A guru’s foolproof guide to making an informed downsizing decision

Feb 17, 2021
Making a roadmap for your downsizing plans could be the key to getting it right. Source: Getty.

Downsizing isn’t just a house-move; it’s about how you’ll spend the rest of your life, with changes to your finances, lifestyle and often location and community too.

So to help ensure you’ve thought through all the important factors involved in downsizing, Rachel Lane, who’s advised thousands of older Australians on their financial and property options through her Aged Care Gurus advisory network, shared her top tips for finding the perfect downsized destination. Speaking on a recent webinar hosted by retirement living provider Lend Lease, Lane said there were, at a minimum, three key considerations – and they weren’t necessarily about square footage or contractual details.

What are you leaving?

Before researching downsizing property options, Lane advised taking a look at the home you’re thinking about leaving. You’re likely to still hold a strong emotional connection to the family home – particularly if it’s full of family memories – so there has to be at least one (or perhaps many) reasons as to why you want to go elsewhere. It’s time to think about what they are.

Lane suggested using this evaluation as your first downsizing step by asking yourself questions that will help you get to the next stage. Other than the financial benefits of downsizing, ask yourself why you’re thinking leaving your current home. What don’t you like about it? Is it too big or hard to clean? Is it poorly set-out should you later develop mobility issues? Not close enough to important family members? Is the community not what it used to be? The yard unmanageable or property upkeep getting too expensive?

Once you’ve covered the negatives, ask yourself what you love about your home. That way, you’ll recognise the features you’re likely to want to look out for in any new property. Do you love all your furniture and want to take it with you? Do you like how much storage there is? Do you like that there’s a pool or that it’s near a park? Do you enjoy your friendly neighbours or having family or friends down the road?

Now you’ve got your personalised positives and negatives, you can use them not just to decide whether downsizing is indeed for you but to narrow down the property options you may consider, in what Lane called a “choose your own adventure” process – heading forward but making decisions on which turn you’ll take based on your own non-negotiables.

What are you heading to?

If your evaluation caused you to decide downsizing was a move you wanted to make, and you have your must-haves to hand, it’s time to research, research, research. But this doesn’t include only tangible items such as costs, location and amenities on offer (although they are incredibly important); Lane said that “the vibe” was a key factor to include, particularly if your search included  retirement living options such as retirement villages and land-lease communities

“It’s about is finding your tribe,” she said. “You’ve got to go into the village and say, ‘These are my people, this my home and this is where I want to be’.”

Lane said the vibe was often, in her experience, why retirees chose retirement living over, for example, an apartment block. With neighbours not always as friendly or social as they once, even when living in close quarters such as in units, many older Australians found a tribe they identified with and a vibe they enjoyed in an established retirement community.

Lane cautioned that another factor to consider when looking at property options was what your neighbours may do with their own properties. While use of property is usually relatively tightly controlled in retirement living communities and some apartment blocks, others permit short-term letting by owners. A high turnover of tenants, for example, may not be ideal if you’re looking for a peaceful retirement location.

What does the future hold?

The last step in your downsizing consideration involves thinking about what your future may hold. Although you might be fit and healthy today, that may not remain the case – it doesn’t for most of us – so this move may be the last one you make and the home you choose needs to suit you not just now but in a few decades’ time.

That didn’t have to mean searching for a property option with a residential aged care facility next door, Lane said. She recommended viewing all options with some questions in mind. Will this property work if my mobility isn’t as good? Is it wheelchair accessible? Can I have rails installed? Do I have access to an elevator? These are the features that can make it easier to age in your own home for longer than you otherwise might.

“The whole place should be designed with that view that you can age in place,” Lane said. “There’s not necessarily grab-rails on the walls and other things that might make beautiful apartments not look so beautiful. But that doesn’t mean that the care infrastructure hasn’t been built into the building.”

It’s also important to look at your exit strategy, in case you do need to move into residential aged care in the future. Will the downsized home you choose be easily saleable? If in a retirement living community, will you have to pay exit fees? If you wish to stay in your downsized location, are there viable residential aged care options within reasonable distance?

Covering the past, present and future of your downsizing experience won’t just help you find the perfect place for right now, but also the perfect place for many years to come.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your financial or legal situation, objectives or needs. That means it’s not financial product or legal advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a financial or legal decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get independent, licensed financial services or legal advice.

Have you considered downsizing or already downsized? What drove your decisions?

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