If You Say You Want to Downsize, Then Do It - Really Downsize.

Written by Posted On Sunday, 09 March 2014 04:04

 As a Realtor®, I get lots of clients who say they want to downsize. These are normally Baby Boomers who are about to retire, or who have retired. In some cases they have already sold their last McMansion and in some that is yet to be done; however, they assure me that they want to downsize and live a more simple life in retirement. Many come to me because they’ve visited Milford and fall in love with the idea of a little place in the Village from which they can walk to downtown. All good stuff, so far.

And then come their requirements for their little retirement home – everything on one level, a gourmet kitchen, a big master bedroom with an in-suite bath and his and hers walk-in closets, two good-size guest bedrooms, two another bath and a half (with tweo sinks in the shared bath) , an open floor plan with maybe a great room or a dining room where they can entertain the whole family, a three car-garage and on it goes. Lost after the first few requirements is any hope of real downsizing.

If I end up showing these folks anything in the Village, the reaction is always the same – “It’s too small. I’ll never be able to get all of my furniture in here.” Well, duh! Isn’t that part of downsizing? You can bring a truckload of furniture from a McMansion that was 3-4,000 Sq Ft and expect to fit it into your new, downsized 1,800 Sq Ft home in the Village. Let’s look at the disconnects.

Most of our Village housing stock, especially within walking distance from downtown was built before 1960, much of it before the turn of the century. You are not going to find many single story historic homes, and the ones you do find will be Prairie-style Bungalow houses. Older homes only had one bathroom (usually on the second floor) and none of them had walk-in closets. The open floor plan concept is a modern one that you will not find in house built before the 1980’s. Kitchens may have been updated, but most of the ones in older homes were much smaller than modern kitchens. First floor bedrooms were unheard of in almost anything other than the small ranches of the 50’s and beyond – some bungalow styles had them.

So what’s the Boomer who wants to downsize to do? Well, first; as Dr. Phil would say – get real! You can’t downsize unless you are willing to give up things. There are tons of articles that have been written about this – here is one from CNBC. You also have to realize that the concept of downsizing is more than just getting rid of things; it is about changing the way that you live your life. Everything must get smaller and more simple. When you get to this stage in life, it is no longer about getting things and having things and finding places to store things. If you aren’t ready to get rid of a whole bunch of the stuff that you’ve accumulated then you aren’t ready to downsize. Here’s another good article, written specifically for the Boomer generation,  from the Denver Post.

Here’s a mental exercise for you. Imagine that everything that you now own has just been moved out onto the driveway for a huge yard sale. What are the 10-20 items that you would rush out to save and drag back into the house? Why? What are the next 20 items that you would want to save? Where would you stop? Anything left in your imaginary garage sale get rid of (maybe have a garage sale). The point is that you can’t downsize and take everything you now own with you. It is possible that this is impossible for you. That’s OK, just admit it and stop saying that you are downsizing. If you are serious, then put most of the McMansion out in the garage sale (or on eBAy) and get rid of it. It won’t fit in your new home.

What about “collectors”? There is a fine line between being a collector and being a hoarder; usually that line is defined by the orderliness of the collected items. So, if you are truly a collector; how do you  deal with downsizing your collections when it’s time to downsize your life? Here’s a good read to help with that. It’s not easy; but, do it now. You may end up making a little off the items that you decide not to hold on to and you will definitely end up with a higher quality and better organized collection. It’s also probably time to start giving consideration to the end game plan for your collection. What do you want to happen to it when you are gone and how can you make that happen? In retirement you’ll have time to check with local museums to see if they would be interested in your collections. If not, you can contact estate sale companies to evaluate your collections for sale. If you don’t make those plans, your treasured collections could end up in the dumpster when the estate is cleaned out later.

Aside from possessions, the next hurdle to get over is the amount of space that you really need in your new home. You may live in a 3-5,000 Sq Ft home now (maybe bigger); but, how much of that space do you really “live in”?  Most people “live” in only 3-4 rooms of their house, no matter how big.  The rest of the house is used for special occasions or when guest come over. Well life has changed and your entertainment needs probably have changed, too. Get real about how much space you really need, outside of the 3-4 rooms that you will live in. Also consider how many times do you think you are going to have overnight guests?

Many Boomers have plans to travel quite a bit in retirement. So, how much home do you really need, if you are planning on being away on trips 30-40% of the time? It may be better to have a nice, small landing spot between trips and save that money for the trips themselves.

Here’s a good site to visit with tips for downsizing - http://www.wikihow.com/Downsize-Your-Home

 And here’s one with advice on cutting stress and simplifying your life - http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/features/cut-stress-simplify-life

 After all, if you started this process because you have retired, who needs stress? The point of most of this is just to say that you’ve got to do more than talk the talk about downsizing and simplifying your life; you’ve got to walk the walk, too. When you’re ready, I’ll try to find you a nice little place to move into in the Village that is close enough so that you can walk downtown for a cup of coffee in the morning or for dinner at night. Just don’t plan on bringing a moving van full of your furniture and stuff with you.

Life after retirement

Maybe one of the things you haven’t done enough of is thinking about your life after retirement. Here’s a good Forbes article to get started with that process. For men in particular just the concept of retirement, of not going to work every day, is fairly daunting. Men tend to base their self-image and identity on their jobs. Here’s a good starting point to explore that thought. For many couples retirement is a difficult transition.  Here’s a link to a good report that you have to sign up to download called “How to Prepare Your Marriage for Retirement”.  

One of the things that you’ll have in retirement is quite valuable – time.  If you want to stay active the opportunities are all around you.  There are way too many local organizations in every community to list here that need volunteer help. If you are still physically able, you could probably keep busy every day of the week working in those organizations. It can be quite satisfying to take on tasks that you haven’t done for years, because you reached management levels in your career were that wasn’t required anymore. Some will even need help with the very knowledge and skills that you just retired from in your last job. Most need help with planning and management and almost all just need people who are willing to put in time working with the public.

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Norm Werner

Norm Werner is a Realtor at the Milford office of Real Estate One serving the southeastern Michigan area of Oakland and Livingston Counties. Norm specializes in residential real estate. Norm lives and works in Milford Michigan and is married to Carolyn Werner. Norm and Carolyn live in a historic home just three blocks from downtown Milford, with their two dogs - Sadie and Skippy. Norm specializes in the historic homes of Milford and the surrounding area and is on the Board of Directors of the Milford Historical Society. Norm especially enjoys working with first time buyers and those at the other end of the real estate spectrum who are downsizing into their retirement home. 

In addition to his Movetomilford.com web site, Norm also owns and m,aintains TheMilfordTeam.com web site, the HuronValleyRealtor.com web site. He is also the webmaster for and the MilfordHistory.org web site and the MilfordCar Show.com web site, as well as his church web site - Spiritdrivenchurch.com. In addition to blogging about real eastate, Norm has a personal blog - NormsMilfordBlog.com - on which he shares inspirational messages and the occasions personal observation about life. 


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