Downsizing Into a Smaller Home

Many people want to live at home when they grow older. Often that first means moving into a smaller, more manageable home.

The "Smart House, Livable Community, Your Future" exhibition explores the housing trend of "aging in place" through a display "house of the future" that accommodates the special needs of the elderly. But what about the people who are advancing in age and ready to make a decision about housing now? Downsizing from a family home when people hit their 50s, 60s or 70s doesn't mean they have to relocate to a Twin Cities apartment, townhouse or condominium. A smaller house with only the rooms and key features one really wants can help people remain independent for years to come.

Here are some points to consider when buying a house for downsizing:

Interior. Make a list of the rooms that are really needed or wanted, from their specific purposes to their dimensions and amenities. Think about what rooms might be able to serve a dual purpose, like having an eat-in kitchen instead of having a dining room or a den that can double as a guest room. It might even help to sketch an ideal floor plan.

Exterior. Is a yard necessary? If it is but landscaping and shoveling are issues, consider a housing association that includes them as part of its available services. If not, perhaps an apartment, town home or a condo is truly a good choice.

Remodeling and Repairs. Moving from one home to another, just to put it under construction in order to make it more suitable for habitation sounds like an unappealing hassle. Any home under consideration should be in good condition and require few major changes. To cut down on repairs, buy a new home or at least one not more than five years old.

Health. Considerations for the future should be taken into account. If climbing stairs is getting tougher, look at one-level ranch-style homes rather than multi-level homes. Also consider other things, such as how easy it would be to enter bathtubs and showers in the event someone in the home becomes disabled or wheelchair-bound. Also consider the distance from the house to doctors or medical centers.

Neighbors. Though seniors might not want to live around lots of young families filled with exuberant kids, they might not want to be surrounded just by other older people. Newer, well-planned urban and suburban communities provide different micro-cultures and neighborhood atmosphere. Consider how far away the community is from access to family members and friends, but remember that new friendships will ultimately also be formed with new neighbors.

Activities. Think about how time will be spent when not working. Some new communities include benefits such as nearby shopping, exercise areas and green spaces. Also decide what types of services and cultural centers one would like to live near to make life easier. For example, museums, sports venues, bookstores, restaurants, exercise clubs or places to volunteer.

Weather. We love Minnesota and though we hate to recommend anyone ever leave this great state, when moving is under consideration think seriously about weather. Year-round sunshine sounds nice, but living in these places opens one to the possibility of hurricanes or earthquakes. Likewise, seriously think about whether changing leaf colors and snow during the holidays are things that might be missed.

Finances. If retirement looms, be sure that savings and fixed income can cover the home and all its expenses. Now is a great time to buy because of lower residential real estate prices and historically low interest rates.

Think about what will be given up. Part of downsizing means having fewer furnishings. Selling some items can generate some extra cash for a down payment. Beloved items can be shared with relatives or friends so they can be kept close. Perhaps some things can be donated to a charity for a tax deduction - knowing the items are going to a worthy cause can be quite motivating.

Switching homes as one gets older makes sense for many reasons. First, spending a lot of time traveling at this stage in life can be annoying and moving closer to family, friends or the services we rely on can bring immense relief. Second, downsizing from a larger home to a smaller home after children have left can add to a nest egg. And last but certainly not least, the lower utility, maintenance and tax costs can mean more financial freedom during a time when most are on a fixed income.

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