The Upside of Downsizing



Donna Quinn and Jeff Stone

WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT IT, it doesn’t always make sense.

Every year, surveys show that most adults ages 45 and older plan to stay in their current homes for as long as possible, mainly because, well, they’ve grown accustomed to their place. But while aging in place brings comfort to many empty nesters, it also presents potential problems—especially as we get older.

First, there are the financial issues. Even if you’ve paid off your mortgage, there are a number of expenses that can be worrisome for retired couples living on fixed incomes: property taxes, insurance, utility bills, health and other living costs. Home maintenance, too, can become expensive and burdensome for aging seniors.

Second, there are quality-of-life issues. Sure, it’s comfortable staying in your own well-worn home, but if you’re facing declining health or physical limitations, your sense of independence may quickly succumb to feelings of isolation and anxiety over your ability to remain safe in your own home.

For many couples, then, it may make sense to downsize to a smaller space. But they don’t do it. Why not? In a word, fear. Fear of change—even when change is good. Most seniors become nostalgic about their home; much of their identity is wrapped up within those four walls. Other homeowners tell us that it’s been decades since they last moved and they simply don’t know how to go about it.

Over the years, we’ve talked to hundreds of older home owners about how best to make this downsizing transition. Here is a checklist of steps and questions to consider:

Talk to other families who have gone through a downsizing transition and ask lots of questions about their experience. If you don’t know anyone among your friends or work associates, contact real estate agents or housing specialists from local social service or government agencies.

Decide where you want to live. Consider these issues:

• Do you wish to remain in your present community or relocate closer to other friends and family?

• Do you want move to a state with a lower cost of living or a warmer climate—perhaps even internationally?

• Don’t underestimate our need for increased socialization as we age; in particular, regular interaction with children and grandchildren is a cherished value for many families.

Do you want to downsize to a more user-friendly house, or to a universally designed unit within a planned retirement community? Do you want to rent, rather than buy? Renting may be a more viable option, with less cost and upkeep—virtually care-free living. to Run the numbers. Determine how much, if anything, you can save by downsizing your home. Run a few scenarios with the mortgage calculator. Whatever your decision, you’ll have to figure out what to do with all the stuff you’ve accumulated, but there are lots professional organizers and senior real estate specialists who can help. For links to some step-by-step guides that may help you decide whether to downsize, go to our Community & Resources Page.

Is moving in with other family members an option—and do you really want to? These days, more families are moving in together, whether to take care of elderly parents or to help make ends meet for both young couples and their parents. An estimated 51.5 million people now live in “multi-generational housing,” which typically means three generations under one roof.

Finally, think ahead—realistically—about your future health and home-care needs. Consider the eventual need of possibly moving into an assisted living facilities, which offers various levels of care. Continuing care retirement communities offer independent living units, as well as access to assisted living and skilled nursing care facilities, as residents’ health and social needs change over time. For some useful consumer resources on assisted living, check out the National Center for Assisted Living website on our Resources page.

 Donna Quinn and Jeff Stone are Seniors Real Estate Specialists with Laffey Fine Homes, a leading realty with offices on Long Island and in Queens, N.Y. They are also members of the Association of Gerontological Experts for Seniors (AGES) and members of the advisory board for North Hempstead Town’s Project Independence on Long Island. Contact: or visit their website,

For more information on this and related topics, visit the link on our Resources page.

Forty Forward!

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