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Empty Nesters, is it Time to Downsize?

September 21, 2021
Older couple laughing while sitting on a couch looking at a laptop

You made it! Whether the kids have gone off to college, started families of their own, or have moved elsewhere to follow their own dreams, you’ve reached that next stage of life where you can focus on you and how you want to spend your time. Oftentimes downsizing your home can be the first step giving you a fresh start for this new phase of life – but is it the right first step for you? From emotional to financial factors, it can be difficult to know where to start when making this decision. While there isn’t a universally defined ‘right’ time that fits everyone, we can walk you through some things to consider to help decide if it’s the ‘right’ time for you.

Older couple fishing off the dock in Heritage Shores in Bridgeville, DE by Brookfield Residential

1. How do I want to live?

Being an empty nester is a chance to give yourself back some of the time you’ve dedicated to your family and career over the years. Before you jump to where you want to live you need to consider how do you want to live. When you think about your free time, how do you envision enjoying it? Do you enjoy working in the garden and taking advantage of the great things you grow? Do you like tinkering on that old car or motorcycle? Maybe you want to travel and explore the world or hit the trails to be closer to nature. Downsizing doesn’t mean downgrading your lifestyle, it means less time spent caring for your home and more time spent doing the things you love.

Older couple walking on a golf course

A new construction home offers the opportunity to modernize your lifestyle with open floor plans, luxurious kitchens, and modern community amenities that you don’t have to maintain yourself. You also have the ability to design and personalize your home exactly as you want instead of taking on a costly home renovation project in your existing space. While it can be stressful dealing with the emotional changes of downsizing, making new friends who may be in a similar life stage can help you adapt to your new settings. The great part about new communities is they offer plenty of opportunities for good neighbors to become great friends. Downsizing can be a great step toward a more relaxed lifestyle once you settle in. The key is to envision living your best life, however that looks to you, and work backwards to figure out how to get there.

Couples dancing at The Mix amenity center at Kissing Tree in San Marcos, TX

2. Where do I want to live?

The next step is to consider not only the physical location of the home but the type of home as well. Do you want to escape suburbia and enjoy a vibrant, downtown lifestyle where you can walk to the latest trendy restaurant? Or do you want to escape the hustle and bustle and find a quiet place where you can sit outdoors with a good book? Make sure to ask yourself the tough questions as well – is it important to stay close to the kids and what does “close” mean to you? Do you want to be in the area where they grew up so they feel at home when they visit or do you want a completely new location that they’ll be excited to explore? The type of home you live in will be dependent on all of those considerations – you’re probably not going to find a spacious ranch house in the city so make sure your ideal location and home type align.

Couple leaving the gym at Brighton Crossings by Brookfield Residential in Denver, CO

Fortunately, many new home communities offer a perfect middle ground – walkable neighborhoods that are close to nearby cities so you can enjoy the best of both worlds. Taking advantage of these types of communities come with a variety of benefits. Instead of driving for your morning brew, walk to your local coffee shop. This increases your level of exercise, keeps you physically active, and improves your health. That morning walk also keeps you socially active. There’s more engagement with your neighbors which can help you feel safer and more involved in the community. Lastly, you’re helping support small businesses. It’s more fun to be a coffee house regular where they know you and your order the minute you walk in instead of being a misspelled name on a cup at one of the big-name chains.

3. Is it financially beneficial to downsize at this time?

Most empty nesters have lived in their current home for at least a decade, if not longer, so there is good profit to be made if you decide to sell. You can then use that money towards a new house, pay off any existing debts, go on that amazing vacation or, depending on the market, maybe all of the above. If you go with a new construction home, the profit you make will stretch even further since it’ll be built more efficiently than older homes. This means you’re paying less to heat and cool your home as well as other ongoing maintenance and upkeep which can add up over time.

Exterior of a home at Kissing Tree by Brookfield Residential in San Marcos, TX

Another way to think about the financial benefits is to consider “what will not moving cost me?” With the kids gone, how much money and energy is being used to heat and cool rooms that aren’t being used? As your current home ages, what will it cost to replace and repair major household systems and appliances? When you add up the cost of replacing items like the roof, HVAC systems, hot water heater, and major appliances, it can get pricey. If you currently maintain your lawn, you need to consider you may reach an age where you can no longer do it yourself and will need to hire someone to help with mowing, leaf blowing, or snow removal.

Cost can be extended beyond price tags. Your time and energy is valuable, so how much of it are you spending on home maintenance, yard upkeep, cleaning, upgrades, replacements, and home improvement projects? In a more efficient new construction home, not only do your monthly maintenance costs decrease, but many communities include exterior yard care giving you more time to do the things you enjoy. It sounds much better to spend the weekend playing with the grandkids than pulling weeds.

Older couple enjoying wine and grapes outside at Heritage Shores by Brookfield Residential

4. What’s my plan for the future, both short-term and long-term?

For many empty nesters, the timing of downsizing can coincide with retirement. You’re still living a full, active lifestyle, now you just have more time for it. When you’re thinking about your home for the future, it’s important to take the time to consider and plan for both now and years from now. Short-term, if your kids will be living with you on their breaks from college, it makes sense to keep space for them that can convert to a general guest space when they’re back at school. In the future, you have space for the grandkids to have a sleepover or room for your favorite hobby like painting, sewing, or yoga.

Sewing hobby room with yarn, thread, and a sewing machine

Envisioning the long-term future is when harder questions arise – will there be a time when an older relative needs your care and to live with you? Are you planning ahead for your own health? Does this home make sense to be the last, or next to last, home you’d like to live in? Many empty nesters place a high importance on a single-level home for accessibility, but don’t want the full maintenance of a ranch style house. Condominiums are a great option as they typically have easy access with elevators, a variety of amenities, and more for all types of lifestyles. Not only do they eliminate the physical and financial toll of exterior maintenance, but you have neighbors close by should you need any immediate assistance.

5. What about all my stuff?

A home, especially a home you’ve owned for years, is full of sentimental items and objects that have special memories. When faced with the idea of downsizing, many empty nesters pass because they can’t imagine saying goodbye to such precious treasures. Instead of viewing downsizing as getting rid of all your sentimental items, think of it as emphasizing the things that are truly important. Don’t try to dive in and tackle it all at once, go room by room and be thoughtful throughout the process so you can feel good about the decisions you’ve made when you reach the end. It’s important to be honest and frank with yourself – does the fondue pot that is still in the box have the same emotional value as your grandmother’s vintage coffee table? Just because the artwork your child made in first grade brings back sentimental memories doesn’t mean you need to keep it. Snap a photo of it, ask if they want it back, and then discard it if they don’t. You still have the artwork and memories that go with it – without the clutter.

Older couple packing and organizing their kitchen goods

Also, don’t hold onto things just because you think your children might want it in the future. Have those conversations now and learn if they want all that china, silverware, crystal glassware, or ornate furniture instead of keeping it “just in case” they do later. Have the kids go through the items you’re considering getting rid of and let them take those things now. Not only is it less stuff for you, but you get the added bonus of seeing them enjoy it now instead of missing it later.

Lastly, use caution if you opt for a storage unit. While they can be great for the items you still use only occasionally – holiday decorations, camping supplies, pool and summer fun – don’t cram it full of stuff you never utilize just to hold on to it. Keep the space organized so you can get to what you need without having to rearrange and pull everything out.

Happy older couple in an autumn park

Deciding when it’s time to move is a personal decision with many factors to consider – lifestyle choices, the housing market, and knowing the real costs of staying or moving. When you’re ready to move forward with a fresh start in the next chapter of your life, contact us to explore Brookfield Residential communities. One of our experienced sales representatives can help you find a new home you’ll love. We’ll be expecting you!

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