Going through years of accumulated possessions and memories is probably not how you envisioned spending part of your retirement. It may sound like a daunting and emotionally draining task, but downsizing could be a savvy financial move, especially if you haven't reached your retirement savings goals.
1. Set goals for downsizing
Before you make any decisions, think about why you might want to downsize in the first place. Is it because you want to save on mortgage payments or other monthly expenses? Or are you looking to free up some cash to help pursue your lifestyle goals in retirement?
No matter what your specific goals may be, understanding the connection between them and downsizing can help motivate you to follow through with it.
2. Determine the best time to downsize
It's said that timing is everything, so choosing when to downsize will be an important decision to make. One benefit of downsizing early in retirement is that mortgage payments and other related expenses (such as utilities and real estate taxes) could decrease, presuming that you are downsizing to a less expensive residence. This could mean you have extra funds to pursue new hobbies and activities right away in retirement. You might even be fortunate enough to have sufficient funds from the sale of a larger home to pay for a smaller home with cash, thus eliminating or decreasing your mortgage payment, or significantly increasing cash flow.
But there may be advantages to delaying downsizing. If you wait to do it later in retirement, you might have a better sense of just how much you need to downsize to support your current lifestyle. Plus, timing your downsizing plans with a stronger real estate market could mean that you sell and/or purchase a new home at a more opportune time.
3. Be realistic about costs
There are several costs to think about if you are downsizing your home: the worth of your current home, the cost of a new home, and the fees and expenses associated with relocating. Before you start boxing up your belongings, run the numbers. Start by contacting local real estate agents to receive estimates of your home's value. Compare the estimates so you can develop an idea of how much you might be able to get for your home. Research online to see what homes in your neighborhood have sold for recently — this can also help you determine your home's potential selling price.
Take similar steps when you look for your new home. One option that might be available is to rent a new house or apartment for a length of time before buying it. That way, you'll learn whether the home and the location suit you, helping you avoid buyer's remorse.
If you're buying a new home, don't forget to account for the down payment, home inspection, closing costs, and other associated charges. Factoring all of the numbers into the equation may reveal whether downsizing makes the most sense for you and your financial situation.
4. Consider downsizing your belongings, not just your home
For some people, downsizing might simply mean cutting down on clutter rather than relocating. It's easier said than done, particularly if you've amassed many belongings over time. When purging your home, consider the following:
- Take your time. Don't feel pressured to clear out your entire home in one fell swoop. Instead, make a plan to do one room or section of your home at a time.
- Involve your children. If you have kids, consider asking them for their help. Many hands make light work, and your children may end up expressing interest in items they would like to have.
- Sell valuables. Maybe you can't find a new home for that antique necklace you never wear or the rare baseball cards collecting dust in your attic. Consider having those items appraised and selling them to an auction house or online. Depending on how many items you're selling and their worth, you could wind up with quite a bit of money that you can use to help cushion your retirement fund.
- Donate gently used items. Find out if there are any local organizations in your community that could benefit from furniture, clothing, or any other possessions in good condition that you want to get rid of. Some donation outlets may even offer free pickup of certain items, saving you time and hassle.
- Clear out junk. Chances are you've accumulated items that you simply won't be able to give away or sell. Discard belongings that serve no purpose other than taking up space in your home. You might be surprised by how much room you could free up.