Downsizing To A Smaller House

by Lissie

Downsizing to a smaller house? Dream or nightmare? Well it worked out well for us - here's our story

Looking to downsize your house? I did so a couple of years ago and am aware of some of the issues involved. Many people consider downsizing before or as they retire. That may or may not be a good idea, its an individual choice, but here are some of the issues you may need to think about it.

Downsizing The House: Our Story

I wrote this page as an extension of a discussion. I left a comment on a page describing a Luxury Retirement Communities saying I wouldn't much like living with a bunch of oldies (full disclosure I am very nearly 50 and my partner is very nearly 60). In response "pcunix" wrote his story about why he moved to an over 55 retirement community

Our Story - Downsized To A Tent - And Back.

(Note: I live in New Zealand - your dollar and housing market may vary). I'll try and keep this short - we bought our first house as a couple in 1998 - it was big 200m2 - but neither of us were young and we'd never lived together with a significant other before. It seemed like a good idea - it was: his cat and my dog fought like hell! Also I was quite keen to try some renovation ideas, and he didn't say no (well not loudly enough).

We renovated it extensively - and in the end it did brush up quite nicely. Here's the video I made when we sold it: (Note we still had quite a large storage unit at this stage - if you are selling decluttering first is my number one tip.)

The House We Sold

It took about 4 man days to get it looking this good for the photos!

200m2 to 4m2 - Less Stuff Is Great!

Our Home For 6 Months - Truckie and TentThings moved on - we had a standard midlife crises: packed up our belongs put them in storage, rented out the house and moved to Australia. We bought an 1986 Landcruiser, a tent, and drove 35,000kms in 6 months. After 6 months is a 4m2 square tent the 60m2 2-bedroom apartment we rented in Perth appeared palatial!

Eventually we returned to New Zealand, and even before we moved back into our house we had decided to move back in we'd decided to sell it. It was simply too big. We'd lived for 2 years with what fitted in the back of a truck (the apartment was semi-furnished) - we returned home with a couple of extra bags air freighted plus 20kg luggage each.

60m2 Flat - 10 minutes walk to the beach! We realized that although the house was beautiful it had some disadvantages:

  • we had a lot of capital tied up in an asset whose main purpose was to house a lot of stuff that we hadn't needed or missed in the previous three years; 
  • it took 2 of us about 2 hours to clean it a week;
  • the gardens had always been a bit on the big side and we were paying a lot for lawns and tree chopping;
  • it was built in 1947, and even after the renovation it needed continual maintenance, and tradesmen weren't getting any cheaper;
  • we would be up for another $10k to get it painted inside the next 10 years;
  • the power/gas bill was around $400/month in winter.

We looked around and realised that we could downsize, release about $100,000 of capital. More importantly we realised that we would greatly reduce our house related outgoings if we bought a newer property.

Although we'd successfully rented out this house when we went to Australia - it was too big and expensive to make a perfect rental property. As we are still considering moving overseas we wanted something that was both easy to lock up and leave, and that could be rented easily if required. 

What Are the Downsizing Options?

Wellington, New ZealandSo having decided we wanted to downsize the question was to what?

Over 55 Community
By coincidence we'd rented a flat next door to this local over 55 community. Its a very central location (used to be sports grounds) and is known to be one of the better ones. It combines individually owned villas, with various levels of aged care. Although we actually know people who have moved in there - I'd feel like I was nearly dead if we moved into somewhere like that. Most residents appeared to be well over 70, and probably going to be needed nursing or other care soon.

We now live near another one - and its an energetic 20 minute walk to the nearest shops - or a on a bus route that runs only peak hour. I feel sorry for the residents who must be isolated if they don't drive.

The other issue with many of these communities are that they have excessive fees. In this specific case you are paying for having a nurse on call - I don't need a nurse on call (neither does anyone really given that NZ has a free ambulance service), and I'm certainly not paying for it!

Apartment or Flat (Condominiums as the Americans Call Them)

Inner City Apartments, WellingtonWellington is a vibrant city, compact and easy and safe to walk around. There is a lot of inner city apartments which range from shoe boxes for the rental student market to large and luxurious. The large and luxurious apartments tend to have views to die for. But in our price range it was more likely a view over an inner city, or the next door building.

Many of the better apartments are in retrofitted buildings that were once commercial. As a geologist, I was very aware that some of these buildings were not up to earthquake standard, and this was before the devastating Christchurch earthquake. Although we could have got parking, its a nuisance for friends to have to pay to park to visit too.

I also don't like the resale value of some of the less than stellar locations, the fact that you are buying little if any land, means that this a fast depreciating asset.

Townhouse Complex
I've lived in a townhouse complex before, and would do so again The issue is that levy that you pay for upkeep of common areas and building insurance and maintenance. This can be really quite high, and moving into retirement its a potential issue. Also you the body corporate can have restrictive rules about pets and whether or not you can rent your house.


Our New Home

Semi-detached townhouse - easy to maintain and live in
Semi-detached townhouse - easy to mai...
Slightly smaller kitchen - but very workable
Slightly smaller kitchen - but very w...
Walking into this sold us on the house - bifolds to the garden, downstairs WC, laundry, storage
Walking into this sold us on the hous...
Just enough garden and no LAWN!
Just enough garden and no LAWN!

The Townhouse We Bought

I'd call it a townhouse, because although its fee simple, so no levies, its actually joined to the neighbour's and there 4 house that all look similar on what was once, a single section.

In other words there is very little garden!

Why we bought it:

  • its low maintenance, although its wood, it has aluminum windows (wooden ones costs a fortune to paint), and newish, built 2005; 
  • its about 8 minutes walk to a good sized mall, train/bus station hub, which is slated to be redeveloped in the next 10 years; 
  • its quiet. We had been on a cul-de-sac and didn't expect to be on another one - but we are! 
  • its drive on access (this is not always the case in Wellington - those hills again); 
  • it has 3 bedrooms so I have my own study! It felt spacious and light the moment we walked in, and has great indoor-outdoor flow (the windows are bifold doors); 
  • its lock and leave, soon after moving in we went overseas for 2 months. There was a big storm and my sister-in-law sent her husband round to check the outside of the house to make sure it was OK. The neighbour came out to see what he wanted! 
  • its highly rentable, the twin house next door is rented at a very acceptable level and hasn't been empty in the last 18 months, with only one change of tenants; 
  • its a nice neighbourhood - there is a family from Brazil next door with young teenagers, and some older teens renting next door, one of whom is a talented guitarist who sometimes plays outside. A 50ish women owns another house on our shared drive, and she keeps an eye on all of us, while the pair in front often take their caravan (RV) away for the weekend.

Moving is a Big Deal

We moved 5 times in 6 months - maybe I should have read a guide first? Maybe I should write one!
The Moving Survival Guide: All You Ne...
$1.93  $20.4
Moving Gracefully: A Guide to Relocat...
$17.95  $7.24
How to Survive A Move: by Hundreds of...
$13.22  $2.25

Downsizing Your House

If you are consider downsizing your home I'd suggest you think about the following:

  • do you like your current location? We moved a couple fo suburbs over from what is considered a "superior" suburb to an average one. Its made very little difference to us in practice - in both places we have nice neighours and mix of renter and owners. 
  • have a plan B, our plan B is moving to Asia, this house would rent easily to decent tenants who would rent it for the same reasons we bought it. If you decide to sell is saleable? Houses that are rentable tend to be saleable as well. 
  • what are the on-going costs and how likely are these to go up? Because our house if fee simple - we can paint it any time we want - or not. We don't have to pay into a sinking fund over a number of years - which may or may not suit our cash flow. We pay for our own heating so when we go away the power bill is practically zero. 
  • think carefully what you do and don't need in a house, but be flexible. We thought we really needed a garage, the place we bought only has drive on access and a shed. In reality - its fine, now I'd say I really must have off-road parking, I don't need a garage. On the other hand we really had to have to separate studies, and we got that with a 3-bed house. I'm sad to have lost my double spa bath, but at least I still have a bath (which was a must have) - which I could upgrade! 
  • get rid of stuff! Really, so many people need huge houses just to keep stuff they don't need! You may not get this if you haven't moved recently - my parter didn't until we looked at the storage locker we'd had and wonder what the heck did we need all this stuff for? If you haven't looked at it or used it in the last 12 months you probably don't need it! 
  • we don't have a spare bed, or a spare room (we have a study each), but its a lot cheaper to put visitors up in the local motel than to pay for room that is rarely used!

Declutter Before You Move!

Packing it all up
Packing it all up
This was just the start - too tired to take the after photo!
This was just the start - too tired t...
And unpacking it all 4 years later!
And unpacking it all 4 years later!
Trust me it took weeks! Declutter first - trust me on this one!
Trust me it took weeks! Declutter fir...
Updated: 02/28/2012, Lissie
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Tolovaj on 05/04/2012

I have to admit I am little jealous. I have never enough space and downsizing sounds like science fiction to me at the moment. But on the other hand having less stuff gives you tremendous sense of freedom and I remember my traveling light experiences as some of my best times of my life.
Thanks for the tips. Enjoy your new life (and plan B doesn't sound bad either)!

terrilorah on 03/20/2012

Love the idea of a video to show buyers. We downsized about 7 yrs ago from a two story home in a suburban neighborhood to a little old mobile home out in the country and haven't looked back since. Great article!

katiem2 on 03/03/2012

So true moving is the one of the hardest things in life we do. Love the green wall, really nice, the entire condo is sharp, good find and choice.

Lissie on 03/01/2012

@Maren - also add a "must not have" e.g. noisy street or poor access. Funny its actually the first time I wrote on this topic!

@Katiem - trust me getting rid of stuff is way LESS time consuming than packing and unpacking it and then getting rid of it! Yeah very happy with the new house

katiem2 on 03/01/2012

Awesome video, very nice. I'm planning my move into a smaller house, although my kids are still younger and have many more years in school this is the time to get things done. We've accumulated so much stuff the process of getting rid of it is very time consuming. I bought such a big house 13 years ago. Oh how I look forward to a much smaller home and less property.

I enjoyed your journey, very well organized and inspiring. Now that the hard work is done I do hope you enjoy every pleasure as you kick back in your new digs. Very nice indeed, oh I can't wait.

MarenEliz on 03/01/2012

Lissie, I really appreciate your sharing your self-examination and analyses. I am considering what I need next and have started a list of features: "Must Have", "Strong Preference," and "Medium Preference.." Like you, I know I NEED a neighborhood with diverse ages and backgrounds. Thanks for this article!

Lissie on 02/29/2012

@Marisa The stuff came out in very good condition considering. The clothing smelt a little musty- so I washed it all - but it wasn't damaged. We had one piece of furniture collapse - it was a cheap unit that appeared to have got a bit damp and was at the bottom - that was the only complete fatality. The scooter needed to be serviced before it started (but we knew that would be the case) - cost about $300 from memory. The books were completely undamaged. We broke some glass on pictures that weren't wrapped properly.

We used a self-storage company as we knew that we may have to come back to get items in and out ( we came back once to retrieve dance gear), that's why we were able to remove part of the junk when we wanted to stage and sell our house. The unit was therefore basically a garage type arrangement. I think it would be better to use a professional storage company if you were in hotter climate because they would, presumably, offer an airconditioned facility - which should solve the potential issue.

Note you must not store any food, paint, solvents, liquids of any kinds. We tossed some garden tools because it was just too hard to clean them and we thought they would cause potential problems.

I know you live in a much warmer climate than I do though!

Lissie on 02/29/2012

@Angel - good luck with the decluttering! Doing it up front really is the best solution - I know it doesn't feel like it now though!

@Brenda - I think its partly because I've always had friends of all ages, and not having kids I have far more in common with people in their 20s with no kids then people of my own age going on about their grand kids (yawn) !

@Shelia - I don't get it, I really don't. Its just stuff. I have somestuff I am emotionally attached to: a couple of dresses of my mother, some old photos , a few pieces of jewellery. That's about it.

That is really not the problem: the problem was: in order of volume: books, so many books, paper my partner hoards records, you only need them for 7 years, preferably scan the lot, clothes, stuff that didn't fit, will never fit again, stuff that just never worked.

Marisa on 02/29/2012

You put everything in a storage unit and left it there for how long? What kind of state was it in when you unpacked it? Did you do anything special to ensure books etc didn't get mildewed?

I ask because we keep debating the idea of moving to the UK for a while, but we know we'd want to come back to Oz eventually. If we go for a year, we might as well go for three or four years - and as houses over there are rented furnished, we won't need to take furniture etc. Our worry has been, can we safely leave stuff in storage for that long? Sounds like you can answer that question!

sheilamarie on 02/29/2012

Getting rid of stuff is so difficult when every piece of junk has emotions attached. But it's liberating not to be so weighted down. Good luck to you in your new home!

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