There comes a time for many couples – perhaps in their fifties, perhaps a little earlier – when they look around and realise that most of their wealth is in the walls around them. It is certainly true that for most Australians, the family home is our biggest investment
Indeed, just under 70 per cent of all Australians live in a home they either own outright, or have a mortgage on.
And once the kids have moved out (and they will eventually) many couples left in a large space decide that the equity they have built up in that home might be better used elsewhere – in a smaller space needing less maintenance perhaps – which might allow them to enjoy the remaining proceeds.
However, it’s not always that simple. Owner and founder of Central Element, a property company specialising in developments aimed at downsizers, Wayne Chivas, says that there are a number of decisions that potential downsizers need to consider before making the big leap.
1. Your neighbourhood
If you have lived in the same area for many years, you will have myriad connections there. Sometimes it’s your neighbours, with whom you have enjoyed many late-night dinner parties, sometimes it’s your local shopkeepers, sometimes it’s just knowing the local bus timetable.
Chivas says he finds that the over-50s want continuity. “I know it seems so small, but it’s so important,” he says. “It might be a hairdresser, it might be the local café, the person who recognises you and knows your name, it's all those things. If you all of sudden uproot, and a lot of people do, it's not easy to make that first transition.”
Chivas says that people can adapt to new communities, but it can take time. “I've met a number of people that do suffer from it,” he says. He also adds that it can be a big problem if one half of a couple adapts easily, but the other finds it harder, “and it just creates an issue between the two of them”.
The key reason that most people move out of the family home into a smaller space is maintenance, says Chivas. As you get older, it can get tedious being tied to a big home, garden and all that it entails. The over-50s in particular are keen travellers – whether it’s to Europe, or just a driving holiday within their state. People want to “lock up and walk away”, says Chivas.
Downsizing often means that you can choose a new home that is low-maintenance, particularly units or townhouses. Nobody wants to come home to a backyard that resembles a jungle instead of a lawn. However, if you like the idea of your own lawn and big garden, be prepared to share outdoor spaces with your neighbours (which is not always a bad thing).
The key to downsizing successfully is to do your homework first
For many older Australians, security is a big issue, especially if they live alone. Choosing a home in a small boutique development – small enough so it still feels friendly, large enough so you have people around you – often makes people feel safer. Apartment or townhouse complexes often have electronic-controlled entrances and security features such as large gates and fences. This is especially important if you plan to leave the home regularly to go travelling or visiting family.
4. Smaller spaces
When you are thinking of downsizing, it is important to think about how you will really feel living in a smaller space. If you have been in a large house, it can feel awkward moving into a two or three-bedroom apartment with one car space, if you have been used to a four-bedroom, three-bathroom space with a double garage.
Often you will need to upgrade or change your furniture. Some couple find this a great opportunity, says Chivas, enjoying the chance to upgrade to modern and new furniture, others try and cram in over-sized pieces into smaller spaces, making them seem even more cramped.
It is important to be realistic about how you want to live. Chivas says that generally, developers such as Central Element tailor-make their projects to suit the local community, so an apartment complex in suburban Beecroft, or Sydney’s Central Coast will have larger spaces than one in Cammeray (close to the centre of the city). This allows people to choose the type of living they are looking for – city-style apartments, or comfortable suburban townhouses.
5. Luxury appointments
There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that says that baby boomers don’t like compromising on the finishes in their homes. Unlike their pre- and post-war parents, the about-to-be retired generation is used to a degree of comfort and doesn’t want to accept second best. If you are leaving what was meant to be your “forever” home, you need to consider what style of fittings you are used to.
Dishwashers, European-style ovens and state-of-the-art kitchens and bathrooms are often important to this generation. If you are used to a big modern kitchen and your own ensuite, don’t feel you have to compromise by downsizing. If you love cooking, you may feel that your new home must have a great stove – or the space to put one in. Think about what is important to you – perhaps modern fittings aren’t as vital as a second bathroom, or built-in wardrobes and get a checklist happening.
Have you downsized? What was the biggest lesson you have learnt?