Your Complete Guide to Downsizing for Retirement: 14 Tips for a Happily Ever After

The decision to relocate for retirement can be an emotional roller coaster, hugely exciting and a massive financial event.  While some people buy bigger, grander or more expensive retirement homes, downsizing for retirement is the savvy strategy — especially for those of us who have not quite saved enough for our golden years.

downsizing for retirement

Here are 14 tips for successfully downsizing for retirement. Relocate for a profitable, comfortable and happily ever after!

1. Understand Your Goals for Downsizing for Retirement

Before you even think about where you might move, establish goals for downsizing.  You probably want to have two goals:

Your financial goal: How much money do you want to release from equity or save every month on mortgage payments.

Your lifestyle goal: What is important to you about this move?  Friends, family, healthcare and senior services, weather, activities, amenities, etc…

Keep these goals in mind at every stage of your relocation and stick to them.

2. When is the Best Time for You to Downsize?

Timing is everything. However, there are a lot of factors to consider: housing values, the strength of the real estate market, interest rates, and — of course — your lifestyle goals.

If you are downsizing early on in your retirement, then you will want to be careful to manage your money for the long haul.  Delaying downsizing can usually help preserve your wealth.

Compare different relocation dates in the retirement calculator and see which is best for your finances.

3. Where Are You Going? What Kind of Home?

You can downsize across town or to the other side of the globe. You may want to look at the best places to retire lists.  There are lists for anyone and everyone: best weather, best medical care, best for hippies, cheapest places to retire and more…

And, you have so many different options for the kind of home you will live in: a smaller house, a tiny house, an apartment, house boat, RV, a less expensive community with bigger homes, senior living center or over 50 communities and more…

4. Retirement’s Big 3: Travel, Grandkids and Leisure

In retirement, one or all of these 3 things are usually important to happiness: travel, grandkids and leisure activities.

When downsizing, you really want to make sure that you think through how the move will impact these “big 3.”

  • Travel:  Will downsizing enable you to afford to travel?  Are you near an affordable airport if flying is in your future? Have you considered renting out your home to help you pay for trips?  What is the rental market like where you are moving?
  • Grandchildren:  So many people opt to stay in the family’s long time home because they want their grandchildren to experience what their own children experienced.  However, grand kids don’t always experience the family home in the way you think they will — if at all (depending on where they live). If you are committed to moving, have you considered how the new location will impact the kids and grandkids? Will you have room for everyone to visit?
  • Leisure: Think about what you like to do.  Make sure wherever you live affords you those opportunities.

5. Be Realistic About Real Estate Costs

Buying and selling homes can be expensive and volatile endeavors.

Selling Your Home: Talk to a few different real estate agents.  Find out how each one would approach the sale.  What — if anything — do you need to do to get the best possible price (painting, repairs, staging, other)?  How would they price your home and why.  How does their proposed asking price differ from what they think will be the actual sales price.

See if you can negotiate the commission of the agent who will be helping you sell your home.

Buying Your Home: Too often we underestimate how much it costs to buy the home we really want.  Research your options carefully.

There are tons of online home search options that can help you get an idea about what is available.  However, there is no substitution for talking with an experienced real estate agent and touring houses yourself.

Have You Considered Renting?: Buying and owning a home can be expensive: down payments, closing costs, taxes, insurance, maintenance and upkeep are significant costs.  It may be cheaper for you to rent and renting keeps all of your home equity available for monthly cash flow.

6. Make Downsizing Part of Your Overall Retirement Plan

Housing is one of the biggest levers you have for achieving a secure retirement.  For most people, their home is more valuable than their retirement savings.

As such, you want to make sure that you have a retirement plan that enables you to model your downsizing options.

The NewRetirement retirement calculator let’s you try out different relocation possibilities and immediately see how it impacts your finances now and into the future.  You can model downsizing now or at some point in the future.  You can also change your monthly expenses for different time periods in retirement.

7. Visualize Your Future Retirement Life — Better Yet, Spend Significant Time Trying it On!

The more real you can make your future move ahead of it actually happening, the more successful you are likely to be.

Imagine what your new life will be like.  Think about all the different things you like to do and imagine doing those things in your new location.

Better yet, spend an extended vacation where you think you would like to move.  If you don’t absolutely love it, don’t be afraid to switch plans.  Can’t afford this kind of vacation?  Can you arrange a house swap?  Or, could you do a short term rental on your current home while you are trying on your new destination?

8. Compare Maintenance Costs

When making a downsizing for retirement decision, you will want to look at total home ownership costs. If you are downsizing to save money, you need to be careful about your decision making.

Besides the value of your home, you will want to compare all of the other costs associated with where you are now to where you want to be:

  • Insurance: Insurance costs can vary significantly based on location.  For example, if you are moving to the coast, watch out for flood insurance.
  • Utilities: Talk to your real estate agent about average costs for heating, cooling and all other types of utilities.  Compare those to what you are currently paying.
  • Maintenance: A smaller home will usually cost less in maintenance, but not always.  A good real estate agent should be able to help you anticipate these costs.

9. How Will Your Overall Cost of Living Change?

You probably don’t want to move to a much smaller house only to find that everything else costs a lot more.

CNN has a cost of living calculator. It allows you to compare your current town to where you want to move and see how your spending would change for: transportation, groceries, utilities and healthcare.

Beyond housing, healthcare and transportation are what will cost you the most in retirement.  And, healthcare deserves special mention as the availability of healthcare is not even across the United States or World.

10. Have You Considered Taxes?

If you are moving out of state, you’ll want to compare your current tax situation to the place you will be downsizing for retirement.  A few things to think about:

  • State Taxes: State taxes — both income and sales — can be a considerable factor. Here is a list of the best states for retirement taxes.
  • Write Offs: If you have an outstanding mortgage on your existing home, you are probably getting a tax break on those costs.
  • Tax Free Boost to Savings: Buying a less expensive home can give your retirement savings a tax free boost.  When you sell your primary residence, up to $500,000 of capital gains for married couples filing jointly, or $250,000 for individual filers, is tax free. For more information, see I.R.S. Tax Topic 701.

11. Explore Alternatives

Downsizing for retirement is not the only way to save money on housing.

Get Creative: If you like your current lifestyle, you might want to explore renting out a room in your existing home.  Or, is there a way for you to turn a garage or other space into a studio apartment? Renting out your entire home when you travel might be another option.

Reverse Mortgages: If you want to stay in your existing home, but need to improve your finances, a reverse mortgage may be a good option for you.

12. Think About Downsizing Belongings — Not Just the Size or Cost of the Home

For better or worse, many of us get attached to things. One of the most difficult aspects of moving — especially downsizing — is sorting through your possessions and paring down what you own.

A few tips for this difficult task:

  • Start thinning out your possessions at least three months before you move.  Do not underestimate the magnitude of this task.
  • Try reading the best seller, “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.”  The basic philosophy of the book is that you should only keep things that genuinely make you happy.  Everything else MUST go.
  • Involve your kids or friends.  They may be able to help you make decisions.
  • Consider hiring an organizational expert.
  • Do not move something you aren’t SURE you want to keep.

13. Plan for Developing New Routines in Your New Location

One of the biggest complaints people have about retirement is that they miss a regular routine — the way having somewhere to go every day organized their lives.

This can be compounded when you move to a new location — everything is new.  Therefore, it is important for you to develop new routines as soon as possible when you move.  Set up a regular coffee date, join clubs or volunteer.

14. Watch Your Budget Closely

You may have planned your move carefully, but watch your budget closely in the first few months after you move.  You may be surprised by what you are actually spending.

Be sure to update your retirement plan after a few months in your new location.  Compare what you predicted you would spend to what you are actually spending after downsizing for retirement.

See how downsizing will impact your retirement plan



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