Downsizing in later life

Downsizing in later lifePic: Getty Images/Stockbyte Silver

For the elderly, what was once a bustling family home can quickly become a burden, with heating, maintenance and other bills causing a problem for many.

Downsizing can be a welcome and positive change for some older people, but it can also be a traumatic experience. If either yourself or relative are planning to make the move, here are some tips on how to do it with the minimum of stress.

Money matters
Nearly half of UK homeowners who plan to sell up in the next three years are planning to downsize, according to recent research from Lloyds Bank.

For many, selling their existing property frees up spare equity to buy somewhere smaller and cheaper, leaving a nice lump sum in the bank.

The average homeowner makes £97,722 by downsizing and as much as £272,000 for those living in London. As long as you are selling your main home you won't have to pay capital gains tax on any profit. While making a little profit is appealing, keen in mind that buying and selling a home (estate agent fees, stamp duty, removals, property survey, renovations) can easily add up to more than £10,000, which will eat into the equity you have left.

Downsizing is often a great option if you're lucky enough to own a big property in London or the South-east and plan to move to a more affordable region. If you're staying in the same location, make sure you do your research into property prices.

Retirement flats and bungalows can be pricier than you thought, especially if there's lots of competition from other people looking to sell up in later life in your area too.

Look into leasehold arrangements for flats (if you don't hold the freehold you will need to be a yearly fee and may need to renew the lease), and be sure to find out about service and maintenance charges.

Most of us prefer to buy but there is always the option of renting instead. That way you wouldn't have to worry about paying for repairs and maintenance and would have a much bigger lump sum in the bank. The only negative is that your rent may go up over the years, and your landlord/landlady might ask you to move which might make you feel insecure as you get older.

Take time to do your research and talk it over with a trusted friend or family member or get advice from a financial advisor. Moving can be stressful enough, so take your time and be sure you're confident about your finances before going ahead.

Plan for the new place
By its very nature, downsizing means there probably won't be enough room for all the furniture and other items you currently have in your new home. If possible, draw up a floor plan of the smaller property to help you decide what you can and cannot accommodate. This will also help you or your relative to imagine life in their new, more manageable house or apartment.

With the plan of your new home in place, it is time to make decisions as to what will go and what will stay. This is no easy task, especially if you have been in your current property for many years, but try to distinguish between those items that are real favourites and those that are rarely used, even if they have some sentimental value. Ask a friend or relative to lend a hand, as this will lighten the load.

If you are helping a parent or elderly relative to move, remember that sorting through possessions can be an emotional experience. Allow them time to remember and talk through some of the stories behind them, as it can be traumatic letting go. It is also important to stay positive though, so try to look forward and keep the experience upbeat.

Saying goodbye to some items may be easier if they can be used or enjoyed by others, so consider recycling or donating to charity shops.

Take time
It is well known that moving is one of the most stressful life events we go through, and for those that have a lifetime of possessions to go through and pack, it can be even tougher. Allowing plenty of time for clearing and packing is a must, so don't leave it all to the last minute. If possible, allot smaller periods of time throughout a week or couple of weeks, or take regular, frequent breaks if you are short on time.

It may seem as though you have a mountain to climb, and as many of us will know, it often appears worse before it gets better, but try to keep the end goal in mind, and congratulate yourself or your relative as each step of the process is completed, even if that's just clearing and packing one room.

Lastly, since moving can be both emotionally and physically hard work, it is important to take care to stay hydrated, well nourished and well rested.

Have your or an elderly relative recently downsized? What advice would you give others making the move? Leave your comments below...