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Downsizing? Think right-sizing instead

Time to downsize?  You’re not alone.  This year, thousand of Canadians will make the move from the family home, citing reasons such as retirement, an empty net, loss of a partner or simply the need to cut expenses.  But this won’t be our parents’ downsizing.  Today’s older adults are younger – the average retirement age is now 62 – and they’re looking to right-size rather than downsize.

I use the phrase “right-size” advisedly.  Although they need less house, research indicates that those in the 55+ age group expect to maintain their currently lifestyles. Meaning they’re opting for more space and more luxury than previous generations.  And they have more money than previous generations, enabling them to get what they want. In additionto pensions and savings, many of today’s generation have inherited money from their frugal parents.  According to one source, the baby boom generation will stand to inherit more than two trillion dollars over the next several years.

While studies indicate this generation of older adults will be healthier longer, some older adults are downsizing for health concerns and this has led to a proliferation of upscale retirement residences (which offer an independent lifestyle to active seniors who do not have serious health problems); assisted living centers (where residents maintain their independence and privacy while taking advantage of limited nursing care and other available services and long-term care facilities – previously called nursing homes- which are licenced by the Ministry of Health and intended for people who need round-the-clock care.

However, health permitting, the majority of today’s downsizers are seeking to maintain an independent lifestyle.  So granny flats and in-law suites, with built-in dependency on adult children, are less popular.  Instead, older adults want the freedom to continue the activities they’ve always enjoyed.  Their lifestyles demand recreational facilities and senior-friendly parks and trails, as well as malls, access to cities, picturesque scenery and cultural activities.

In response, options are proliferating.

Right-sized doesn’t mean small.  According to the 14th Annual RBC Home Ownership survey conducted in 2007, 33 per cent of home buyers are thinking small compared to 19 per cent in 2002. But small, in this case, is relative.  The majority of today’s buyers are looking for 1,200 to 1,600 sq.ft-properties.  As a result, sales of right-sized single-family homes and condos are expected to increase at the expense of more compact options, giving today’s buyers room for overnight guests, good storage and spaces for hobbies.

As for luxury, large kitchens spa-like bathrooms, and quality finishes are the new essentials.  Coming in close second are offices, family rooms and media centers.  As well, walk-in closets and laundry rooms with shelves and cupboards (rather than a stackable washer/dryer in the kitchen) are must-haves.  Upscale finishes such as granite countertops and stainless steel appliances in the kitchen, brushed nickel hardware, hardwood floor and high-end ceramics offer the luxury today’s downsizers require.  And, despite our long Canadian winters, outdoor space remains important.  That includes everything from full back gardens and large decks to shared outdoor living areas with barbeques,upscale outdoor furniture, water features and sound systems.

Interestingly, older buyers across the country are almost evenly split between condos and single-family homes, however in major urban markets the condo traffic outstrips purchases of houses.  The maintenance free condo lifestyle offers a turnkey solution to older adults who spend large blocks of time traveling.

Adult lifestyle communities built around golf courses or marinas offer a way of living that suits many.  Others may be interested in live/work condos (townhouse developments with commercial space on the street level and high-end residential above it).  Some welcome the retirement residence lifestyle where they can transition easily to a nursing facility, if required, while another option is a life-equity concept.  In this arrangement, older adults purchase the right to live in a high-rise or townhouse community for the rest of their adult life.  The life-lease arrangement offers security, property maintenance, access to health care and recreational activities plus equity; life-lease holders can sell at market value or pass on their life-lease interest to their families.

More futuristic is the advent of “smart” homes,which are specially designed for disabled people or aging baby boomers,or assisted living communities designed by older adults themselves.  One New York City apartment building is being designed as a senior’s building for elderly women in the arts.  Another model is a British projet in which several older adults purchased a home together and jointly pay the services of a cook and a nurse.

In the final analysis, older adults are looking to enjoy this third chapter of their lives with the same enthusiasm they enjoyed the first chapters.  And as in the past,their needs and wants will shape our society.  So you’re downsizing?  Don’t hesitate.  Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of your life.