Downsizing: getting it right the first time
Practically everybody has considered downsizing at some stage. Usually, the idea first hits the radar when the kids leave home and the realization dawns that your home resembles a storage facility for a lifetime of childhood bric-a-brac. However, that’s not so commonly the time at which people decide to sell up, downsize and live the retirement dream. Usually, the decision to downsize is the result of a desire to free up some capital for investment or recreation, reduce the cost of utilities, eliminate a mortgage, lessen the burden of maintenance, or simply gain some new freedom to travel and find a simpler lifestyle.
So, what things should you keep in mind and where might you start looking for a smaller, more affordable future residence? Well, that all depends on where you’ll be downsizing from. In Sydney, the median house price is now around $1 million; in Melbourne it’s around $713,000. Nationally, the average median capital city price is $658,000. So, for the purposes of our downsizing evaluation, we’ll look at a range of downsizing options in the range of $450,000 to $550,000.
What key features should you look for?
To make sure the property you choose will suit your needs for the long-term, there are a number of important design features to keep in mind. Typically, a townhouse or semi-detached home will deliver on the majority of these features.
- Accessibility: Make sure any property you consider has level access and at least one bedroom and bathroom on the same level that you access the property from. Naturally, the living, dining and kitchen spaces should all be on this floor as well. That way, if stairs become a problem for you later, there’s no need to sell and move again.
- Security: Does the property offer you good security so you’ll feel comfortable while at home and also when you travel?
- Number of rooms: Usually two or three bedrooms is sufficient to accommodate yourself, family guests, and have one room spare.
- Storage: Downsizing involves getting rid of a lot of things that tend to build up around houses. Townhouses and apartments won’t often be able to cope with significant extra storage needs, but sometimes hiring a storage unit provides a cost effective solution.
- Garage: Direct access from the garage to the living space can be a big advantage, making it convenient to unload groceries – especially in inclement weather.
- Garden: A smaller, easy to maintain garden is a big advantage.
- Eco-Friendliness: A property fitted with solar panels and water tanks can help reduce utility costs over the long-term.
With any form of semi-detached property, pay close attention to common walls. Be careful of any property where the master bedroom is adjacent to a neighbour’s living space.
What about maintenance costs?
This is where things can get a little tricky. A freestanding Torrens-Title home gives you the freedom and independence to spend money on maintenance when you choose, but you’re also fully responsible for 100% of your insurance and maintenance costs. A Strata-Title or Community-Title home will come with the advantage of quarterly maintenance levies, spread across all residents living in the complex, but you’ll need to adhere to a series of rules governing all residents. You’ll also need to be prepared to take the views of your neighbours into account when it comes to planning and managing the costs of the complex.
How important is proximity to your children, friends and relatives? Invariably, you’ll be considering locations outside major capital cities in order to buy a less expensive property. So, accessibility for your friends will be a primary consideration. How well connected is your area of choice, when it comes to road, rail and buses?
Plus, how well is your ideal property located to supermarkets, health professionals and local conveniences? Staying within walking distance of convenience stores, parks and walking tracks will improve your lifestyle, but not being close to professional health services should be a dealbreaker.
Overall, the convenience and suitability of a property you plan to downsize to will be affected and change over the long-term.
For many, a small garden or courtyard is an essential feature – especially for people downsizing from a large house and garden. This feature will not only help ease the transition, but it provides a space to nurture plants and herbs, grow vegetables, or simply while away a few hours with a book and a glass of wine.
Single level homes make jobs like cleaning leaves from gutters and cleaning windows much easier. Second level windows and guttering become maintenance issues over time, and can add significantly to costs. You might not want to be climbing ladders every time the windows need cleaning.
Finally, take your time and do your research. The best way to work out what will suit you best is to get your feet on the ground and inspect as many different types of properties as you can find. This will expand your horizons and help you work out a realistic budget.
Some ideal downsizing examples:
51 Prospect Drive, Tarneit, Victoria
Within 45 minutes of Melbourne’s CBD, this cottage style two bedroom home has level access, direct access from the garage to the interior, is close to transport, and offers low maintenance and good security. Best of all, even at the upper end of its price expectations, it is still 52% less expensive than the average capital city median property price!
29 Polaris Avenue, Cameron Park, New South Wales
Positioned in the well serviced Lake Macquarie region, just north of Sydney, this brand new three bedroom home ticks all the downsizing boxes; level access, direct access from garage to living spaces, built in robes, low maintenance garden, plenty of storage. It’s 21% less expensive than the average capital city median property price.
5 Finchley Street, Clovelly Park, South Australia
Positioned between Adelaide’s CBD and the beach, this three bedroom home covers all bases for downsizing, especially when it comes to storage. Once again, it offers level access and direct access from the garage to its living spaces – which are very generous. It offers good security, modern amenities, a low maintenance garden, and a shed for those hobbies!
What is your biggest concern when it come to downsizing? Let us know in the comments section below.
About the expert
Stewart Bunn is First National Real Estate’s National Communications Manager. As a corporate communications, digital marketing and social media specialist, he has a diverse background spanning the property, health and dental industries. Stewart is also a contributor to a range of online professional, travel and community websites.