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Downsizing for Retirement

In this post I talk about our real-life experience as recent retirees and Downsizing for Retirement and tips you can use to help you. These tips are based on our journey and helped us to take action and reach our goal. We were hoping to get back to a more simplistic life and enjoy a less hectic pace. If you are looking for tips on how to downsize for retirement, I hope this will give you a good starting point.

The picture below shows the before (top) photo and the after (bottom) photo, as we downsized our home for retirement.

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Downsizing for Retirement – Before and After

Here is our new home after downsizing for retirement and recent renovations:

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Here is our previous home before we downsized for retirement.

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Well, we made it! In 2021, we officially downsized and sold our large family home (above) in the craziest market on Vancouver Island. Just to be clear, we downsized after retirement. The house above really was a monstrosity, 4600 square feet and lots to maintain! A retiree’s worst nightmare! Yes, it had a rental suite, but who wants someone else living with them forever. There were likely some big bills coming up in the next few years. We knew that on our retirement budget, these would be difficult to absorb. So, we sold our home and downsized after I retired.

We bought a home that is new to us and the perfect size for us. Our new smaller home isn’t quite in the country, but backs onto greenspace, here on Vancouver Island. We love it!

Our Story – Downsizing after retirement

My husband and I both worked in professional jobs and IT for 85 years combined. Omg, that sounds crazy, but it’s true.  He worked for 50 years and retired at 67 and I worked for 35 years and retired at 55. 

Between us we have managed over 100 staff, both held government positions. As well, we worked in our own consulting company in the private sector.  We have raised 4 children, 2 together and survived all the ups and downs of parenthood and having a blended family. During all of this, we have owned 8 homes over our 30 years together and 4 rental properties (some overlap). So busy!

Yes, we have survived.  And now that we have downsized after retirement into our smaller home, we can officially both feel comfortable and more relaxed. Thankfully, our health is okay and we have survived the pandemic so far!

In our case, we were downsizing after retirement so that we had time to renovate our previous house and get the best price we could in the crazy market!

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Our New Home

Here is our new to us retirement home (below). It has 2 bedrooms on the main floor, and 2 bedrooms plus a rec room down. For the most part it is one level living, with our master bedroom, 2nd bedroom/office, living room, dining room, kitchen and family room all on one floor. The family room leads out to a stone patio area, just lovely.

We went from having 3 levels to 2 levels. So that feels like a lot less stairs, but still gives us some exercise.

For us, we needed the extra space for our collections and books!! We also have the option of space for guests, or the airbnb rental option, if we wanted. I use the rec room mostly for exercising and now we have room for other hobbies.

You can see the forest is behind us and we have an abundance of wildlife stopping by every day 🙂

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How did we get here? I wanted to provide a few of the key downsizing tips and themes for our downsizing /retirement journey. These helped us keep focused on the retirement goal. 

Top Tips for Downsizing for Retirement

I hope these downsizing tips for seniors will serve as a downsizing checklist (particularly downsizing in Canada). They should help you get started and figure out how to downsize your home for retirement. They also might help anyone who wants to downsize their home and simplify their life.

#1 – Know your real goal

We knew what we wanted. Our goal has always been to retire in a comfortable home and maintain our current lifestyle.  We never needed a fancy lifestyle, or what we would consider fancy. I grew up in Saskatchewan so for me, getting back to basics was a goal. We both have several hobbies and ‘collections’.  Genealogy is one of our favorite hobbies.   We have lots of books!  Music is important, and while my husband plays the guitar regularly, I am still a learner on piano and hopefully guitar again soon.  We eat out a couple times a week, we hope to play golf and see our friends more regularly.  

And of course, we are both working on our bucket list of projects. E.g. building this country themed website was on my list (I hope you check out other pages from the top menu). I bought the domain name over 20 years ago. How’s that for planning! We do want to travel, but our plans for travel are fairly modest as we own our own cabin. That is our getaway place 🙂

We also want to be done renovating.  Together we have renovated five homes, our last being our new, smaller house for retirement (below), that we bought in 2021.  If you have been reading my blog then you have seen the recent changes to our new home. I still plan to post about past renos. There are lots of learnings there.  We still have a wee bit more to do where we are, but we are getting close.

#2 – Plan, plan, plan

I think we have been planning for retirement for years.  We have always been aware of the demographics and have tried to be one step ahead of the tidal wave. The demographics tell the tale.  We should all know what they mean for the next 20 years as the rest of the baby boomers retire and make a shift.  I have maintained a budget spreadsheet for years, as well as a forecast for where we would be in 5, 10, 15 and 20 years out. This has helped us keep on track.

I also had an early copy of Boom, Bust, Echo, which fascinated me. I referred to it over and over again. It is available on Amazon at the link below. (I would earn a very small commission at no cost to you, if you purchased it via this link.) If you aren’t convinced that the tidal wave is still coming, this book will convince you. Here is his latest version.

In Canada, our demographics (by range) are similar to the US, but obviously smaller in numbers. We live on the West Coast and are seeing the huge shift in retirees trying to move out West, all competing for housing with other retirees, as well as the first time home owners. It seems that downsizing in Canada is a little tougher in some neighborhoods across the country, if you want a warmer climate.

For us, a smaller house made more sense, in that we found a smaller house in a great area. It is also similar in price to some of the condos and townhouses in the same area. Our resale value will be better in the long run, if we ever want to do another switch. But we chose a home we could live in for a long time, with most of the living on one level and less maintenance.

#3 – Know where you want to be in retirement

A major part of your goal is where do you want to live. Do you want to be close to parks, trails, golf, restaurants, friends, church, etc. Do you love the neighborhood or city you are in, or is your dream to live somewhere else.  Could that be achieved part time or full-time.  Just ask yourself where do you really want to be.  We wanted a back yard that we could entertain in and we got it!

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For us, we always knew we loved it here on Vancouver Island. We realize we are fortunate enough to have our cabin as well. For us it makes a HUGE difference to be happy with our current city and neighborhood. Our big desires were to have a home that was still big enough for both our hobbies and for family to come home if needed. But also some greenspace would be fantastic. We both also wanted a house that was closer to a craftsman style, if possible.

#4 – Don’t procrastinate, get organized

Get organized and be ready to act fast. Watch the housing market, so you know when it is time to take the next step. Keep on top of prices in the area you are looking at and your own.

Know what your top budget for your new home is, so you don’t waste time on properties you can’t afford. It is really important to organize your finances and understand what all your ongoing costs will be, including any new mortgage you might need to take. Yes, many of us will retire with a mortgage, but that’s okay if you can fit it in your budget. Give yourself some flexibility on the sale price of your current home vs. the purchase of your new home.

As you approach the last 3 to 5 years of your working life, be ready to make some big changes and take the actions that you need. In our case we renovated and sold an investment property in time for me to retire. It took us two years to get that property renovated and sold in 2019. (Our last renter in that house almost ruined the house, so it wouldn’t have sold without renovating it. That’s a whole other story!) My retirement would have been delayed if it took any longer.

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Then, after I retired in 2020, we started focusing on our own house, and renovating and staging it for sale. I don’t think we could have done it without me retiring first. There was so much to do and it all takes time. So the sooner you get going the quicker you will achieve your goal.

#5 – Take on those big projects that are standing between you and retirement

Take on those extra projects you need to get going and move you closer to your goal. Be prepared to take on the extra work in order to downsize for retirement. This includes all the work to sell your home.

In our case, I retired end of February, 2020, just before Covid hit. We needed to get our renovations done and fast! However, with Covid, we could have been impacted by things slowing down, access to resources, contractors, etc. Luckily, we had a reliable contractor already and we had already designed and ordered our new kitchen and picked out our new floors. When we finally went ahead with construction during Covid, our renter in our house was not too happy, but we pushed on. Sometimes you just have to go for it, otherwise you might never reach your goal.

See my other blog posts about renovation and staging your home for quick sale. I recommend working with a realtor who will bring you multiple showings in a short amount of time and hopefully multiple offers.

In our case, I was still working and we needed to downsize after retirement in order for us to have the time we needed to renovate and stage our home for sale. For some of you, you may need to downsize before retirement and that’s okay!

If that is part of your plan, you might want to read: Staging Your Home for Quick Sale. If you read this you will see there are several steps you need to take, such as purging all that stuff you don’t need anymore.

#6 – Compromise to get what you want

You don’t need perfection, you need to be able to stop working. E.g. you might need to buy a fixer upper to get into the neighborhood you want.  Or perhaps, you might need to buy something even smaller.  Sometimes, you might need to outbid someone to get the house you want and you may need to give up on something else.  We have done all of those things. 

I have always said to my hubby I just wanted a normal family home. It feels like finally we have that!  We have had to swallow our pride of owning the super large home and move into something more reasonable for retirement. I think we can take pride now in recognizing what made more sense. We bought the, sorry to say, most unattractive home on our new street (in a beautiful neighborhood) and now we are almost done renovating it.

Hopefully with the renovations completed, our ongoing maintenance costs will be a lot lower. All of the major renovations are complete, roof, gutters, windows, doors, flooring, exterior paint, kitchen, appliances.

If you are interested in our renovation journey and transformation of our new to us retirement home see: New Home and Renovation.

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In the end the most important thing is that you reach your goal! As long as your purchase price, any required renovations are covered and your new mortgage fits within your retirement budget, you are off to the races! Try to have no other debt than your hopefully small mortgage.

#7 – Stay within your ongoing budget and cut costs wherever possible 

Yes, in a nutshell, simplify! We have given away and purged, as well as replaced many of our ‘things’, by selling on the local marketplace and using that money to buy what we really needed.  

We also got rid of the toys were weren’t using, the boat and the 3rd car, a collectible MG, which I never drove enough to justify owning. All these things drained our ongoing budget, and now we have kept only what we really wanted. One last goodbye to my little MG!

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Now that we have downsized, we have simplified our budget and bills as well. In our case, we still have a small mortgage, but it is cheaper than rent and it is totally within our retirement budget. I was amazed how much we could save when I started reviewing our cable and internet bills, our cell phone plans and our home insurance.  Even our car insurance has gone down with our recent move. Before retirement, it seemed I just didn’t have time to review these small incremental costs that add up. Now I have time!

Plus, now that the kids have moved out, our water bill is lower, as is our grocery bill!   We got rid of the connected landline and now have an internet home phone.  Our ongoing housing costs are easily a third of what they were before. And because we aren’t working anymore, our expenses for work attire, parking, gas, lunches out and other work incidentals have gone out the window! Our house maintenance costs are lower due to all the renovations we got done and out of the way for the foreseeable future.

We have also had to learn to be able to say no. For example, we don’t always pay for family when we go out for a meal anymore, even for our closest family. We are now on a retirement-sized fixed budget!

Hopefully these downsizing tips have helped you on your journey to downsize your home for retirement. Enjoy the journey!

#8 – Do a Post Downsizing Review

I highly recommend a detailed review of all your expenditures every 6 months. We recently reviewed all our monthly expenditures again, and saved even more money. It seems we were paying for Amazon Prime X2 under 2 emails and we weren’t even watching Prime! Both are cancelled now. Our Ancestry subscription was cheaper on a lower plan. My cell phone plan also was reoffered at a lower monthly rate, so I changed that and got more Gigs as well. I also cut off another unused subscription.

I am going to plan to review expenditures every 6 months or so. As they say, a penny saved is a penny earned. (Note, regarding cell phone plans, keep an eye on when they convert to monthly plans, once the cell phone is paid off). I need to convert hubby’s plan in a month or so. Gotta write that down so I don’t forget! (The cell companies often offer a better deal at that time.)

The journey continues…

Our journey of downsizing for retirement is still not over. We still have a lot of purging and cleanup to do. Hopefully, we don’t leave a hoard of boxes and ‘stuff’ for our kids to deal with when we are gone.  But overall our lives feel simpler and more relaxing.  Any projects we take on are on our own schedule. We even had one of our grown children move home temporarily, so having the extra bedroom really helped.

If you are interested in how we renovated and staged our last home for sale, you might want to read: Staging Your Home for Quick Sale.

I hope this post, Downsizing for Retirement post has been helpful to you on your journey! In the end, do what makes sense for you, whether its downsizing before retirement or downsizing after retirement. Good luck on your journey!

🙂 Bonnie