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What makes a house a home is the life that’s lived within it. Fill it with the love of a happy family, and your home serves as the physical envelope and solid foundation for every day you spend together.

From baby steps to first days at school to teenage tantrums and 18th birthday parties, your home is where family memories are made. But once the kids have grown up and flown the nest, it can seem as if it all happened in the blink of an eye. Now what?

How does it feel to be an empty nester?

Empty nest syndrome is real. It’s a feeling of sadness, anxiety and loss of purpose that can affect parents whose children have left home. The effect can be exacerbated by the property you’ve lived in for so long. With only two people (or perhaps just one person) rattling around in the family home, is it now too big for your needs, or too much to manage? Should you move?

Of course, embarking on your new life chapter doesn’t have to be a bad thing. In fact, relief and excitement are often part of the emotional experience. Now is your chance to make lifestyle changes, start new projects and rediscover parts of yourself that may have laid dormant for years. “Reconnect with your own goals and what you would like to achieve. You may not know what these are immediately, so some exploration may be needed to try out new things,” advises Priory psychotherapist Debbie Longsdale in a recent interview.

In terms of where you live, downsizing to a smaller property may be the perfect way to mark the change.

 

What are the benefits of downsizing?

According to recent figures, potential downsizers make up nearly a quarter of all households aged 55+, which equates to around 2.9 million homes, which is a slight downturn from 3 years ago. “The impact of Covid-19 has clearly changed the mindset of many older homeowners, and we can see there has been an uplift in those who want to keep hold of their home,” explains Sara McLeish, Chief Executive at Legal & General Financial Advice. 

The advantages of moving to a smaller property seem obvious on the face of it and can broadly be grouped into three areas:

  • Money saving: Living in a smaller house or flat should result in reduced regular outgoings and home maintenance needs/costs, while providing you with a net cash gain that could be put towards retirement planning.
  • Health management: None of us is getting any younger and it is prudent to consider any health or mobility problems that may affect the type of home most suitable for you, either now or in years to come.
  • Lifestyle changes: Perhaps you are planning a radical change in lifestyle, now that you are comparatively free of family responsibilities. Scaling down your home and possessions can be a liberating experience, as this real-life story confirms.

Whatever your specific reasons for considering a move to a smaller home may be, it’s important to think carefully before you take action. To help you clarify your thinking, here are some of the key questions you should be asking.

How empty will the nest actually be?

It’s all very well waving off the kids on their journey into adulthood but is there a chance they could be moving back home? Property prices and rental costs across the UK are at an all-time high, stretching budgets everywhere and pushing up the age of first-time buyers which now stands at 34 years.

The latest UK statistics show that, in 2021, about 42% of young adults aged 15-34 lived with their parents, compared to 36% in 1996. If you downsized the family home, would there be enough space in your new place if they did need to come back? How would you feel if you effectively closed the door on them?

In addition, saying goodbye to a family home full of memories can be a huge emotional wrench (for all the family) that shouldn’t be underestimated. If you chose to stay, on the other hand, your house would have a continued purpose for Christmas celebrations, birthdays, family reunions and other special occasions.

What’s more, in years to come, there may be grandchildren coming to visit. Wouldn’t it be lovely to have plenty of space to accommodate your family as it carries on growing? Never underestimate the convenience of having a spare room in the house!

 

Is there any way you could stay put?

Before you go ahead and put your house on the market, it’s well worth exploring all the options. Is it really necessary to up sticks and start all over again in a new property in a different location and leave behind the home you love and the neighbourhood you know? Or could you find ways to make the property work for you, given that you are beginning a new life chapter?

If mobility is an issue (or likely to be in the future), you could research different types of home adaptation that could make living in your current home more comfortable. From stairlifts to ground floor bathrooms, motion sensor lighting and video entry phones, there’s plenty that can be done. Age Concern has some useful advice and great ideas shown in the image below.

If money is an issue, your first job must be to get clarity on your financial situation, both in terms of your current circumstances and as you head into retirement. The house can play a key part in this by ‘earning its keep’. Here are a few ideas:

  • If you have a spare room, why not consider short-term holiday lets through Airbnb, host foreign language students over the summer or get a longer-term lodger in? The government’s Rent A Room scheme allows you to earn up to £7,500 a year tax-free.
  • There may also be money to be made by renting out your driveway, especially if your house is situated in a town centre location or close to a railway station, sports ground or popular attraction. Find out more through apps such as Just Park, Your Parking Space or Stashbee.
  • An empty garage, outbuilding or loft space could also be turned into an extra income stream. Check out apps such as StoreMates who connect homeowners who have spare storage space with people who need it.

An increasingly popular option for asset-rich but cash-poor homeowners over 55 is to release some of the cash value (equity) of the family home while carrying on living there. If you take out a lifetime mortgage, the fixed-rate loan is secured against your house and doesn’t have to be repaid until you go into long-term care or pass away.

It’s a form of equity release and specialist advice is highly recommended to ensure you get the right plan for your needs. The good news, as one specialist equity release broker points out, is that “you do not pay any direct tax on the money you receive from an equity release plan. It is not classed as a capital gain because you are borrowing money against your home.”

 

Where should you be moving to?

Let us now look at the other side of the coin. If you were to downsize your home, what would that mean in terms of location? Would you be able to stay in the same neighbourhood or have to move to a different part of the country where property prices are cheaper and you could make a greater net financial gain?

If you’re perfectly at home in the area in which you live now, with a strong social network, friends and family nearby, and everything you need within easy reach, you may not relish the prospect of a change of location and a completely fresh start in an area where you know no-one.

On the other hand, moving house could be an opportunity to make all the right lifestyle improvements. Perhaps you’ve always wanted to live in a country cottage in Wales, or be within walking distance of town centre amenities, or live closer to the grandchildren? Now could be the perfect time to make your dream come true.

When it comes to choosing the best location for your new home, the important thing is to think long-term and really do your homework. 

You should also use local letting agents in potential move locations to assess the area and where best suits your needs.

Below are some useful numbers to give you an indication of the most lucrative places for downsizing properties by one bedroom, as well as some of the least lucrative ones, courtesy of research carried out by a leading self-storage company.

Once you’ve shortlisted your favoured locations, you need to consider the type of property that would be most appropriate for your future needs. Are you simply looking for a smaller house with a garden? Perhaps a bungalow with no stairs to worry about would be a more sensible option? How about a low-maintenance apartment or retirement property aimed at the over 55s? ‘Assisted living’ and ‘extra care’ accommodation often comes with added amenities such as cleaners, on-site catering and even optional carers.

Finally, don’t forget to cross-reference your preferred locations with the types of property you are after to check whether there is enough local supply to choose from and at a price that you can comfortably afford.

 

Are you ready to declutter your possessions?

Downsizing your home isn’t just about having a smaller property to maintain, it also means there will be less space for all your ‘stuff’. You can’t take everything with you, so in preparation for the house move, you need to spend time decluttering your possessions.

This may sound like a simple proposition in theory, but if you’ve lived somewhere for decades, with all the paraphernalia of family life around you, it could be easier said than done. You may be shocked by the amount of ‘stuff’ that’s accumulated over the years. But it’s not just the sheer scale of the job and the time it takes – it’s an emotional process too.

Many people really struggle with the task of sorting through years of personal possessions in their homes. From clothes to furniture and furnishings, books to kitchenware, family photos and collectable items, and not forgetting all those sentimental little things that mean something to you, memories could be triggered all over the place. If you are not ready to let go of a sizeable chunk of your possessions, perhaps it’s not the right time for you to move house just yet.

Others may have no problem at all with decluttering their belongings. If you are looking forward to your next chapter and can reframe the process of sorting out your physical ‘stuff’ as lightening the load to help you move on unencumbered, both physically and mentally, the process can be both liberating and enjoyable. Channel your inner Marie Kondo and get to work, slimming down your possessions in anticipation of your move to a smaller home.

 

Your downsizing checklist

Moving to a smaller property for financial, health, practical or emotional reasons can be a big idea to get your head around. While it might offer the perfect answer to many empty nesters’ troubles, it’s not the right solution for everyone.

Do your research and carefully weigh up all the pros and cons, and don’t forget to include the rest of the family in the conversation too. Downsizing done right can have many advantages and opportunities that make your life easier. In addition to pocketing a net profit from the property sale and purchase, you should be able to look forward to more manageable household tasks, lower utility bills, and a chance to make a new home and new friends.

We leave you with a checklist to help you navigate your downsizing journey:

  • Consider your reasons for downsizing and carefully weigh up the alternatives
  • Explore possible locations to move to and the kind of property your budget would buy, using local letting agents to support your decision 
  • Review your financial situation, including outstanding mortgage debts, and goals
  • Before you move, have a good clear-out and save money on removal costs
  • Present your home for sale, instruct an estate agent, and start viewing smaller properties

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