A couple in their 60s -- a psychiatrist married to an attorney -- began daydreaming about retirement the day their youngest child graduated from high school. They wished for the freedom to travel abroad and enjoy waterfront living in a low-upkeep condo overlooking Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.
After selling their large, upkeep-heavy colonial and buying a waterfront condo, the couple was pleased with their new digs and relished the freedom from maintenance chores, says Ashley Richardson, their real estate agent. What’s more, their downsizing maneuver yielded the pair a tidy profit, which is hastening their plans to retire.
“Older people who are open to change about moving are happier in the long run than people who can’t bear to move,” says Richardson, who’s affiliated with the Residential Real Estate Council (crs.com).
Natalie Conrad, a professional organizer and author of “Organize to Downsize,” a step-by-step workbook for those seeking to scale back, says many triggers prompt older owners to sell. One common impetus is a health setback, such as the need for a knee or hip replacement. This forces many owners to face their need for a one-level property that doesn’t require them to climb stairs to reach their bedroom or take a shower.
“Once people start having physical limitations, they begin seeing their big houses differently. Many people wish to live closer to their grown children or go to a retirement community,” Conrad says.
Some housing economists say an increasing number of older homeowners are now rushing to sell due to rising mortgage rates and economic uncertainty as to whether the current strong market is sustainable.
Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors (realtor.org), says the current picture for sellers is a mixed one.
“As long as economic conditions maintain current levels, there’s still a chance for sales to break out this year. However, with mortgage rates trending higher, it will only happen if supply levels improve enough to cool the speedy price growth in a majority of the country,” Yun says.
Here are a few other pointers for downsizers:
-- Search for a location that feels right to you for positive reasons.
Lin Schreiber, a life coach for retirees, says, “There comes a point in many lives when there’s a yearning to reorder priorities. People downsize for the chance to pursue other options.”
As they head toward retirement, many people focus primarily on the annoyances and aggravations they’ll escape once they’re liberated from their job. But in addition, Schreiber urges clients to concentrate on the options that await them as they reinvent their lives.
“For example, if you think you’d like to live in Costa Rica, travel there and talk to retired people about what life is like in that country. Give yourself permission to explore all the possibilities that interest you before making a decision,” Schreiber says.
-- Think through whether you’d like to live in a community with lots of rules.
Schreiber and her husband, a software specialist, once lived in a planned community where the homeowners association dictated many lifestyle rules. But after just three years there, they were so rattled by all the dictates that they moved to a more modest townhouse with friendly and easygoing neighbors.
Looking back on their experience, the couple wishes they’d investigated further before buying into the planned community, where Schreiber says neighborhood leaders proved bothersome and intrusive.
“People there were always quibbling over small disputes about the appearance and operation of the community,” she recalls.
Though she allows that some people appreciate a strict neighborhood association that can help protect their property values, she says others find life in such a community unpleasant.
Schreiber urges those making a major housing transition to ask questions about the internal culture of a community before they buy a home there -- to ensure that it’s in accord with the lifestyle they have in mind.
-- Think through the role you want your adult children to play going forward.
Lots of downsizers approaching retirement have children in their 20s or older. And according to Conrad, these retirees vary widely on the role they’d like their offspring to play in the next phase of their life.
“As they get older, some people become weary of the child-raising thing. Yet other empty-nesters feel a void in their lives and wish to see more of their grown kids and grandkids,” she says.
Those who want their adult offspring to play a major role in their lives are likely to be happier moving to a property with enough bedrooms to accommodate their kids during overnight visits. But those who wish to discourage their children from lengthy stays -- or from moving back home -- might prefer a small condo with just one or two bedrooms.
“This is a very personal choice, but one you should think through before moving,” Conrad says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)