AARP Eye Center
Getting older involves lots of decisions — including whether you have the time and inclination to take care of a house that’s been aging right alongside you. The question becomes: Do you downsize or renovate and age in place?
Kathy Wolf and her husband, Stephen, have yet to reach an answer.
“We talk about it all the time,” says Wolf, 68, a library manager in Irondequoit, New York. “Should we stay or should we go? We keep going around and around.”
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They both love the two-story, 2,400-square-foot house they’ve shared for 30 years, as well as their walkable, close-knit neighborhood. But they recognize that neither one could manage the home alone.
National downsizing expert Matt Paxton has been witness to this decision loop for two decades. He sees firsthand how difficult it can be to make changes to familiar abodes, whether that means modifying or moving out.
At the same time, he has noticed the trend of aging adults taking greater control over their situation than their parents did.
“I’m seeing a different vibe of empowerment,” says Paxton, host of the Daytime Emmy–nominated Legacy List With Matt Paxton, a PBS series about the heirlooms and memories attached to our homes. Homeowners are “saying, ‘No, I’m not going to leave this to my kids. I’m going to make decisions now.’ It’s a cool, positive switch,” Paxton says.
The upsides of downsizing
Before you can make the choice to sell and move out of your house, you need to focus on one question: “What do you really want?” Paxton asks. “To be closer to your grandkids, better health care, a new girlfriend at age 75? You need to have a plan. I cannot stress this enough.”
Only after you’ve answered this question should you turn to the finances. If saving money is a priority, downsizing can help meet that objective if you move into a smaller house, one that already features friendly accommodations for older adults or includes lawn service, for example, in the homeowner association dues. You also stand to save time on upkeep and maintenance.
Let the numbers help take emotion out of the equation by making a spreadsheet. Include information about where you might want to move and how much that move will cost. “Then go on site visits, just like people do when choosing a college,” Paxton suggests.