Home & Garden

4 important tips for downsizing homeowners

After a long foreign-service career and early retirement, a couple in their late 50s decided to leave their sprawling 5,000-square-foot suburban home for a 3,500-square-foot place in a resort town an hour’s drive away.

The couple envisioned the resort house, with its five bedrooms, as a mecca for their grown children and many grandkids. And indeed the offspring piled in – all too often for the couple’s taste. Exhausted by all the entertaining, five years later they moved again, this time to a 2,000-square-foot apartment with just one guest room.

As this true story illustrates, downsizing is a reality for many people in the second half of life. And a surprising number of retirees go through the process more than once, says Dorian Mintzer, a psychotherapist and author of “The Couple’s Retirement Puzzle.”

“Energy and priorities shift in retirement for a lot of people. Although many want to age in place in a big family house, others find it’s more than they can handle in this phase of life,” she says.

Other retirees find it necessary to liquidate a big house to help underwrite living expenses.

Regardless of the reason you’re moving to a smaller place, the entire process can seem daunting. Here are a few tips to help keep it under control:

1 Focus more on features you want in a home than those you wish to leave behind.

As they contemplate an idyllic retirement setting, many people think primarily about the annoyances of living in their current property. For example, they may be running from the demands of a large yard. But Natalie Conrad, a professional organizer who specializes in downsizing, urges downsizers to concentrate more on features they’re seeking than those they wish to avoid.

“Don’t just think of retirement as retreat. Make sure you’re much more proactive than that,” she says.

2 Think twice before choosing an area with a strong homeowners association. Longtime life coach Lin Schreiber and her husband, a software specialist, thought they wanted to live in a new custom-home community surrounding a man-made lake. They bought their “dream house” there and assumed they’d stay for the rest of their lives.

But after just three years, they were so rattled by the rigid rules imposed by the strong neighborhood association that they sold the property and moved elsewhere.

Looking back on their experience, they wish they’d investigated further before buying into the lakeside community, where Schreiber says neighborhood leaders proved bothersome and intrusive.

Though she acknowledges that some people appreciate a strict neighborhood association, which can help protect property values, she says others find life in such a community too constricting.

3 Don’t allow your children to make key housing choices for you. Lots of retirees have grown offspring whom they both like and admire. But downsizers vary greatly in terms of the role they’d like their children to play in the next phase of their life.

4 Give yourself ample lead time before you have to move. It’s unusual for homeowners who’ve lived in a property for several decades to reach retirement without amassing a vast collection of material items, says Conrad, who conducts de-cluttering webinars and workshops for downsizers.

“The real crux of the matter is mindset. Before you even put one thing in a box, you must be confident you know where you’re going. At that point, you shouldn’t still be second-guessing yourself on where to move,” she says.