A couple heading into their late 60s are delighted that their suburban house has risen in value substantially. With their offspring grown and away, they could easily sell the place, which has four bedrooms and a huge backyard. But they have no intention of downsizing anytime soon.
"They like their house and dream of passing it to their children one day," says Daren Blomquist, the couple's son-in-law.
As a real estate analyst, he cites the example of his in-laws to illustrate how many in the baby boom generation have been clinging to their big family homes, despite equity gains that have occurred in many areas due to the improving economy.
"We're not yet seeing a dramatic trend toward downsizing," says Blomquist, a senior vice president with Attom Data Solutions (www.attomdata.com), which tracks real estate markets throughout the country.
But despite the ardent wish of many boomers to hang on to their family homes indefinitely, he predicts an increasing number will soon change their minds or be forced to downsize, however reluctantly, due to medical, financial or family issues.
"Very often it takes a triggering event, like a major health problem, to cause people to sell a home they've owned for many years," Blomquist says.
Whether you're a homeowner who's excited to downsize or you're doing so involuntarily, the emotions can be intense.
Ron Phipps, a veteran real estate broker, says he's "always amazed" at how difficult it is for his clients to disconnect from any residence where they've lived for a lengthy time, even if doing so by choice.
Part of the problem for downsizers is that the moving process is inherently disruptive to their habits and patterns of living.
"It's fascinating how we humans are wired emotionally and bond to the places where we live," Phipps says.
Here are a few pointers for downsizers:
-- Seek an ally to help you begin the downsizing process.
Vicki Norris, a former real estate agent and organizing guru, says it can take up to 24 hours of work to de-clutter the average-sized room. To avoid becoming sidetracked, she says many home sellers need an ally to help them view their possessions objectively and let go of things they can't take with them when they move.
"When you have to downsize, your whole life is upside-down. It's tremendously stressful. So it's good to have someone there with you to help you stay focused and create an organized strategy," says Norris, author of "Restoring Order to Your Home."
For instance, you might need someone who is objective to help you face the reality that you'll have to give up a prized dining room suite that won't fit in your new place and that would make your space look crowded to prospective buyers.
In an attempt to tackle the downsizing project, many people turn to family members. But Norris says you're better off with a professional organizer. One source for referrals is the real estate agent who you expect to list your property. Another is the National Association of Professional Organizers: www.napo.net.
Are you unable to cover the expense of a professional organizer's services? If so, Norris suggests you ask a friend to come by to assist, if only to help you structure an action plan and gain momentum toward your move.
-- Ask family members if they want some of your memorabilia.
Older downsizers often hang onto nostalgic items they believe their grown children might want someday. But Norris says many parents believe their offspring will want many more things than they do, including their childhood storybooks and elementary school sports trophies.
"Typically, Mom and Dad hang on to things the kids don't really want," says Norris, who suggests that downsizers ask grown children what items they value.
-- Make a memory book with photos of your place.
When Norris's parents retired and put their family home up for sale, they did so voluntarily. Even so, they found it emotionally challenging to let go of a residence where they'd lived for 28 years.
Still, the process of downsizing was eased after their listing agent gave them a book of photos showing all their rooms and furnishings just as they looked before the home was staged for sale.
"That way they were able to seal their memories," Norris says.
-- Give away functional items you can't take with you.
As they plow through their property room by room, most downsizers encounter many items that crowd their space. Whenever possible, Norris encourages donations of serviceable items to a nonprofit institution that will put them to good use. For instance, you could donate unused musical instruments to a school serving low-income families.
"It can be incredibly rewarding to know your excess belongings will meet the needs of others rather than get tossed in the trash," Norris says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)