Senior Downsizing Doesn’t Have to be Devastating! Think Right-Sizing!!


If 70 is the new 50, and your folks are still in relatively decent health, how do you tackle the talk about downsizing? Whether the plan is for them to sell the family home and move to a smaller house, apartment, independent or assisted living facility, it’s not ideal to wait until a health crisis or medical emergency forces a difficult decision on them or the family.

No one wants to have a discussion about what getting older might mean in terms of lifestyle changes, but downsizing does not have to develop into a discussion about the gradual loss of independence associated with aging – it can be quite the opposite, empowering even! Respectful, understanding and compassionate handling of tough truths is required by children and other family members for a successful outcome. If the subject is approached by showing concern and support, rather than being seen as a matter of control or a threat, it can make all the difference.

When considering “Senior Right-Sizing”, remember most folk’s biggest asset is their home, and unfortunately it is also their biggest expense. Dwindling income and poor retirement planning can make selling the house a necessity. In other instances, where finances are not an issue, it just might make good sense. Generally, if retirees are going to sell the family home it is better to do it sooner rather than later, as the financial benefits reaped over time add up. Give consideration to the fact that should one spouse or parent die, the other is not left with the daunting task of selling a home and downsizing all alone, they are already in an optimal environment.

Be positive, be sure to point out the advantages of moving to an apartment complex or active adult community where there are distractions and amenities, entertainment, groups to socialize with, new friends to make, etc. Expectations need to be established on all sides regarding how much help and support parents can reasonably expect and by children and other family members regarding how much they can realistically give. Goals need to be set and an action plan needs to be made so that the ideal outcomes can be achieved when “right-sizing”: selling a home and downsizing.

Michelle Bellasari, an experienced local licensed realtor certified in senior downsizing, noted that statistics from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau indicate that in recent years, “…the amount Seniors still owe on their mortgages has increased significantly. Buying a home later in life, the refinancing boom in the late 90’s, and the fact that Seniors are living longer and do not have employment income, has affected the elderly, many of whom are in dire financial straits. Downsizing to a smaller, more affordable home can make financial sense for these Seniors.”

Michele says there are benefits even to trading a mortgage free house for a condo or rental:  “There are hidden expenses, property taxes and constant maintenance on a home. Less square footage costs less to maintain, requires fewer utilities, and is easier to clean. Smaller doesn’t have to mean awful. Housing prices are recovering, but there are bargains for those retirees who don’t have to worry about local schools, commuting distances, or immediate resale. If there is equity in the current home, a new, more affordable home can be purchased from the proceeds without a new mortgage. The reality is that visiting children and grandchildren can stay in a hotel, it is more important for Seniors to reduce expenses and know their fixed costs during the sunset years.”

The Wall Street Journal suggests using an online tool from the Boston College Retirement Center to figure out the financial benefit of downsizing: http://squaredaway.bc.edu/topics/housing.

Often the problem is not that folks are in denial about having to make changes, the issue is more emotional, as they are being asked to give up the place and possessions that are so intertwined with their identities. But downsizing can be done delicately, and paring possessions can be productive. Make the process less painful by being respectful of your parents or loved ones wishes and don’t try to handle it alone. The circumstances can often be improved by enlisting friends and family to lend a hand in the physical task itself (usually enormous and time consuming), and to share their hearts for the walk down memory lane (usually emotional and overwhelming).

A third party familiar with elderly behaviors and living issues can assist Seniors and their families with grasping the concept of downsizing as well as the actual transition, whether it is to smaller, more convenient living quarters or an assisted living facility. These professionals are trained to address anxieties and explain the advantages of moving in a non-threating, comforting manner, and then help settle the Senior in.

Downsizing Tips to Help Minimize the Tears:

    ~  Don’t wait until the home is sold or tragedy strikes. Start paring down and reducing clutter a few months before the home is listed for sale, or when the first signs of declining health are apparent.

     ~  Put a plan in place. Start with the kitchen, living room, and family room which are usually the most cluttered and contain items for everyday use as well as those with the greatest emotional value.

     ~  Make four piles: keep, donate, give to a family member, and garbage. Toss whatever hasn’t been used or worn in over a year and has little to no value financially or sentimentally.

    ~  Already know the dimensions of the new home or apartment? Measure all the furniture before deciding what to keep, sell, or give away.

    ~  Get the kids and family involved. Find out what they want and what they don’t want. Items may have emotional value for some and monetary value for others. Do not wait until a week before the move to begin deciding which pieces are to be given to which child, grandchild or other family member.

     ~  Give mementos back to their rightful owners. Kids leaving “the nest” clutter attics and basements with left-behind belongings. Well before the move, organize a re-distribution of these items.

     ~  Remember, you can keep memories, maybe just not ALL of them! Take favorites!!

    ~  Feel good about donating items to a museum or school. Legacy gifts may get you recognition in addition to tax deductions.

     ~  Have family fun with a yard sale

Other Helpful Hints:

apt or houseIn the haste to downsize, don’t misplace valuable items or toss them in the bottom of a box. Set special pieces aside in a safe place. Remember that special pieces of furniture, artwork, jewelry, even books, have special stories that make up family history so take notes that can be passed down to young family members in the years ahead. Understand that your parent or loved one may have emotional moments while sifting through keepsakes and “close-to-their-heart” assets. Leave just as much time to sort through their emotions as you do to sort through their possessions. Don’t rush them through it, it took years to accumulate everything. Taking time to sort through special items and emotionally detach in order to downsize is important to wellbeing of your loved one, and important to keeping them engaged in the process.

There are other professionals that specialize in helping older adults “right-size”. Moving to a smaller home instead of an assisted living facility can be facilitated by enlisting a Caregiver and/or Care Manager to see that Seniors stay safe from falls, have assistance with the needs of daily living and help with meals, medications etc. Licensed home repair professionals can help with cost effective renovations to improve accessibility and safety – think grab bars in showers! Elder law and estate planning attorneys, as well as an accountant, can help the elderly cope with the financial documents and tax issues at stake in any transition strategy or sale. If an assisted living or a nursing home is the right solution, a placement counselor for senior living communities can be contacted. A Senior Move Manager is just that, an individual with a team that can pack, liquidate or donate, and select the items or furniture that fit your new home, then get things set up. The National Association of Senior Move Managers (NASMM) can find one in your neighborhood, visit this link: https://www.nasmm.org/index.cfm. For valuable family heirlooms and expensive possessions, a certified estate sale specialist in an estate appraisal and liquidation firm is your best bet for proper assistance.

Contact Us: Downsizing doesn’t have to be a dilemma. The upside is that there are professionals who can help that are skilled at both the emotional elements and practical issues of later-in-life transitions. If the downsizing process ends up being too much for you or your loved one to handle, there is help. Regal can be of assistance in situations where clutter is so extreme the living space is unusable, unsanitary, or hazardous and if the Senior is exhibiting symptoms like self-neglect and social withdrawal, known as Diogenes Syndrome (elderly hoarding disorder). Our clinicians and caregivers are experts in helping Seniors transition to smaller homes, apartments or condos, and experienced in getting them settled into assisted living facilities. Contact Ferial Andre, RN, CCM, CDP, for a consultation regarding how Regal’s resources and team of professionals can be of service when transitioning a Senior loved one. Ferial can be reached at 561-499-8382 or ferialandre@regalcares.com.

Michele Kendall Bellisari  is a licensed realtor with The Bellisari Real Estate Group at Re/Max Services. Michele works closely with Seniors and families who need to sell property in order to downsize. As an expert “Senior downsizing specialist” in real estate she holds the prestigious Certified Senior Housing Professional (CSHP) designation, the Senior Real Estate Specialist (SRES) designation from the National Association of Realtors and has completed elder mediation training. You can reach Michele Bellisari at 561-926-4643 or by email at michelebeeboca@gmail.com.

This article is not intended as medical, financial or legal advice.