Focus on downsizing: When small is beautiful
Downsizers make up roughly 7pc of the housing market, and while buying a smaller home brings many benefits, it is also an emotional journey. Liadan Hynes asks the experts how to avoid the pitfalls and speaks to three people who have made the move
"People do it for different reasons. One, their house is too big, children have moved out, they may have lost their partner, and they don't need all the space. Two, they need something that's all on ground level. It can have more of an emotional impact than say for the young couple buying their first house or a family upgrading. While that's stressful, it's also exciting."
Historically the long-term average figure for the trading-down market has been approximately 7pc, according to Sherry FitzGerald. Their recent launch of four-bed bungalows in Rokeby Park, Lucan, saw mainly interest from trade-down buyers, while in 2015 their figures indicate that 6pc of their purchasers nationwide were trading down.
"What we're definitely seeing now, particularly in Ballsbridge, is a huge surge in what we're calling eventual buyers," says David Browne, head of New Homes in Savills. "They're buying a property that they will eventually move into in 10 years' time." From their analysis of 50 sales in two high-end schemes in the last 12 months, Savills have found that the trade-down buyer wants a two-bedroom apartment with study, or second living space. "A place where, if the kids come home for Christmas, they can put a sofa bed. But they want a second reception room so if one is watching the match they can go into another room. A lot of them would like the ability, if it's possible, to close off the kitchen." It's something Savills are looking at for future projects.
In their report 'Housing and Ireland's Older Population', published last month, ESRI investigated whether the housing shortage could be alleviated by incentivising older people to move to smaller units, freeing their existing homes up for younger buyers. The response was outrage. But the report did not, in fact, unreservedly endorse the idea of downsizing for older people. The findings included the suggestion that any economic benefits must be offset by the potential risk of social isolation.
Age Action, the charity that campaigns on a national level on behalf of older people, advises a very cautious approach when considering moving away from an established network. "We always tell people to be very careful," says Gerard Scully of Age Action. The potential pitfalls associated with trading-down include loss of social network, and the risk of isolation at home as mobility declines. "The older you get, the harder it is to start a new life. You may be fine this year, but next year you may become ill."
"Physical deterioration is common in the older adult population and can lead to reduced mobility," says Dr McGlade, "and people can end up being quite tied to their house. If in a new area, they may not yet have had a chance to form relationships with their new neighbours and therefore may not have many people calling in. Loneliness is a big issue for older adults these days."
One of the main difficulties facing those who trade down is loss of social network, she explains. "If you think of the generation that this article is speaking to, a lot of them when they moved into their home were young married couples, starting a family. Back then there were a lot more women at home with young children. Speaking to older adults, many talk about the great support their neighbours were in raising their children and how important that sense of community was."
She advises, "Make sure the location you're moving to is one where you will have an easily accessible social network and that you're not solely reliant on your car to get round."
For some older people, retirement is the time to fulfil a long-held desire to move from city to country and a better quality of life. However, it's a move that should be approached with particular caution, with some experts recommending renting in the desired area before actually purchasing.
The dream of a rural idyll can be quite different from the reality and might include isolation, and darkness from four in the afternoon in winter, the lack of a ready-made social network and challenging winter weather conditions.
"We would advise not being too remote," says Sean Carmody of Charles McCarthy estate agents in Skibbereen, "buying on flat ground, along a bus route." Gardens that do not require too much maintenance should also be a priority, he suggests, and choosing to buy near or in a local town that has a year-round population. Baltimore is a seasonal town, he points out, whereas Skibbereen, Bantry and Clonakilty are market towns and remain busy throughout the year.
What other factors minimise the stress of downsizing, or right-sizing as it is sometimes called? Dr McGlade advises making the move before you actually need to do it, when you still have the energy to weather the physical toll it takes and to build up a new social network. Moving before health reasons dictate also means you are not so much at the mercy of the ebb and flow of the market, and can afford to wait out a dip in prices or a lack of supply.
Really planning ahead, and downsizing while your children are still living at home gives the entire family the chance to establish the new residence as a meaningful family home, with all the memories and emotional significance this can carry.
For those looking for a smaller property, it's important to consider that your future needs may involve a ground-floor bedroom and bathroom. Bungalows are ideal but because of their short supply on the market, they tend to sell quickly and at a premium, so the more time you can give yourself to shop around, the better.
When it comes to putting your home on the market, Stephen Day, divisional director at Lisney Residential, advises making your house look as presentable as possible. "Make it look like there's not too much work. The houses that, in general, people are paying a premium for at the moment are in good condition. They don't need to be absolutely wow, but somewhere that people can live in straight away."
Financially, if you are required to take out a mortgage, Michael Dowling, chairman of IBA Mortgage Committee, recommends checking the details of your existing mortgage. "The first thing people should do is to check the terms of their existing mortgage so that they can clear that off if they wish, in full, without penalty." If you have sufficient equity from the sale of your house, still bear in mind the costs of the sale, he points out; stamp duty, solicitor's fees, a structural survey. Further down the line, there may be management fees in the event that you buy an apartment.
Begin the potentially emotional process of downsizing and decluttering your belongings as far in advance of the actual sale as possible, to avoid the proceedings becoming overwhelming. Auctioneers Herman & Wilkinson advise contacting an auctioneer well in advance of the move. Ross O'Sullivan, their auction office manager, says that often they would advise people to rethink some of what they may be planning to sell, particularly if it has sentimental value. A wholesale decluttering of your possessions can be regretted later - and mean the necessity for cheap replacements. O'Sullivan has noticed a huge rise recently in the popularity of compact furniture, better suited to smaller spaces, especially pieces that are multifunctional or can work anywhere in a home. In fact, he says, the price of larger pieces of furniture such as a dresser, say, has fallen to half of what it once fetched, while that of more compact versions has kept its value.
Herman & Wilkinson offer a service whereby they come to the house to advise on what might go to auction, recommend a courier service, and will sell your items in either their weekly sale or over the course of six weekly antique sales.
Choosing to move into a more modern house can be a double-edged sword. New energy regulations mean a warm home that is cheap to run, maintenance is lower and there is usually improved sound-proofing, which can be an issue for those moving from large, roomier accommodation into apartments.
But it is wise to be cautious when kitting out a new house with the latest gadgets and technology. "People may be tempted to go for the most modern appliances," reflects Dr McGlade. "But as we get older, we tend to find it increasingly difficult to learn and remember new tasks or procedures. This is especially true for older adults beginning to develop more significant memory problems. In order to minimise stress, make sure new appliances are simple and easy to use and keep kitchen layouts similar to what you are used to."
Building a new social network is crucial to downsizing successfully. Gerard Scully of Age Action points out that that doesn't necessarily need to mean focusing on retirement groups. Seek out choirs and bridge clubs, and research what a neighbourhood provides in terms of activities that are of interest, rather than merely age appropriate, such as Menssheds.ie. If you have a medical card, investigate whether the local doctor will take you on.
"I know people have suggested that older people can vacate their homes to make way for younger people, but it's not that simple," Gerard Scully of Age Action concludes. "There are huge issues involved."