Home & Garden

Tips for making the tough decision on downsizing

With her children just off to college, a widow in her early 50s tackled a tough question. Should she keep the big family house with high mortgage payments that symbolized security and comfort for her kids? Or should she sell to cut expenses and pursue the dream of leaving her corporate job for interior design school?

“On the one hand, she felt wedged in by her high-paid career. But on the other, she worried her kids would be unhappy if they couldn’t return to their old home for summer vacations and holidays,” says Savannah Mayfield, the life coach who helped guide the widow through her decision-making process.

After several hours sifting through the pros and cons, the widow finally decided to sell, which proved the happier choice in her case.

Mark Nash, author of “1001 Tips for Buying and Selling a Home,” says it’s not the right choice for all. Nor is it always best for empty-nest men who live alone, he says.

“Sometimes there’s lots of regret about a decision to downsize from a large house to a condo. People miss the sense … of control that comes from owning a detached house. Also, others miss the people they knew in the old neighborhood and never feel at ease in the new environment,” Nash says.

Here are a few pointers for single empty-nesters considering a sale:

1 Consider the money issue.

In recent years, many breadwinners have experienced a decline in income. Moreover, some still haven’t recovered all of the home equity they lost when the real estate bubble burst, Nash notes.

“With so much at stake, along with the rising cost of college and retirement, single parents can’t afford to put on blinders when it comes to financial matters,” he says.

He encourages single parents considering a home sale to consult a trusted financial adviser or accountant before moving forward.

When choosing a financial adviser, Mayfield encourages her clients to select a “fee-only” professional who’s compensated directly by clients rather than through the sale of life insurance or other financial products. You can find one at www.napfa.org.

2 Consider your holistic life plan.

Often, people see their real estate choices in isolation from the larger issues of their lives, says Michael Knight, a financial planner. But he says all major financial decisions should be made with lifestyle values in mind.

Nash says it’s sometimes a good bet to turn to an experienced real estate agent (who doesn’t push you to sell) rather than to a friend or family member.

“Those closest to you probably have the best of intentions. But they aren’t always the most impartial. If you don’t feel comfortable confiding in a real estate person, consider engaging the services of a life coach or therapist,” he says.

3 Glide into your action plan rather than hurrying ahead.

Nash, like many veterans of the real estate business, knows it can be a mistake to hurry into a home sale soon after a life-altering event, like a divorce or death of a spouse. For many single parents, this is especially traumatic if the event occurs as their children are leaving home.

Nash recommends that single parents with the option of postponing a decision on a house sale wait at least six to 12 months after the kids move out. “If you can wait, let the dust settle prior to finalizing any firm moving plans,” he says.