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Time to Downsize?

The ultimate decision for the retiree and the empty nester


Typically, downsizing from a family residence to a smaller house or condo makes perfect sense for a retiree or empty nester. Choosing to downsize can be beneficial if it is an economical option that suits one’s lifestyle.

Sometimes there are unexpected pitfalls when transitioning into a smaller place because the cost of a new property or condo is underestimated. For some, the expense in real estate fees, legal fees, land-transfer taxes and moving costs can be more than initially thought.

Many downsizers fail to consider extra homeowner association dues and condo fees related with new construction builds, condominiums and apartments. Extra monthly costs can incur if one does not pay attention to what these fees include, even though there are perks with having less upkeep and maintenance. Some retirees rely on their family residence as the primary source of equity, but this can backfire when real estate plummets and the price of a home becomes less than one hoped.

According to Re/Max First Realtor Karina Sunderji, one should consider options before downsizing to ensure a similar standard of living. “What I am finding is that a lot of retirees are not wanting to give up their lifestyle. They want to maintain the life that they have become accustomed to [and] are not willing to give something up in order to downsize.”

There is a strong divide between those looking to downscale in square footage. Many times, retirees and empty nesters are making a lateral move where the price of a new home or condo is not necessarily less expensive than their original home.

“Sometimes when retirees downsize they are moving into something that is equally expensive or more; which might not serve the purpose. They might have to overextend themselves and they might not be saving anything in doing so. We are seeing more of the story where people are modifying their houses, or making it more accessible to make a house more convenient,” explains Sunderji.

A lot of individuals look to downsize if it improves their quality of life. So, when it came to selling their house of 27 years, retired couple Nina and Don Chernichen chose Calbridge Homes’ Villas of Riverstone because of the convenience in maintaining a smaller place compared to their larger home on McKenzie Lake.

“I used to do all the things myself, but I can’t physically do it anymore. There is a lot of work having a big house with a large yard,” says 67-year-old Nina Chernichen.

The couple looked at different areas in Calgary, but chose Cranston’s new Riverstone development because of the parks and pathways connected to Fish Creek.

“Our new place has a smaller backyard close to the riverbank. This villa will be great for us because we can have a decent size place for our dog and the convenience of easy maintenance with having a smaller place,” she adds.

Another benefit to purchasing a villa was the condo maintenance fees were affordable. “The fees cover our cost in snow removal, landscaping, lawn maintenance and exterior insurance which is wonderful. So, when you think about it, this is a plus because our insurance will go down about half and our utility costs will be halved too,” explains Chernichen.

Calgary Real Estate Board (CREB) president David P. Brown suggests there can be benefits in buying an apartment-style complex where condo fees include utilities and maintenance.

“A good Realtor will explain what a condominium fee covers, and a lot of times the homeowner will find out that it covers things they didn’t know like heat, water, sewer and even electrical. The insurance is a fraction of the cost compared to what they had before for both interior and exterior. So, there are a few good savings,” describes Brown.

He recommends downsizers “sit down with a professional and look at what will exactly be right for them because there are a lot of choices out there.”

New communities like Auburn Bay, Mahogany and Currie West Village are becoming popular for retirees and empty nesters. The abundant amenities, shops and pathways are a big draw for those wanting an easy lifestyle option.

When it comes to advice for those looking to downsize, Nina Chernichen suggests, “You have to be ready to do it because downsizing is emotional. But, when it comes down to choosing to move because of health, or to improve your lifestyle, then you know it is the right thing.”

Ultimately, there is no perfect formula for everyone. But the key factor is to both assess individual needs and financial considerations before moving to something smaller. In the end, the decision to downsize is a personal choice that varies for everyone. So the key factor is to determine what is the best fit for your own lifestyle before making any big changes.