"We're ready to downsize," the Seller said. "Our kids are grown and the house is really too big for us."
As I was reminded this week, life is little more than a series of transitions . . . .
Birth, death, marriage, divorce, and job transfers are the mainstays of a Realtor's practice, but any life change (whether good or bad), are likely to put a move into motion. Make no mistake, moving down can be a tricky, painful, and difficult business, especially if we have lived in a house for decades, accumulating well more than we need, OR more than will comfortably fit into a much smaller abode.
Fear not; you're hardly alone. Many of our clients have walked this road before, which is why good Agents have resources and vendors to cover nearly every eventuality, including estate sales, packing, moving, dumping, and hauling (just to name a few). Just ask and we'll quickly point you to the support you require. (Luckily, there is a professional for everything.)
However, once having made the decision to move, the first step is editing, purging, donating, and dare I say it, tossing what you no longer need, use, or want. Useless extension chords, bursting files, old pots and pans, obsolete electronics, clothes that no longer fit, duplicates of ANYTHING, boxes of books, childhood boardgames, out-of-date medicines, our grown kid's sports equipment (and their trophies), half-dead houseplants, empty clay pots, broken garden tools, and the list goes on and on (and on).
The mistake most downsizers (aka Sellers) make is throwing everything in boxes, believing they'll sort through these outdated items on the other end (you won't), or that your children will want them at some future point (they won't), or that these possessions will eventually gain value (wishful thinking). Instead, your heirs will come up against this Herculean task when you pass . . . and they won't thank you for it.
While upsizing is easy (everyone grows into MORE space with no difficulty), downsizing requires us to hone in on what's truly important, and understand what has real value, as opposed to what is weighing us down. That being said, if a concert Steinway is moving with you to your new home, size definitely matters! You're going to need a place large enough to accommodate the piano and bench. (Fair enough.)
In which case, you may NOT be ready to move 3500 square feet of personal belonging into a 1500 square foot structure. In truth, for many people, moving down doesn't always reflect a smaller footprint, but hopefully, an easier one. Perhaps all-level living with less yard to maintain, or a condo with a view, or a ranch house in Sonoma, or a San Francisco pied-a-terre, or a seaside cottage is actually the solution you desire, and one that makes far more sense than feeling overwhelmed in a too-large house that no longer "fits."
Our move "down" (meaning Cliff and me) required a custom-built garden apartment for Cliff's aging mother, and a house above that still needed to accommodate our boys' visits home, as well as two home offices (so NOT a move down on second thought.) We did, however, give up more than an acre and a half of grounds to maintain, as well as a pool, two outbuildings and a redwood forest that needed constant tending. The next house is likely to be much smaller by far - as will be appropriate. Looking at the next chapter, Cliff and I would rather travel than maintain a large property back home. (In other words, we'll be letting go . . . )
For my sister, her downsizing journey became a hip Jack London Loft, which fits her post-marriage lifestyle efficiently, and oh so stylishly.
However, smaller doesn't necessarily mean "petite" (although it can). Some of our favorite downsizing opportunities still offer gracious proportions, seamless indoor/outdoor living, soaring beamed ceilings, large closets, and loads of natural light. Moreover, today's coveted open floor plans are excellent at expanding living spaces, eschewing dark hallways and separate spaces in favor of rooms that unfold into one another to create more welcoming environments.
So if downsizing is on your horizon, think built-ins, think shelving, think storage, think scaling down, think decluttering, and think about taking only what serves you best. (The rest is just "stuff.") That way, your "smaller" home will be a fresh new start, as opposed to quarters that feel too tight or cramped. In fact, think of this as an opportunity to shed and lighten up; to truly discard all the extras you no longer need or use.
Now, isn't that better? (Yes, it is.)
How can we help you?
On a personal note, Happy Pesach. This year, we'll be setting a glass of wine on the table not only for Elijah, but also for Cliff's mother, Zee, who passed peacefully at 96 years of age earlier this week. Zee's foibles were featured often in my essays, and not only made for excellent literary jumping-off points, but she was an exceedingly good sport about it. (It probably helped that she rarely read "The Perspective.") A fiercely independent and courageous spirit to the very end, a woman with a keen sense of humor and tremendous style, AND the consummate Jewish matriarch in our family, Zee will be remembered and missed. . .
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 18 years and has published more than 670 essays on life and real estate.