What Buyers Should Look for When Downsizing

Use these pointers to make a smooth transition into a smaller space.

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People downsize for a lot of reasons: they retire, get divorced, want to save money or just get tired of maintaining a big space. No matter what’s spurred your decision, here’s how to make a smooth transition:

Location, Location, Location

Even if you don’t have kids (or they’ve already flown the nest), location is still key because the house is an asset. So check out the school district, the taxes, proximity to public transportation, major highways, shopping and dining as you would for any other property.

Consider All Costs

Town homes and condos are attractive if you don’t want to deal with maintenance, but remember to keep the entire cost, including homeowners association fees, in mind. “Associations come at a price, and, like taxes, the price increases fairly frequently,” says Janice B. Leis, associate broker for Prudential Fox & Roach in Philadelphia and Prudential Florida WCI Realty in South Florida. You could get hit with assessment fees when the building undertakes a big renovation project, too.

Ask for association meeting minutes. They’ll give you an idea of how association fees have changed over the last few years, and whether or not any big ticket items are on the planning board.

Plan Ahead

If you’re moving to a smaller space for retirement, think far ahead when looking at potential homes, preferably at homes all on one level. “If it must be a multi-level home, then one with the master suite on the ground floor,” says Molly Shomer, head coach of The Eldercare Team. “This eliminates the need to go up stairs.” The house should have at least one entrance on ground level, and a bathroom that’s either handicap accessible or can be made that way. “As we get older, even if we are in great condition and able to live without any of these conveniences, our friends and visitors may not be so lucky,” says Shomer. “An accessible home works better for everyone.”

Fit Your Stuff to the Space -- and Vice Versa

Start preparing for your move by measuring your furniture to see if it fits, both physically and to the scale of your new home. “Large homes can easily accommodate oversized furnishing, but a smaller space will feel cramped and stuffy,” says Monica Ricci, founder of Atlanta-based Catalyst Organizing Solutions. If you’ve got big pieces, sell them through consignment and use the money toward buying smaller stuff that won’t overwhelm your new square footage.

“If you’re decreasing your space by 50 percent, make it a goal to de-clutter and let go of half your stuff, too,” says Ricci. If you haven’t touched it in two years, it goes. Ditch anything you have in duplicate, and if the kids live elsewhere, tell them it’s time to take their stuff with them, or it goes in the dumpster. Hold a yard sale or donate what you don’t need (and make sure you get donations receipts for tax time).

If you’re not sure how you’ll do in a smaller space, Leis suggests renting for a year or two to see how you like living in cozy quarters. “It is much more costly to make a mistake,” she says. 

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