Four Questions to Ask Yourself Before Downsizing

Our checklist will help you decide whether or not it’s time to move into a smaller abode.

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With 1.3 acres of land and a two-storey home in Horseshoe Valley, Ont., you might say that Sylvia and Warren Andrews had it all. But Sylvia, a former teacher, and Warren, a retired engineer, saw things differently: They had way too much.

Move when it makes sense for you. You might want to put off downsizing, for instance, until you’re older and less active, or until you know more about where the kids and grandkids want to settle. Or you may not want to downsize at all.

The Andrews bought the home in 1995, when they were 50 and 64, respectively. The property seemed perfect for middle age. “The house in Horseshoe Valley was a great place to live, but we realized we needed somewhere to live for where we’re at now, and where we’ll be in the future,” she says.

About a year ago, the couple, now 73 and 88, downsized again to Orillia, Ont., where they live in a newly renovated bungalow more suited to their needs.

While Andrews is happy – “I’ve been wondering why we didn’t do this sooner,” she says – downsizing involves a lot more than just buying a smaller home. People need to think about the lifestyle they want, if the place will still suit them in the future, if they’ll save money by moving, and more.

What should you be thinking about before making the big move? Our checklist of questions can help.

1. Is moving the right move?

Often, there’s pressure to downsize from friends and family because of market conditions or to suit their own plans. “We see people getting pushed into circumstances by well-meaning other parties, because they think it’s a good time for their acquaintances or relatives to make the move,” says Barry Gordon, president of Gordon’s Downsizing and Estate Services, an Ontario company that helps clients with all the intricacies of downsizing.

Instead, move when it makes sense for you. You might want to put off downsizing, for instance, until you’re older and less active, or until you know more about where the kids and grandkids want to settle. Or you may not want to downsize at all. “You need a moving plan that fits your needs, and to do whatever is best to make your life more comfortable,” says Gordon.

2. Can you age into your house?

Many people, like the Andrews, move into homes that won’t necessarily work for them as they age. That’s fine for those who retire early and don’t mind a second move a few decades later, though they’ll pay land transfer taxes, realtor’s fees and moving costs again.

Carri Hand, assistant professor in the School of Occupational Therapy at Western University, says downsizers should choose accommodations they can age into.

For instance, look for houses or condos without barriers like stairs, narrow doorways and long driveways. Properties with acres of land will also require physically intensive maintenance. “Almost everybody who’s aging is wondering what’s down the road,” she says, so think ahead when it comes to a new home.

Consider hiring an occupational therapist – they’ll be able to tell if doorway and hallway width can accommodate mobility devices like wheelchairs or walkers.

3. Is the neighbourhood right for you?

Choosing the right locale is key for downsizers. Some want to be close to nightlife, others to health-care facilities – often it’s both. “Make sure there are all the supports in your new neighbourhood to allow you to continue to do what matters to you,” says Hand.

Ease of travel is important, too, which could be a problem if you want to live in a small town with no transit. Ideally, move near bus routes and amenities like grocery stores, community centres, libraries and hospitals.

4. Will you save money?

Many people downsize because they need the money they’ve saved up in their homes. But, before making the decision to sell, do the math: Buying a condo in a hot urban area, like downtown Toronto or Vancouver, can cost a pretty penny. In fact, depending on where you live now, it can be more expensive to buy a smaller place.

In that case, you may want to consider renting, says Gordon. However, money isn’t always the deciding factor on choosing whether to rent or buy, he says. Some people rent because it's all that’s available in the area they want to live in – and geography, says Gordon, is the number one factor in determining where people downsize to – while others may want access to the funds made off their house. “Renting means a person is unlocking the equity in their current home, which could be invested to grow or to offset rental costs going forward,” he says.

If finances are a motivation to move, make sure you do the math to see what makes the most sense, says Gordon.

It can be useful to hire a professional, such as a real estate agent, a financial planner or a downsizing specialist who can help you answer these questions. Sylvia chose Downsizing Diva, a senior moving service that helped her declutter, pack up, and move in. She and her husband are now enjoying the perks of living in a right-sized house that’s still big enough for entertaining, and close to bus routes and walking trails. “I hope this can be where we spend the rest of our lives,” she says. “We absolutely love it.”

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