightmove and Zoopla.  In fact, now you don’t even need to use an estate agent, sites like Purple Bricks claim to do the same job, at much lower cost.

As the house was a one-off we felt that using an agent who specialised in large houses would justify forking out their commission.

At the worst possible time

Of course, the timing could not have been worse.  Local prices had changed very little since the “Credit crunch” in 2008.  A general election was in the offing with all parties talking about a “mansion tax” penalising all families owning a house valued at more than £1 million, mortgage lenders were facing new restrictions and on top of all that the whole housing market had been hammered by stamp duty increases to over 10% on large family houses.

However, there was little prospect of any improvement in the housing market so we decided to carry on and sell the house.  There were few viewers.  Eventually, and after 8 months and a change of agent, we sold the house for substantially less than the original asking price.

Or the best time

Looking back, we did well to sell the house at that time and for the price it fetched. The housing market hasn’t recovered, and large country houses are definitely no longer in much demand. It took 6 weeks to clear everything out and we moved into a rental house for a year. Then when we knew what part of the country we wanted to move to, it was a simple matter to up sticks and go. If we hadn’t decided to downsize in stages it would have been a horrendous experience.

Do we regret the downsize decision

Not at all. Two years later we have settled in a new home and made a new life for ourselves.  We still haven’t bought another house, and maybe we never shall. Renting is an ideal solution when you decide to downsize. If we decide to move on we won’t have to worry about selling a house first. And of course we no longer have to worry about maintenance costs and long term wear and tear.



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