Downsizing wasn’t exactly a choice for Mary Middleton. When the 67-year-old retired from her job as a registered nurse in October of 2013, she quickly realized she wasn’t comfortable paying the mortgage on her three-bedroom, two-bathroom, split-level home with a double garage. Middleton says, “I felt that I could no longer afford to stay in my own home and that I’d have to look for something smaller.”
At the time, she was living in Breezy Point, Minn., about 20 miles north of Brainerd. As she looked for something less expensive in her immediate area, it became apparent she would have to think smaller. And even after she admitted she’d have to downsize, the places were cramped, too expensive, or wouldn’t accommodate her beloved springer spaniel, Sadie. After several months of coming up empty-handed, Middleton started to wonder what her options would be.Local realtor Holly Smith of Remax Realty knows all about the realities of downsizing and the hard choices that have to be made. In her experience working in the F-M area, Smith comes across all sorts of situations and has to be a resource for what’s best for her clients. Smith says, “Each person or family tends to make the decision to downsize when they are facing a lifestyle change, whether it be for good reasons or unfortunate circumstances. Most of the time, people are looking to simplify their home life by eliminating the amount of house and yard work that come with single-family home ownership.”And for Middleton, it was not an ideal circumstance. Middleton’s daughter, Ashley Peterson, who had been living in Fargo for many years, suggested she think about making the move to the F-M area and offered to do some legwork in finding a place. “Ashley and her husband, Chad, were very supportive of me moving to Fargo, but I knew it would be a big adjustment,” says Middleton. It was one thing to leave her home in favor of a smaller space and a lower monthly payment, but it was with mixed feelings she considered the move west.“I had to weigh the options,” Middleton recalls. “I’ve always been independent and able to stand on my own, but part of me never really got over my kids moving away.” The thought of being only a few blocks away from her daughter and 5-year-old granddaughter seemed like a fair tradeoff.
Middleton only had a few requirements: She needed a guest room to accommodate her visiting friends and family (her other daughter lives in Colorado with her husband and son); she wanted everything on one level; it had to allow for Sadie, including a fenced yard; and she wanted a small area where she could plant flowers. “I have to have my flowers,” says Middleton, who is an avid gardener.
After searching tirelessly, Peterson found her mother a two-bedroom, one-bathroom duplex with a fenced yard. She and her husband made some minor renovations to make it as homey and comfortable as possible for Middleton. “Ashley worked so hard on the place. It’s absolutely perfect. I moved in sight unseen and she made it into such a wonderful home for me.” As for Sadie, Middleton says, “I have such great neighbors and their dog and Sadie get along so well. It couldn’t be better.”
Although Middleton’s experience has gone fairly smoothly, the emotional transition was still tough. “It was bittersweet,” she says. “I knew I would be moving closer to Ashley and her family, but I was leaving behind so many friends, my home, memories.” The adjustment to living in Fargo was also something she didn’t expect. In Breezy Point, she’d been almost entirely out in the woods, so the sounds of the neighborhood, the streetlights, and the traffic made for some sleepless nights at first. “I’m used to it now, but it was different.”
So, when is a good time to downsize? Here are four key questions to ask yourself before making what will likely be a huge life change.
“I felt that I could no longer afford to stay in my own home and that I’d have to look for something smaller.”
What do you need and what can you get rid of?
There are things we can do without and things that are necessities. Go through your possessions carefully, and with each one, decide if it is something that can be sold and replaced at a cheaper cost and smaller size. Have a yard sale or give away the items you haven’t used in years.
When it finally came time to pack up the house, Middleton said she had to make some hard choices about what to take with her. She says that ultimately she gave the majority of her things to friends who said they could use them. “It makes you feel really good to do that.” Both Smith and Middleton agree you have to have a sense of what you really need and what you’re willing to compromise on.
Smith says, “There are a few questions to ask yourself when considering downsizing. Is it important for you to have a yard? Maybe a home that is part of an association is a good fit, allowing you to dig in the dirt without having to cut the grass and handle snow removal. Another good question is how much space do you require? Is single level living a must, or is a split-level or two-story OK? There are different options to choose from in several different categories.”
Middleton offers her advice to those looking to downsize as well. “You have to prioritize,” she says. “Figure out what you absolutely need and store, sell, or give away the rest.”
Can I afford my current situation?
Sometimes people downsize involuntarily; they’ve lost their jobs, suffered an illness, or simply no longer have the financial resources they once did. If this is the case, you might consider preserving the income you do have in favor of finding a smaller space.
Smith says, “The financial question certainly plays a role in what option works best for you. I recommend discussing your plans with a mortgage expert or your financial planner. This will be helpful to determine a comfortable price range so when you do decide to start actively looking for the right property, you will be able to spend quality time to help make the best decision when you are ready.”
Does size matter to me?
Think about how much your own personality is wrapped up in your house.
Smith says, “Sometimes condo living is desirable for those who travel a lot or like the idea of living in a multi-unit building. They are often maintenance-free, with great amenities like underground parking and rooftop community decks, just to name a few. The townhome lifestyle may be a rambler, two-story, or split-level option, which gives you the feeling of being part of a community like the multi-unit building, but giving you a private entrance and possibly a small yard. Others may like the idea of a twin home or just a smaller single-family home that still gives you the traditional property ownership.”
“Most of the time, people are looking to simplify their home life by eliminating the amount of house and yard work that come with single-family home ownership.”
What are my total costs?
Carefully consider the entire cost of downsizing. This includes factoring in how much you will realistically sell your home for in today’s market, as well as the rental or purchase cost of that downsized dream. Also, be sure to identify the hidden costs, from condominium fees and furnishing your new home, to the potentially higher costs of living, depending on where you relocate.
Smith also suggests, “Find a real estate professional to assist you in the process. It will be helpful for guidance pertaining to both the current market conditions for selling your current property as well as leading the search for your new home based on availability in different neighborhoods, styles, and price ranges throughout the community.”
No matter your preference, there are a plethora of choices out there when it comes to downsizing. Call your realtor, financial advisor, or start a conversation with family and friends to consider all your options.
A North Dakota native, Megan Bartholomay is a freelance writer and editor with an addiction to grammar, cats, wine, and good food. She lives in downtown Fargo with her husband, Mike, and their bevy of fuzzy babies.
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