How do you know when it is time to downsize?

Moving from the home you raised your children in – or one similar to it – is often difficult for people to get their heads around. With so much history attached to a house, it is hard to know when to move on.

Downsizing, and how and when you should do it is a complicated beast. There are a lot of things to consider: finances, your health, location, lifestyle, family and friends. Many don’t know when to start thinking about downsizing and they find the process daunting. Despite all this, most people do reach a stage where they feel the need to move to a smaller house – or to an apartment. This was certainly the case for Dianne and Jack Birmingham who sold the house they built in Gilston to move to the Vantage Gold Coast Development in Carrara just over a year ago.

How do you know when it is time to downsize?
The Birmingham’s house in Gilston, Gold Coast.

“It was a very difficult decision for us,” Dianne told PropertyMash. “We had a four-bedroom Queenslander set on one acre. It had vaulted ceilings and sliding doors to the garden which gave it a real tropical feel – we loved it – but as we got older it was getting harder for us to maintain both the house and the garden.”

Having been married for almost 50 years, raising three children and now enjoying spending time in the house with their five grandchildren, the Birminghams felt a very strong connection to the home they had built.

“One of the most difficult things was looking around at the furniture and belongings we had accumulated over the years and deciding what to let go,” said Dianne. “You don’t realise you have such a sentimental attachment to furniture. You are tired of looking at it after ten years in the same spot, but then when you are without it, you miss it a little bit.”

Dianne and Jack chose a two-bedroom apartment, but if they could give other downsizers any advice, it would be to choose a slightly bigger property.

“Two bedrooms is too small,” said Dianne. “If you are used to a bigger house with a yard, and you can afford it, definitely get three bedrooms. It just gives you a bit more space.”

How do you know when it is time to downsize?
Dianne and Jack Birmingham enjoying the Gold Coast.

Having lived in the new apartment for just over a year the Birminghams are adjusting to apartment living and said they have already started to notice the health benefits of downsizing.

“We are not as tired anymore – Jack has bad knees and it was a lot of work with the mowing and whipper snippering – and even just walking up and down in a big house,” said Dianne. With Dianne nearing 70 and Jack nearing 80, the yard work was a big drain on their energy. “We can also walk to a lot of places from the new apartment, whereas we had to drive everywhere when we lived on acreage.”

One thing Dianne says she would give more thought to if they were to do it again would be the interior design of the apartments and the final look and feel of the building.

“I don’t quite feel at home here yet,” Dianne told PropertyMash. “When you are country people moving to an apartment you should definitely consider the entryway to make sure it is welcoming. Style is such a personal thing, but the only thing about the Dusk building that we live in is that it has black carpets and a black solid entry door. This is probably reassuring for people concerned about security, but we haven’t ever been worried, and would have preferred a more welcoming entrance way with lighter finish and maybe glass in the door for natural light.”

The major drawcard for the Birminghams, and in the end the deciding factor in the downsize, was the location of the property they found. Jack grew up on the family farm on Carrara Hill, just alongside what is now Birmingham Road, and the new apartment looks out over the old farmland.

“Adjusting to the downsize is just a bit of a mindset, you have to get used to it. As you get older you just have to sort out your priorities for the next 10-20 years. It really depends what is motivating you to move. It can be a bit sad, but you have to move forward and look at the bright side.”

Overall, Dianne says they are glad they downsized when they did because it was a big job to move and if they had left it longer, or if something went wrong with their health in a serious fashion, they might not have been able to manage the big clear out and amount of organisation and energy it takes.

“It is hard to know if you have made the right choice. It is very hard when you are used to being house proud and having a well-maintained garden to move to somewhere smaller with less space. But, we have made a lot of friends, and the people we’ve met have come off acreage themselves, so we are not alone in that, and we have a lot in common with them,” said Dianne.

“They are lovely people and we socialise with them a lot. When you are in touch with other people from acreage it makes you feel entirely different, it is just like catching up with an old friend. It helps you settle in. We are only one year in and hopefully by next year it will come around to feeling more and more like home.”

So, how do you know when the time is right for you? Here are five things to ask yourself when considering downsizing…

Do I still need the space?
Having children, starting your own business, owning pets – they all take space. They are all rewarding and exciting, but they aren’t the most compact of adventures. There will come a point where you no longer need that space. You don’t need the spare room, because your last child just moved out. Now you’ve got two spare rooms, and they’re just filling with clutter. A large house and garden can be time-consuming and expensive to maintain and with one or two people in the house, maybe a smaller space would be more rewarding.

Do I need the extra money?
After slogging away to pay off that mortgage for the last few decades, maybe it is time to cash in. By downsizing you could free up some money tied up in your family home for other things like travelling and new hobbies.

Do I still want to live here?
With the family grown up and moved on, maybe it is time for a change of scenery. Some people dream of retiring to the ocean, the convenience of inner-city living, or conversly moving out to a more rural suburb. Whether you want views of the Pacific Ocean or to be within walking distance of your favourite country village, one of the benefits of downsizing is that you can choose a new location.

What do I want from my retirement?
Ah yes, retiring. Although the goal may seem like it’s getting further and further away for the next generation, for you, it’s right around the corner. When you get ready to retire, you’re looking at your finances and lifestyle, including your home and where you want to be living. Living in a house may no longer be the best option. However, downsizing doesn’t have to mean losing out on your current lifestyle and could even improve it. With all the property options available on the Gold Coast and in Brisbane, there is a property to suit everyone.

Am I ready?
This is a question only you can answer. Yes, moving from your family home to a townhouse or apartment will require some adjustment, but at some point, the benefits will outweigh the drawbacks and that is when you know it is the right time to move on.

Written: 19 June 2018, Updated: 6 April 2020

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