Aging happens to us all, and at some point, our house no longer suits our needs and we start to look at downsizing options. (Or, let’s call it what it really is; right-sizing, because the right size for us isn’t necessarily smaller.)
The process can feel overwhelming at first, with all the decisions that need to be made and options that need to be considered. This is especially true when, as often happens, the process is started out of necessity rather than proactive planning. Often people are suddenly limited by their health and downsize as a knee-jerk reaction. This reactivity makes an already difficult process even more stressful.
Add to that a lot of dynamics and issues that suddenly surface during the process. Families argue over possessions and money, parents and children disagree about where and how the parents should live, and it’s chaotic and stressful for everyone.
In my years of helping families through such a transition, I’ve noticed most of the time when the chaos hit the fan it was because the parents (and everyone else, for that matter) forgot three critical things.
These three things will make the difference between a chaotic, stressful experience and a peaceful transition.
Thing #1: Who Are You?
When my clients are in right-sizing mode, I make it clear from the beginning that I’m on THEIR side. This whole thing is about THEM. After all, they’re the ones that have to live with where they’re going to live.
Before helping them sort through options, I need to know who I’m helping. Likewise, they need to understand their own needs and preferences so they can make the most suitable choice.
For example, if someone is an outdoorsy person who loves to sip tea on the deck in their own private yard, condominium living isn’t likely for them. (Some condos don’t allow so much as a planter on the balcony.) If someone enjoys the company of others and wants to be part of a community, a condominium or perhaps certain life leases would be more suited for that person than a house.
Thing #2: How Will You Live?
The great thing about new beginnings is that things can be new – even the way you live.
One of my clients started the process, as many do, with the assumption that to downsize is to live in a condo or apartment. One bedroom. After all, it was just her.
“Do you have grandchildren who will be staying the night sometimes?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said.
“Where will they sleep? You might want a second bedroom for that.”
“Oh! I hadn’t thought of that!”
“And what are your hobbies?” I asked.
She looked confused. After some conversation, we came to the discovery that she’d always wanted to paint, but never had the time or space.
“That’s something to consider when you’re choosing – where will the space be for your hobby.” I said.
“Oh! Yes! I hadn’t thought of that!”
I get that a lot. This is why you hire an excellent real estate agent! Shameless self promotion aside though, these oversights of essential lifestyle needs are amazingly common among downsizers.
If you’re considering a change, give careful thought to the lifestyle you plan to live. Will you want to travel a lot? A condo with a caretaker might be best suited for you. Planning to host gatherings or have grandkids or out of town guests overnight? Make sure your home has space and allow for that.
Thing #3: What About The Kids?
As parents age, their children tend to become more involved and opinionated about what the parents should do and how they should do it. Have you ever noticed that? When big opinions start inserting themselves into a complex, highly personal process like right-sizing – especially when money and assets come into play - things can get heated.
When choosing your next home, it’s important to consider whether or not you want to leave the kids an asset. Remember, your home will be an asset to be dispersed when you die. What are your plans with that? Do your children need financial assistance? If so, buy something that can be easily liquidated. Is there an overall estate plan that this new asset is part of? If the goal is ultimately that there is nothing to burden the heirs, then maybe rental is the best way to go.
The bottom line for me, as the representative of the parents, is that it’s not ultimately about what the kids want, it’s about what the parents want. Together, we carefully walk through these three considerations and then I advise based on that.
So much pain and angst and financial burden can be avoided when the right-sizing process is thought through and planned well.
Have you ever right-sized or helped a parent through the process?
What advice would you have for someone starting the journey?