The Downsize Dilemma

There was a time when retiring automatically resulted in downsizing your property; bungalows, gardening and new hobbies beckoned! But more people are wondering if this is the right option for them. Unlike previous generations, those who are reaching retirement age nowadays don’t necessarily see it as the onset of ‘old age’ or even an opportunity to ‘slow things down’. So they start to question whether they really need the smaller house that usually accompanies a leisurely retirement lifestyle.

If you’re currently sitting on the fence, we’ve asked Cardiff Estate Agents, Thomas H Wood, to take a look at what we’re calling the Downsize Dilemma.


The Case for Downsizing


Retirement is no longer seen as the ‘beginning of the end’ but rather an opportunity to go back to a more carefree lifestyle. With many people reaching a state of financial comfort at an earlier stage in their life, downsizing to an apartment is less a recognition of growing old and more akin to the care-free life they may have lived as a student. In recognition of this, the starting age for many new retirement developments is dropping from the average 60+ to 55 and even younger. In recognition of this a complex in Windsor features a rooftop conservatory, coffee shop and restaurant, and a development in Wiltshire offers “savvy 40- and 50-somethings” a buy-to-let investment until they’re ready to move in.

Farewell mortgage

Downsizing is likely to reduce your monthly mortgage payments, if not eliminate them entirely. Understandably, a lack of mortgage is likely to be accompanied by a certain amount of relief and the lifting of a burden that many people don’t even realise was there. Even if you still have a mortgage, the payments are probably going to be a lot less, which has a direct relationship to your own stress levels!

Hello disposable income

Unlocking the equity you have in your current home, saving money on your mortgage and the reduced upkeep of a smaller house gives you access to extra cash that allows you to splash out on the things you’ve always wanted. A sports car, that once-in-a-lifetime holiday, maybe even some cosmetic surgery, quite frankly after a hard earned career, you deserve it!

Exciting times

Yes, it’s probably going to be a bit stressful to sell and buy a property, but after many years in the same house maybe it’s time for a bit of a shake up? Stepping out of your comfort zone can be an invigorating experience. Be positive and see downsizing as an exciting new chapter in your life.

Small but perfectly formed

Larger homes, especially older properties, need a lot of housework, repairing and TLC. A smaller home takes up less of your time, giving you more to spend on the things you want to do and less on the things you have to do. You’ve also got less space in a smaller house. While that may sound like a negative, it actually gives you the motivation to de-clutter and stops you from making unnecessary purchases.

Things change

The first findings from the government’s National Wellbeing Programme suggested that the highest levels of “life satisfaction” were amongst 65 year old homeowners who were married and in good health. Experian and The Guardian asked people whose children had left home what they perceived as making up “quality of life” when looking for somewhere to retire. Air quality, crime rate, population density, burglary rates, neighbourliness, good health and life expectancy were all important factors. Your priorities change as you ‘grow up’ and the reasons why you moved to your current property, like school catchment areas, might not be relevant anymore.

The Case against Downsizing

Stress, stress and more stress

Going back into the housing market later in life could be compared to attempting a bungee jump at the same age! After divorce, moving home is often described as the second most stressful thing you can do. If you’re retiring, it’s unlikely that you’ve bought a home for quite some time, you’ll be out of practice and out of your depth in a property market that will have changed drastically. Why cause more stress at a time when you should be relaxing more?

Emotional attachment

It’s understandable to have become attached to the home where most of the major events in your life took place. While this shouldn’t stop you from downsizing, if you are a sentimental type it might be worth timing your move so that it doesn’t come right after the children move out! A lot of emphasis is put on being fiscally comfortable before downsizing, but it’s worth remembering that you should be emotionally ready, as well as financially.

Should it stay or should it go?

As we’ve mentioned in the pro-downsizing section, de-cluttering can be a good thing. But moving to a smaller property forces you to discard the things you’ve collected over the years, items that you may not really want to get rid of. If you don’t get rid of it, that could mean the extra expense of storing it somewhere.

Size does matter

Chances are that this particular feeling will pass over time, but it’s fair to say that the home you live in conveys a certain amount of prestige. After all, you’ve worked hard over the years to get there. Yes it might sound shallow, but many people have an initial feeling of inadequacy when they downsize. For many though, the benefits will outweigh this fleeting drop in self-worth!

Whatever you decide to do, your retirement should be a time for you, so choose the option that makes you happiest. As a final thought, it’s interesting to see that Wales featured favourably in research conducted by a retirement income specialist in 2010. Looking for the cheapest places to retire in the UK, they found that Cardiff came top with a cost of living 11.53% less than the UK’s average. The most recent results from the government’s National Wellbeing Programme also found that Pembrokeshire had the UK’s lowest average anxiety and Carmarthenshire had the highest proportion of people rating their anxiety level as 1 or less out of 10.

So if you want a relaxing retirement, it looks like South Wales is as good a place as any!