Thinking of downsizing? Think twice…

Before making a move, make sure it makes sense.

by Bryce Dixon


To downsize or not to downsize? That’s the question that faces just about everyone as adult children leave the nest, travel plans expand and financial belts tighten.

Obviously, the call to downsize is louder and clearer if one loses a spouse, their good health, or a source of vital income – making the choice of downsizing much less of a choice.

But some have embarked on what they felt was an inevitable part of life’s passages only to be hugely disappointed. They’ve sold the family home, moved to a condo or a senior living facility – even to a smaller, less expensive home in the middle of nowhere, only to regret it later.

For many, “aging in place” may be a far better solution.

There are a ton of books on downsizing that boast the advantages: freedom to travel, financial savings, change of scenery, more time to play and relax. Heck, just the thought of fewer things to clean and dust is enough to sway some.

These are all positive benefits that shouldn’t be overlooked, but just be aware, when it comes to downsizing, one size does not fit all. Here are a few things to ponder before making the big move.

Smaller isn’t necessarily cheaper

If you have to rent storage space to store the Christmas decorations you can’t part with, or, if you move to a state with higher taxes, savings could be minimal or nonexistent.

In 2012, Donald and Janice Baker moved to a smaller “bargain” home in rural Florida, but the house needed a lot of repairs and renovations that quickly ate up their savings.

Quality healthcare wasn’t available when they needed it, nor were part-time jobs that could have supplemented their retirement income.

Looking back, they say they wish they would have stayed at their already-renovated home on a canal near Tampa, surrounded by friends and family, where he could have enjoyed a part-time stint as a tug boat captain.

We sold during a softer market and now we can’t afford to buy back in that neighborhood,” he said.

Consider a reverse mortgage…maybe

For some, a reverse mortgage is a good alternative to downsizing as long as you can stay in your home for the rest of your life, you won’t need the equity before you die, you don’t need to leave your children a family home, and you are able to pay taxes and insurance.

Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research offers a retirement guide that compares the options of downsizing and taking out a reverse mortgage to gain income from your home Check out:

The Using Your House for Income in Retirement Guide reviews the two most common methods to use your house to increase your income in retirement – downsizing and a reverse mortgage – with examples, pros and cons, and links to tools on the web where you can get estimates of what these two approaches can do for you.

You’ll want to do your research to see which option makes sense, but if you are considering downsizing, hold off on the reverse mortgage. It will be costly to downsize after taking out a reverse mortgage because the fees and interest will reduce the equity you have in your current home.

Make new memories, keep the old

The sons of Lidia and Robert Reyes of Sarasota told their parents they would be devastated if they sold the family home. So many memories– and it was the perfect size and central location to gather for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The wishes of the children can sometimes be an obstacle to those who want to downsize, however, the Reyes decided it was the right option for them. They are currently in the process of decluttering their home and researching where they want to live.

To keep the family unified during the holidays, they plan to rent a big house in the mountains (with everyone sharing the cost) and strive to create new experiences of snow-filled Christmases for the grandchildren.

Life is all about the memories,” she said, “but who says you can’t continue to make new and even better ones.”

Moving is hard work

According to the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, moving is one of life’s big stressors. When you’re older and have accumulated a house full of stuff, it can be even more so.

Chances are, if you haven’t moved for a long time, it will be a monumental undertaking. Start by deciding what to toss, what to sell, what to give away, and, what to keep.

Encourage family members to take special heirlooms now. One way to handle this is let each one pick something out one at a time, going round and round until all the prized possessions you want gone are distributed.

It will not only free you from having to store them but may prevent-in-fighting later on. Be sure to take pictures of those items that are special.

The not-so-sentimental items can be sold at garage sales or on eBay or Craigslist. Antique dealers will often come to your house and buy things on the spot. Try to research selling prices on the Internet first so you know the fair price.

Consider donating antiques to a local history museum. You’ll receive a tax break and have the satisfaction knowing the item will be seen and enjoyed by many.

Whether or not you choose to downsize, you’ll be doing yourself and your family members a big favor by de-cluttering while you are young and healthy enough to do so.

Have you recently embarked on a downsizing adventure? What went into the planning and how did it all turn out? We want to hear about it! Email us at


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