Downsizing sellers face reordering their priorities

April 23, 2010|By ELLEN JAMES MARTIN
  • Smart Moves

For years, an attorney and her husband - a retired IBM manager - relished the spacious colonial house where they raised four children. They couldn't imagine selling their beloved seven-bedroom house. But now they can't wait to downsize.

The sudden urge to move came after the attorney fell down the stairs and was seriously injured. This changed the couple's perspective entirely. They soon put the property up for sale and found a much smaller town house with an elevator where they can live comfortably as the wife moves into retirement.

As this couple's story illustrates, health problems are a common trigger causing homeowners to sell and seek smaller quarters, said Natalie Conrad, a professional organizer and author of "Organize to Downsize," a workbook for downsizers.

In an economy with high unemployment and salary cutbacks, financial realities are also a leading reason why many people have to downsize. Still others, including many in their late 50s and early 60s, voluntarily downsize to simplify their lives and gain freedom.


"There comes a point in many lives when there's a yearning to reorder priorities. People downsize for the chance to pursue other options," said Lin Schreiber, a life coach who counsels those seeking to recast their lives in retirement.

Are you planning to scale back your housing for your retirement years? If so, these pointers could prove useful:

Search for a location that feels right to you for positive reasons.

As they approach retirement, many people focus solely 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.

"Give yourself permission to explore all the possibilities that interest you before making a decision," said Schreiber, whose coaching practice is called Revolutionize Retirement (

Think twice before moving to a place with a strong homeowners' association.

Schreiber and her husband, a software specialist, thought they wanted to live in a new custom-home community surrounding a man-made lake. They bought their "dream house" there and assumed they'd stay there for the rest of their lives.

But after just three years they were so rattled by the strong neighborhood association that they sold the property and moved to a less fancy part of town where they're now living happily in a modest town house with friendly and easygoing neighbors.

Looking back on their experience, the couple wishes they'd investigated further before buying into the lakeside community, where Schreiber said neighborhood leaders proved bothersome and intrusive.

Though she allows that some people appreciate a strict neighborhood association that can help protect their property values, she said 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.

Carefully consider your children's role in the next phase of your life.

Lots of downsizers approaching retirement have children in their 20s or older. And, according to Conrad, they vary widely on the role they would like their children 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," she said.

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-apartment with just one or two bedrooms.

Allow plenty of time for purging before you downsize.

It's rare for homeowners who've lived in a property for many years to approach retirement age without a house full of material possessions, said Conrad, who conducts de-cluttering workshops in clients' homes.

The problem is that to successfully sell their property and fit into a smaller place, nearly everyone must cull through their possessions and reduce their overall quantity. This is a process that can take weeks, or even months, to accomplish.

"Half the chaos in your home is probably due to clutter. Going through all of it is an achievable goal. But you've got to allow plenty of time to do the project incrementally. Otherwise, you're going to feel overwhelmed," Conrad said.

To contact Ellen James Martin, e-mail her at">

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