Question: I’m an “empty nester” approaching retirement and considering downsizing. But I’m concerned about what type of housing to choose and what to do with all the furniture and memorabilia I’ve collected over the years. Any suggestions?
Answer: As we get older, there are many reasons to downsize. Sometimes the cost and effort needed to maintain a traditional single-family home can become too much. Tasks such as cleaning gutters and mowing the lawn can make downsizing an appealing option.
However, downsizing also can raise other issues and conflicting emotions for many older adults. Let’s look at some of the pros and cons.
One of the main benefits is saving money. By moving to a smaller residence, you’ll likely have lower heating and cooling costs; insurance and property taxes are often less; and many states offer homestead exemptions which could further reduce property tax liabilities for senior homeowners.
Also, moving from a single-family home to a condo, garden or patio home should eliminate the cost and work involved with exterior maintenance. While you won’t have to cut grass or do other outside chores, you’ll likely pay a monthly maintenance fee to the condo or homeowners association for these services.
Selling your current home is a major financial decision. For many people approaching retirement, their primary residence represents a large portion of their total net worth. Hopefully, selling your home and moving to a less expensive alternative will free up some of your home’s equity to invest and help diversify your portfolio.
Also, in some markets, downsizing can limit exposure in the event of a real estate downturn.
However, there are costs associated with selling a house, namely staging the property for sale, moving fees, real estate commissions and closing costs—all of which usually eat into the profits from the sale. You also might have to buy new furniture to replace your current furnishings if they are too large or too much for your new smaller place – this also can add to the cost of your move.
Then there is reinvestment of proceeds from the sale into another property and, perhaps, adding to savings or acquiring other investment instruments to consider. Additionally, the IRS allows a taxpayer who is selling his/her primary residence to exclude $250,000 or $500,000 if married filing a joint return. You must have owned the home for at least two years and you must have lived in the home for at least two of the last five years.
Besides the financial impact, there are other issues for most homeowners. For example, downsizing usually means de-cluttering and purging possessions accumulated over years, some might have sentimental attachments.
Generally, leaving a home where you’ve lived for years can be emotional. Moving away from a familiar neighborhood can be difficult and you might miss your old neighbors. Also, relocating into a smaller residence you might not have room for family members to stay over or easily host holiday celebrations.
Downsizing or not, think about your lifestyle and future needs to ensure you make the choice that’s right for you. Downsizing might not be the right decision for now. However, it might be more appropriate in the future. Revisit the question every few years to see if you feel differently.