Downsizing advice you can't afford to ignoreby Property Partner, Richard Loudon
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 more and more people are making the big decision to move from the family home to a different property that suits their changing lifestyle. Sure it can be a stressful process in part, 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 home of equal quality and value. Secondly, those who want to release some capital because they are more asset than cash rich. Sometimes it’s a combination of both of these. The important thing to remember is that downsizing can 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:
1. Declutter ruthlessly. NOW.
If you’ve been in your home for perhaps 30 years, the chances are that you’ve accumulated a mass of belongings, not to mention those school reports in the loft and your childrens’ belongings that somehow you’re still storing for them? |The sensible step is to get rid of 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 what can be a daunting prospect. Start now, and be strict. Personally we have a two year rule: if it hasn’t been used in that time, chuck it. Or you can take William Morris’ advice: unless it’s useful or beautiful, out it goes.
2. 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.
3. Do it sooner rather than later
I see too many people leaving their large homes when they are already becoming frail. 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.
4. Focus on the positives
Leaving the family home can be fraught with issues, but it’s so important that sentimentality doesn’t get in the way of practicality. Focus on the pluses: a modern apartment means no stressful dealing with tradesmen, a smaller space to keep clean, much 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.
5. 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. Not a very sound investment of what could be another £100 - £200k. Think imaginatively and offer to put children and grandchildren up via AirB&B or even a nearby hotel. Much more fun and more importantly, cost effective and you do not need to change the sheets!
6. DO think about light and outlook
I always advise a west or south facing property where possible for older clients. As one gets less mobile, a warm and sunny abode becomes more and more important; ideally with a view or an open outlook. Sunshine, a view and Sky Sports would do me in 30 years time.
7. DON’T hang onto your furniture
Again, I’m being provocative, but I’m amazed at the number of people who 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.
8. Sell first
You may need to 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. If you fall into that category then unfortunately you do need to sell first. Try to negotiate a lengthy entry date and accept the fact you may have to rent for a while. Unfortunately banks are no longer particularly keen to offer bridging loans. If you can afford to buy without selling then you are very fortunate and it makes the whole process much easier and less stressful. You may like to read the article that I wrote recently on the subject.
9. 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 flat that’s easy to look after and super-warm, perhaps a little terrace for pots but no lawn to mow or hedges to keep. 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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