Why some boomers now regret downsizing

Years ago, Tracy Beckerman moved from New York City to the suburbs of New Jersey with her husband to raise her two children. But when the children grew up and left the nest, her husband urged her to return to the city.

“He’s a musician and he works in the city,” Beckerman says. “Over the years we had dreamed of going back, renting an apartment and having the discretionary income to participate in all the great restaurants, music and entertainment that the city could offer.”

So they sold the family home and reduced the size to a small apartment on the 43rd floor of a large tower. At first, city life was all they had hoped it would be. And then the pandemic hit and the public health authorities advised people to avoid public spaces.

“I felt like a prisoner in the apartment,” Beckerman says. “We live in a 57-story building and I panicked when we took the elevator and not everyone was masked. After all the years we talked about how fun it would be, I didn’t anticipate the inconvenience of living in a big city. I certainly would not have imagined living in a pandemic. If we had known what would happen, I would never have sold my house. “

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Empty nests and size reduction

Many people buy a house when their children are young because they want more space and maybe a playground. So when these kids become adults and move in, downsizing to a smaller home makes sense.

“Older, older homes can be difficult and expensive to maintain,” says Amanda Pendleton of Zillow Z.
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Trends in the home. “Let’s say your retirement plans include a lot of travel. It’s harder to close and leave a bigger, older house for months at a time without worrying about potential issues like freezing pipes during the winter or the covered landscape. “.

In any case, the fewer people living in your home, the smaller the house should be. “Regardless of the size of your home, older adults only end up using a small portion of their space, maybe 500 square feet, daily,” says Matt Paxton, a dimension reduction and cleaning expert and presenter of Legacy List with Matt. Paxton “.

Long-time homeowners can see that their home has increased in value substantially, giving them a chance to make a living if they sell in the current market. “They can use those capital gains and have a big nest egg for retirement, travel, or buying a smaller home that may have more desirable features or be in a more desirable location,” Pendleton explains.

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The COVID pandemic shook the equation

However, the COVID-19 pandemic, now in its third year, has led many people aged 50 and over, such as Beckerman, to re-evaluate their next chapter.

The usual reasons for moving or downsizing once children have grown up have become less compelling. For example:

Need less space. “Zillow’s research found that nearly three million young adults moved home during the first months of the pandemic,” says Pendleton. “This probably delayed plans to reduce the size of some old empty nests, which suddenly had a full house again.” Although life is slowly returning to normal, many people are no longer sure that they want to shrink, given the uncertainty of life.

Easier scrolling. Although Beckerman’s husband has continued to work in the city, other people’s jobs have become remote and can continue to do so. This eliminates the shifts in the equation about whether to stay or sell. “The ability to work remotely has allowed some older workers to move to a more affordable location or downsize,” explains Pendleton. “These housing savings have helped them retire earlier than expected.”

Lifestyle changes. The pandemic forced people to examine their lives, their interests, and redefine what is important to them. For example, if you’ve spent the last few years separated from your loved ones, you may realize that it’s time to get closer to your friends and family. Or you may have thought that your next move was to an apartment like the Beckermans did, but now you’re wondering if a large building will feel confined or if you miss having a garden of your own.

“Even before the pandemic, the downsizing was declining for empty nests,” says Jessica Lautz, vice president of demographics and behavioral knowledge at the National Association of Realtors. “Instead, many (people) are looking to keep a few square feet so that they can still have space for their adult children to stay on vacation. They are negotiating for a comparable size in more affordable neighborhoods or small towns that are good for retirees. they sell old houses in favor of new and turnkey properties “.

Jody Halstead, 51, of Ankeny, Iowa, thought it would reduce her size, but now she plans to stay so she can make room for her adult children.

“Wind jobs and the cost of living, I wonder if my (current) teens will be able to afford to move,” she explains. “It might be smarter for us to keep our big house and turn the basement into an apartment space when they can pay the rent.”

Paxton’s mother-in-law, Cecelia, decided to sell her house and use the money to travel. But she wasn’t sure where she wanted to move, until Paxton suggested that she live with her mixed family of six boys under the age of 14 and a 16-year-old girl. He built a small apartment with an entrance at the back of his house.

“After the pandemic, she wanted to be closer to her grandchildren,” Paxton says of his mother-in-law. “This option offers your closeness to the family and your independence, and you can use the capital from the sale of your home to travel.”

As for Beckerman, she and her husband moved out of town and bought a lake house in New Jersey. Instead of shrinking like an empty nest, they became a bigger house than the one where they raised their children.

“I felt sad when we sold the family home; it was the last goodbye of my time as a full-time mother, “says Beckerman, who writes humorous books about life in the suburbs.” I thought the city would be like living a fantasy, but in the end it didn’t go well for us.

“Instead, we’ve found this house that needs a lot of work (and) it turns out that restoring the house is just the elevator I needed at this point in my life,” he says. “A bigger house means we can entertain and welcome our adult children and their spouses; I look forward to hosting my daughter’s rehearsal dinner at home later this year. “

More: “This Will Not Just Go Away”: Long COVID is Breaking Many Americans’ Retirement Hopes

Here’s how to prepare it, even if you’re not sure

If you think you might want to move in the next two or five years (though you’re not sure where you want to go), you can do the following to prepare:

Put your finances in order. Pendleton says that if necessary, take steps to increase your credit score and understand how much you can afford. This is especially important if you plan to have a fixed income during retirement and will need a mortgage for your next home.

Clean a little at a time. Start small, one drawer at a time. “It took 50 years to put all this stuff together, so it will take more than a weekend to clean it up,” Paxton advises. Also, do not view your home as a storage unit. “It’s time to tell your adult kids to take their stuff and purge the old art and Legos projects you’ve endured for 30 years,” she says.

Attention to the real estate market. “Stay tuned for new listings in your neighborhood to see what they sell for, especially homes that might be considered comparable to yours,” says Pendleton. Also, research real estate in areas where you might consider buying a new home.

Consider the cost versus the value of home improvement. Homes need to be maintained well, but no upgrades may be needed, such as remodeling a kitchen. “Improvements such as hardwood flooring or painting are usually cost-effective,” says Lautz. “But other projects, such as putting up a pool, can bring joy, but not increase the value of your home when it comes to selling.” Before making any major investments, consult a local real estate agent.

Think about your future needs. “Older Americans are healthier. They live longer and want to enjoy their golden years,” says Pendleton. Consider things like the weather, being close to family, and accessibility (such as a master bedroom on the first floor or a few down stairs) when moving into a new home.

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Randi Mazzella is a freelance writer specializing in a wide range of topics, from parenting to pop culture and life after the age of 50. She is a mother of three and lives in New Jersey with her husband and teenage son. Read more of his work at randimazzella.com.

This article is reprinted with permission from NextAvenue.org© 2022 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

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