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'Right-sizing' rather than downsizing

Andrew Winter has some sound advice on how to ‘right-size’ your life. Leaving the family home is often daunting and emotional, but the pay-off can be financial freedom.

 

Andrew Winter, the presenter of both the British and Australian Selling Houses TV series, has become an expert on downsizing — particularly in Australia. After hosting the Lendlease Talking Retirement Living event series last year, we sat down with him for a chat, he was focused and full of ideas on downsizing. Or ‘right-sizing’ as he calls it.  

Andrew started by explaining the main reasons for thinking about making the change: “Usually your house has outgrown its usefulness. The kids might have left home and you’re in a big house that you no longer need. The bedrooms are being used for storage rather than anything else. The upkeep of a big house like that can be more expensive than necessary — perhaps with big gardens requiring maintenance.” 

And, of course, you’re sitting on capital or equity — cash, in other words — that is waiting for you to make the most of it!  

The biggest barrier to releasing that cash though, is usually the emotional and overwhelming thoughts about leaving your property. Andrew does an exercise at the Talking Retirement Living events in which he asks people to raise their hands if they’ve lived in their home for more than 10 years. Most hands go up. Most stay up for ‘over 20 years’ and ‘over 30 years’. And there are still quite a few hands in the air for ‘over 40 years’ and ‘over 50 years’.  

That’s a lot of memories. And often a lot of clutter. Andrew has pragmatic advice regarding both.  

“You’re going to have memories attached to a lot of your possessions, so take pictures of them, create a hardback book with all of the pictures,” he says. “Keep that book on the coffee table of your new place. Then when someone comes around and says, ‘remember that old table’, you can flick through the book and show them.” 


He gently warns that children can exert a certain amount of pressure when it comes to keeping those memories alive. If they’ve grown up in the family home, then they might not be the best people to ask for positive advice on moving. But somewhere to congregate at Christmas and a bunch of memories is not reason enough to stay in a house you no longer need. 

The overwhelming thought of moving and getting rid of stuff is the other daunting prospect. Minimalism is rarely embraced.  

Again, Andrew’s advice is practical: “Take it slowly, and do things methodically. Clear a room at a time and do it over a period of say six months. While you’re looking around at retirement villages, start preparing. And there are actually services that will help you do the whole thing — give advice, help with packing, selling, disposing, whatever you need.” Andrew advises that you plan and budget in advance. There will be some stress, but it can be minimised by working through all the costs of moving and disposing of your clutter in advance.  

You can also prepare your property for sale at the same time: update the garden, fix anything that’s broken and do any odd jobs, perhaps even some painting and decorating. A small investment before selling can pay dividends on auction day.  

The upside of all this can be complete financial freedom for the rest of your life. No mortgage, a top-up of savings and superannuation with tax benefits, and perhaps even a beautiful, relaxing cruise to somewhere exotic once the move is complete. Yes, there are monthly fees attached to your new retirement home, but as Andrew explains, it’s worth comparing it to owning your home.  

“Add up your rates and other living expenses related to owning a home and see how they compare,” he says. “They’ll be nowhere near as cheap or fixed and reliable.”  


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Once the move is complete, it may not be the huge life change you expected, says Andrew. “Most people wake up on the first morning in their new place, and it all feels completely normal.” Maybe even ‘right-sized’.