Downsizing – Special Report


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The Secret Agent Report - Downsizing - Special Report

April 2014

Downsizing - Special Report

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HOW TO DOWNSIZE – SPECIAL REPORT 

Downsizing has become a popular trend recently as more and more people sell their family home in the suburbs to move to a smaller dwelling, usually closer to the city centre. Recent studies have shown that the changing economic and social landscape in Australia is influencing downsizing amongst older Australians. 

Secret Agent has noticed an increase in the proportion of downsizing demographics in its customer base over the past few years. These customers have come to us looking to move from their property further out, to a smaller, lower maintenance property, closer to the CBD. Many of the desired properties sought are larger floor plan apartments with access to outdoor areas such as a balcony. A view and natural light are also crucial motivating factors when choosing what and where to downsize to. 

We at Secret Agent expect that there will be an increase in this trend for people to downsize over the coming decade. To make this process less daunting we have put together the following How to Guide. 

WHAT IS DOWNSIZING?

Downsizing generally refers to making something smaller, for example a business may be downsized by reducing the number of staff. In this report we will be talking about downsizing a property. This is not as simple as removing the extension that you built 20 years ago, but rather involves a transition into a smaller home. This may be smaller in terms of the block of land or garden area or number of bedrooms, or it may be smaller in terms of moving from a large suburban house to an inner city apartment, unit or townhouse. 

WHO IS DOWNSIZING?

In Australia, the term downsizing is usually associated with the movement of older Australians in the property market. The latest data indicates that the majority of downsizers are those in the baby boomer generation (born 1946-1964). Historically, the housing dream for Australians was to own a large detached home. These were usually found in the suburbs and as each suburb became less affordable, people moved outwards to the next available suburb. We are now seeing a reverse of this trend due to changing expectations and attitudes amongst Baby Boomers and subsequent generations. More and more people are choosing to live in the inner city for the lifestyle conveniences it allows. By default they have to move into smaller blocks or high density apartments in order to do this. With urbanization upon us, baby boomers and older Australians are not the only people choosing to downsize.

MOTIVATIONS FOR DOWNSIZING

Every person has a different reason for wanting to downsize. For some it may be purely based on location. Urbanisation has caused a dramatic increase in the number of people choosing to live in the city.

RATHER THAN MOVE OUT TO A LARGE DWELLING IN OUTER SUBURBIA, LIVING CLOSE TO TRANSPORT AND LIFESTYLE DESTINATIONS HAS BECOME THE NEW DREAM.

Others may choose to downsize because they desire less maintenance. Reducing the amount of rooms, number of levels or size of the garden will greatly simplify life and open up time to spend on more enjoyable activities. Further, it may make more sense to transition to a smaller place once the kids have moved out of home. There are many downsizers who move to town in order to be closer to their children and grandchildren. 

According to the recent report by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI), the major contributing factor for downsizing is lifestyle preferences with 38% of downsizers choosing this from a list of 15 circumstances which included inability to maintain their house (27%), location dissatisfaction (1%), finances (10%) and death of spouse (10%). The family home itself no longer has the purpose of creating a sense of identity, but rather has the purpose of being “a place which provides access to cultural sites where lifestyle and consumption can be enacted.” (Olsberg and Winters, 2005, 81)

In the report this was most evident amongst the cohort of Baby Boomers in the 50-59 age bracket where 42% expect to move to a smaller dwelling or a different location in the near future. One in five of these Baby Boomers wish to downsize so that they can release capital and live an easier lifestyle.  Home and garden maintenance, walking proximity to shops and health services, and ill-health were other important reasons for people wanting to downsize, especially in the older age brackets. There are people who see the attractiveness of one level as they age, especially if they already have issues with their joints when walking up stairs. One of the biggest factors in stopping people from moving was leaving their friends in the area.

HOW TO DOWNSIZE

Deciding on the Location.

This is one of the most important things to get right. Urbanisation means that most people are wanting to live in the inner city. However there are still good and not so good pockets amongst these inner suburbs. For example- Carlton is one of the most walkable suburbs in Melbourne. If you want good proximity to shops, cafes and transport then it would be good to live here. Whilst North Melbourne is desirable in terms of its proximity to the city, the suburb itself is less walkable as some parts are actually quite a distance to the main strip or public transport options. 

If you want to be close to the bay then suburbs such as Albert Park or Port Melbourne may be attractive. If you want to be close to a variety of restaurants and cafes then Collingwood or Brunswick may be more ideal. For some people they may wish to downsize to a smaller property close to a town centre but within a suburban area. For example, a quieter suburb such as Ivanhoe which is well connected and serviced but not as noisy and congested as the inner city. 

In Sydney, Surry Hills and Paddington are great for proximity to shops and transport, whilst Double Bay is ideal for those looking to be near the harbour as well as the city. 

In general, we find that people will normally spend quite a bit of time in a particular suburb by visiting friends or going to cafes in the area, before choosing to live there. This is supported by evidence which suggests there is usually some emotional connection to a suburb or area before moving there. (AHURI,2014) This may also involve moving back to an area where they spent time during their past. For example, someone that went to University in Parkville may be happy downsizing to Carlton as they already have some familiarity with the area. If you don’t have a connection with a particular suburb, consider renting for a year first. It is important to get a feel of a suburb before buying there, as each is unique and may be better suited to a certain type of person.

Choosing the Right Property (Floor plans, Aspect, Storage).

With investors, first home buyers and older Australians all showing keen interest in the inner city property market, competition for smaller houses is only getting stronger. This has seen a proliferation of town-house developments as well as higher quality apartment buildings, especially in the inner suburbs. This trend means that in some suburbs houses outnumber townhouses and apartment blocks. For example, according to the 2006 census, over half of the homes in Footscray, Victoria, were houses. Compare this to the 2011 census and the number drops significantly. Only 47% of dwellings were houses with the majority being townhouses and apartments. (REIV, 2013) Townhouses and apartments now represent 40% of new dwellings being built, whilst 10 years ago they were less than a third. (Janda, 2013) 

High density living is the norm in the inner city suburbs. Whilst many people are happy to move to a smaller property, the transition from a house with windows on all four sides and a large, private backyard, to a two bedroom apartment with only a small balcony and windows on one side, may be more difficult than imagined. 

Generally downsizers desire a property that is on one level (without stairs), has a small and manageable garden and has good neighbours. However, there are many additional things to be aware of when looking for the most suitable property for your needs. No matter how happy you are with the lifestyle amenities surrounding you, if you are not satisfied with certain aspects of your new home, this happiness may not be sustained. 

It is important to determine what it is in your current home that is most important to you and try to find a property that includes these. Also make note of the things that don’t matter so much to you. When you are looking, keep these in mind and don’t get caught up in the moment and compromise on any of these priorities. For example, aspect and views may be highly important to you if you are used to living in a house with lots of natural light and parkland views. If this is the case then an apartment overlooking a busy road may not be right for you. Further it may be necessary to choose a small villa unit or townhouse to allow for more natural light. Other things that may be important to consider is outdoor space, internal and external storage, the size of individual rooms, ceiling heights and floor coverings. 

The AHURI (2014) reported a number of factors which resulted in a downsizer being satisfied with their new property. These included:

  • Less maintenance and time needed for cleaning and gardening 
  • Having enough space to entertain friends and family
  • Adequate storage
  • A safe location and good security
  • Functional layout of floor plan
  • Easy accessibility 
  • Good owners corporation 
  • Proximity to shops and transport

In terms of floor plan, one of the most important factors for apartments is the aspect. Since many apartments don’t have windows on all sides, some may be very dark if not facing the right way. Also related to aspect is the amount of privacy this allows. If the balcony faces out onto another block of apartments that are directly opposite then privacy may be greatly compromised. 

Similarly, security may be compromised in a ground floor apartment as opposed to one on a higher level. On the flip side, if an apartment is on the top floor it will be necessary to ensure the block has a decent lift. Older blocks with stairs will therefore be ruled out­- unless exercise is part of your plan!

As with any situation there are always exceptions. Secret Agent has helped many clients, who have previously downsized to the inner city, upsize. For example, they may have moved from the suburbs into a generous two bedroom apartment in South Melbourne and then to a huge double storey terrace down the road. Or as illustrated in Case Study D, we have helped clients to find an inner city site to create their dream home. When it comes to property everyone has different needs and desires. You must identify these early on and find the best option that works for you!

The key theme is having accommodation that is easy to navigate, makes allowances for living with an older body, and is centrally located to amenities.  In other words, we are finding that the need to be close to services such as shops, transport, hospitals as well as the grandkids is super important. 

The Ideal Example / Perfect Floor Plan for a Downsizer

We have compiled a few examples of the perfect floor plan. Notable features are highlighted. 

 The Secret Agent Report - DownsizingEx1

Example 1: This apartment in Carlton’s Garden house development is suited to downsizers with it’s good sized master bedroom. There is a large master bathroom and ample storage for clothes – an area where many apartments are lacking. Whilst the second bedroom is small, it’s big enough to be a good study and accommodate the grandkids when they come to visit. The kitchen is big enough to cook in every day and there is a pantry area for storage. The living opens out onto a deep balcony with a great outlook over Carlton Gardens.

The Secret Agent Report - DownsizingEx2

Example 2: This is almost an ideal floor plan for a couple downsizing to a apartment. A large living/dining area opens out onto a generous terrace, allowing entertaining. There are two good sized bedrooms and a generous study. Separately zoned spaces such as this are needed when more time is spent in a apartment. It’s important to have somewhere to go to read a book in peace and quiet!

Things to plan for/anticipate

  • Reduced car space. It may take some getting used to parking on the street in suburbs such as Carlton and Fitzroy in Melbourne, or the tight streets of Surrey Hills in Sydney. 
  • Giving up one car. Car sharing is popular in the inner city as is collaborative consumption of other items. 
  • Pets may not be happy in an apartment building if used to having lots of room to run around. Some apartments also have restrictions on pets being allowed. 
  • Noise! Inner city living will always be noisier than a quiet suburban neighbourhood. Consider proximity to trams, restaurants, main roads and how noisy they are when you are inside. How the walls have been insulated will also make a difference between neighbours. 
  • Light and darkness. If your apartment window faces onto a main road the blinds may not be good enough to completely block a street lamp. A northern aspect may help provide the right lighting for during the day. 
  • Access to street. Think about the route you will need to take to get your grocery shopping back to your apartment. Ideally you don’t want to have to walk too far and a lift may be required if on top floors. 
  • Storage. No matter how hard you try a 100sqm apartment will never fit as much in as your double storey suburban mansion. Consider having less things but of a higher quality so they last longer. 


An interview of downsizers by the AHURI (2014) indicated the most common difficulties faced when downsizing:

  • lack of availability of suitable housing type
  • affordability of housing
  • moving away from network of friends, local shops and services
  • downsizing belongings/furniture in order to move

Secret Agent decided to ask some of our clients a few questions about their recent experience in downsizing. Their answers may help provide you will helpful advice and perspectives. They are reported in the following case studies.

CASE STUDY A – NICHOLAS

Where did you move from and how did you decide on your final location?

We are moving from Bulleen (Melbourne, Victoria) and from a fairly large house with plenty of storage. We wanted to move out of the suburbs and closer to the city and the activities we enjoy – music, theatre, cinema and eating out. We also wanted to be closer to public transport.

What do you love about the current floor plan and what do you dislike?

The aspects of the floor plan we like include entryway (not directly into the living room); north facing with windows in every room except the bathroom; the position of the kitchen in relation to the living area; the large and private terrace; the wooden floors; and the gas cooktop. We don’t like the size of the bedrooms – small in comparison to our current ones; the lack of storage; the small laundry; and no storage cage. We will be putting in bookshelves, revamping the laundry and BIRs and adding a pantry to increase storage.

How do you think this property will meet your needs in the future?

We hope it will provide a secure, low maintenance and comfortable base to allow us to enjoy the lifestyle on offer in Brunswick East and the Melbourne CBD.

If you were to offer advice to a prospective downsizer, what tips would you give?

Identify the ‘must have’ (e.g close to transport, on one level; usable balcony; natural light) aspects and differentiate from ‘nice to have’ (e.g gas cooktop; floorboards; laundry room) aspects. Be prepared to spend a lot of time searching – visit the suburbs you are interested in and check out local facilities. Walk around the neighbourhood. Talk to locals about the pros and cons of living in the area. Check with the local council about planned developments or changes to zoning in the suburb. Seek independent advice on property values and previous sales history of any property you are interested in. Get a property report which may uncover problems not immediately visible. Consider using a buyer’s advocate to secure your property. Give yourself ample time to de-clutter and plan for the move. Be prepared to pay for professional assistance. Recognize that downsizing is inevitably time consuming and stressful. 

Do you have any further comments about things such as natural light, outdoor space, aspect, quality of workmanship, availability of car spaces?

Pleased with lack of noise from the street. Would prefer one car space rather than two in exchange for a storage cage.

CASE STUDY B – DIANA

Where will you move from and how did you decide on your final location?

Moving from a farm in New Zealand. Close to family, public transport, shops, beach and with advice from Secret Agent on area.

What do you love about the current floor plan and what do you dislike?

I love the walk through wardrobe to ensuite from the main bedroom, and having a separate study. I love the size of the floor plan. Don’t really dislike anything, a larger veranda would have been great.

How do you think this property will meet your needs in the future?

I like that the property is great for me to live in now and that in the future if my circumstances change that it is a highly desirable rental property as well.

If you were to offer advice to a prospective downsizer, what tips would you give?

Look at a wide variety of properties, even those that are beyond your budget to get an idea of what is available, and also to see how they are lived in by the current occupants. Don’t take your current furniture with you, start afresh!

Do you have any further comments about things such as natural light, outdoor space, aspect, quality of workmanship, availability of car spaces?

I was thrilled that the apartment complex had a swimming pool and gym within the complex. Coming from a farm privacy was a real issue for me and the property meets that requirement.

CASE STUDY C – MARTIN AND PATRICIA

Where did you move from and how did you decide on your final location?

Moved from Sale, Vic. Final location was decided on factors such as work locality, proximity to public transport and distance from Melbourne CBD. Given that we had lived on 5 acres, with extensive rural views, aspect was a very important factor, therefore when we found a house overlooking a park – we couldn’t have been more pleased.

What do you love about the current floor plan and what do you dislike?

We love the open living space upstairs. It’s a clever design and optimises the view over the park with an extensive outdoor living area. The hardest part has been moving from a six bedroom home with extensive shedding, to a smaller urban property (townhouse). We were forced to de-clutter (which wasn’t such a bad thing) – but certainly, we have noticed the distinct reduction of storage space. Having had a ‘parents retreat’ up one end of the house was also a nice factor in our former home where as this is more compact. Not a particularly big deal given that are children don’t live with us full time any more, but you tend to notice the lack of privacy when you have guests staying over.

How do you think this property will meet your needs in the future? 

As we have downsized, the smaller floor space will be a bonus as there is less daily up-keep required both indoors and outdoors. Its proximity to everything is a real bonus that makes accessibility much easier than it was for us previously. With all of the public transport at our doorstep, we’re even thinking of downsizing to a single car!

If you were to offer advice to a prospective downsizer, what tips would you give? 

If coming from out of area, use a Property Advocate. Also ensure that you list your requirements…use Essential Requirements and Desirable Requirements…that way you can compare properties against each other in an analytical way and not be driven by emotion and possibly end up with something that doesn’t meet your needs. Be prepared to change over some furniture – we got rid of some bulky items, and have purchased some bits that ‘fit’ the new home really well. Declutter Declutter Declutter!  It’s pretty hard when you first start, but it’s actually quite cathartic.  We had a garage sale and donated lots of stuff to the Salvation Army (also hired a skip bin and filled it frighteningly fast!)

Do you have any further comments about things such as natural light, outdoor space, aspect, quality of workmanship, availability of car spaces? 

We are both fans of natural light and open spaces – coming from a country area, so that was important for us. Additionally, quality workmanship and finish is imperative.  Whilst we have a double garage, you’d be pushing it to fit two average sized cars into it (you could do it if you didn’t have anything else in there).  Fortunately we have access to 3 parking spaces along our street (resident/visitor) so this is a real bonus.  A big consideration for us was parking because we have lots of friends and family who live regionally who would drive to visit us and require parking. In the end, this became one of our key selection criteria after a few experiences squeezing down some narrow one-way lanes to attend open house inspections.

CASE STUDY D – SUE

Where are you moving from and how did you decide on your final location of West Melbourne?

We’re moving from a high-rise apartment in Southbank. It was important to us to be right next to the city as we both have a lot of meetings in town and having lived in Southbank for 8 years- we knew how convenient it was to be within walking distance of the CBD. West Melbourne is serviced by the City Circle and the loop for public transport, and it’s only 15 minutes to the airport. The site itself is also north facing which was really important to me as we know we can have natural light throughout the day.

In creating a new home within the inner city, what are you placing emphasis on in regards to the floor plan?

The new home establishes generous office space with an adjoining meeting room or board room. We have an entire floor dedicated to work (as well as an outdoor deck) with direct lift access from the entrance. That way we won’t have business associates traipsing through the house. One of the key reasons for moving from the Southbank apartment, is the lack of outdoor space. So every level of the new house incorporates terraces and internal courtyards.

How long do you intend to live there and how have you considered the build within this context? 

This will be our last house so we have included a lift for old age access, an additional bedrooms with en suites for a live in nurse. Hopefully that’s a long way off and the rooms actually get used by grandchildren in the meantime. We’ve also allowed for an extra car park for people staying overnight.

If for any reason we did have to sell, we have ensured that the property would be attractive for the next owner. For example it has 3 bedrooms even though we only need one.

If you were to offer advice to a prospective downsizer, what tips would you give?

Over the years you collect a lot of material possesses. Throwing it out is quite liberating as you simply don’t need it. Unclutter your mind and think about what’s important to you. Being close to major sporting facilities or the river or restaurants can be a great lifestyle choice. Decide what’s important to you, and go for it.

Do you have any further comments about things such as natural light, outdoor space, aspect, quality of workmanship, availability of car spaces?

We wanted a high quality home and found that the best way of achieving this was to use a great architect with similar views on materials and craftsmanship.

Secret Agent hopes you have enjoyed our special downsizing feature. We believe this ‘how to guide’ will provide useful advice for prospective downsizers and help make the task less daunting. We encourage you to contact Secret Agent at any time if you require further assistance with any aspect of downsizing your home.

A SUMMARY OF DOWNSIZING TIPS:

  1. Identify the ‘must have’ (e.g close to transport, on one level; usable balcony; natural light) aspects and differentiate from ‘nice to have’ (e.g gas cooktop; floorboards; laundry room) aspects.
  2. Recognize that downsizing is inevitably time consuming and stressful, yet fulfilling in the long term. 
  3. Look at a wide variety of properties, even those that are beyond your budget to get an idea of what is available, and also to see how they are lived in by the current occupants. Don’t take your current furniture with you, start afresh!
  4. If coming from out of area, use a Property Advocate. Also ensure that you list your requirements…use Essential Requirements and Desirable Requirements…that way you can compare properties against each other in an analytical way and not be driven by emotion and possibly end up with something that doesn’t meet your needs. 
  5. Find a property with quality workmanship and finish. 
  6. Over the years you collect a lot of material possessions. Throwing it out is quite liberating as you simply don’t need it. Unclutter your mind and think about what’s important to you. Being close to major sporting facilities or the river or restaurants can be a great lifestyle choice. Decide what’s important to you, and go for it.