So far boomers under age 65 have not been downsizing much. What’s keeping the take-to-the-highway Woodstock generation stuck? Lots of factors are making it difficult, some practical and some psychological, but the decision to downsize can be a good one. Here are six steps on how to make the most of less house:
Step 1: Dream, research and strategize.
Data from the National Association of Realtors shows downsizing overall hasn’t gone up significantly, despite the boomer population bulge. The real estate bust, stock market collapse and tighter lending have made it harder to make a move. But there are more tools than ever on the Internet, and more homebuying alternatives to consider in the search.
Tip: Start by dreaming a bit. And think of different scenarios. What matters most? Will you trade low cost for convenience? Do you want the city? A rural life? Don’t lock in on one target too soon.
Step 2: Start downsizing at home.
The whole process of moving can take a long time. Start slimming down as soon as you can. It can be a good mental exercise, too. “Storage is one of the biggest issues,” says Casey Bond, managing editor of GoBankingRates.com and a U.S. News Money blogger. “Each of those decisions to get rid of things is difficult.” Tag sales and eBay auctions can raise cash, and donations make better tax deductions while you’re still salaried.
Tip: Check your overstuffed bookshelves first. Do you still need those dusty college texts?
Step 3: Sell your home before you buy.
Home equity is critical for downsizing. The National Association of Realtors estimates that 80 percent of boomers own homes, and longtime homeowners are more likely to have equity. Banks these days usually aren’t willing to finance another home until you sell. So you will probably need to sell before you buy. “Try actually putting your home on the market early as a test so you can get an idea of what it’s worth,” says Brendon DeSimone, a Zillow real estate expert and blogger.
Tip: Be ready to rent as an interim step
Step 4: Consider real estate agents, and create an Internet presence.
Make your home look its best, from the curb and online. Homebuying has moved to the Internet. “Anyone buying a home will know a lot about your property when they first walk through the door,” says Zillow’s DeSimone, who also works in New York and California as a real estate agent. Don’t neglect making a good online impression. Real estate agents are becoming staging consultants who can help you spruce up for your sale – both online and off.
Tip: Agents interested in your listing are often willing to help with a no-cost consultation.
Step 5: Make a detailed plan based on monthly payments.
People who trade down move to a home worth $27,000 less than the one they sold on average, says Walter Molony, National Association of Realtors’ economic issues specialist. That’s not a huge difference in value. It means savings will come largely from lowering your monthly mortgage payments by using cash from selling your existing home. Other savings can come from reduced property taxes, maintenance and utilities. A detailed, fact-based plan can eliminate future costs.
Tip: Prepare for the long term.
Step 6: Scout locations as the final step.
This is the fun part. With everything else taken care of, you can turn those dreams into reality. Can you afford that Paris flat? What are property taxes in Alaska? How’s winter in Costa Rica? The median move is 71 miles for 65-plus movers. But 25 percent relocate more than 1,000 miles.
Tip: Inexpensive travel and the Internet make it easier to move further away. But DeSimone says the trend for well-traveled, work-wearied boomers is toward smaller, walkable U.S. cities with well-furnished homes, high-speed Internet and accessible services – plus libraries to replace all of those books they dump in the downsizing.