My experience indicates there are two times in the lives of many seniors when downsizing is most likely to be considered. The first occurs in one’s late 50s or 60s after the kids have left home and the second in one’s late 70s or 80s when care needs may dictate a move to a more manageable setting with greater options for care and support. The first move may start with or incorporate a second home or may only involve a move of a primary residence.
Thanks to the creativity of America’s homebuilding and seniors housing and care industries and the substantial buying power of affluent seniors there are a wide array of housing and location choices for seniors to consider. In this blog post I focus on the first downsizing move, that undertaken by many in their late 50s or 60s. See the section of this blog on seniors housing and care for a discussion of moves to supportive environments at a later age.
Let me start with my own downsizing decision. When I was 55, and my wife a year younger, we moved to a 2,700 sq. ft. three bedroom condominium from our 3,300+ sq. ft., cedar shake, four bedroom home in a well established neighborhood where we had lived for over 12 years and raised our son. Our decision to downsize was driven by my belief that there would be strong demand from baby boomers as they aged for well-located condominiums and we it would be better to buy ours before competition from other boomers increased prices.
The condominium we selected is in a mid-century modern highrise building designed by Mies van der Rohe. We found our downsized home after a about a year of looking for a condominium and a couple attempts at bidding. It took this long for us to understand our options and think through the location and environment we wanted. We looked at both townhouse type and multi-story condominium units in a variety of neighborhoods.
When we began looking for a smaller home in the Baltimore market we found that while 1,500 to 2,000 sq. ft. two bedroom condos are very prevalent there are relatively few large units better suited to baby boomers downsizing from a single family home. Our key criteria for a downsized home included:
- Having everything on one floor
- Three bedrooms, one for us, one for a guest room and one for an office
- An accessible location, near restaurants, medical care and public transportation
- Enough space to entertain
- Covered parking
In the end there were relatively few units that met all of our criteria. We could choose between a number of high-rise buildings near the established neighborhoods where we had lived for many years and new and converted buildings on or near the waterfront in downtown Baltimore. We also found some very nice detached and luxury townhouse units but some of these were bigger than we needed and were not in accessible locations. We opted for a multi-story condominium building closer to the established neighborhood where we previously lived rather than a building near the water because it was closer to friends and, while the water was nice, it came with about a 50% price premium for a unit of similar size.
The building we choose offers one story living, has a doorman who can deliver your groceries, dry cleaning and packages, is on a bus line and is walking distance to restaurants, some shops and The Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood campus with its library, book store, cultural and sporting events and green space. It is a home where we should be able to live for many years, even if we become less mobile or have to give up driving.
Mistakes, from my perspective, I see others making in downsizing include choosing:
- Multi-story townhouses when the ability to negotiate stairs could become an issue in future years, if even for temporary periods
- Locations where no public transit or even decent cab or ride service options, like Uber or Lyft, exist
- Locations remote from family, friends, social and cultural activities and medical care
- Designs poorly adapted to aging even when offering first floor master bedrooms, such as laundry rooms on another floor or just enough stairs to make the home inaccessible for wheelchairs without expensive and unsightly renovations
Even though baby boomers in their 50s and 60s may be in very good health, able to drive and have few cares about temporary or ongoing physical limitations, I would not purchase a downsized-home in which it may be difficult to age with but I welcome your views.