For the past 10 years, I’ve been trying to get my parents to downsize their home.

I don’t know if you’ve had to have the “downsizing” conversation yet, but let me be honest with you: this is not always an easy conversation to have. As someone with an Italian background, we know that we do not speak to our parents about what they should be doing later on in life because it could be “disrespectful.” And I know that for many other families, these hard conversations oftentimes just don’t happen, for one reason or another.

In my own parents’ situation, their home has been “the family home” for decades now. They immigrated to Canada in the 1960s, and their home is their biggest asset and accomplishment. To my parents, their home represents success in so many ways: the mortgage is paid off, their children have settled down, and we all have a lifetime of memories in their home to look back on.

As both a daughter of aging parents and real estate broker, I look at this whole situation from two perspectives:

  1. My parents’ home is the home I grew up in—it’s our family home, and it’s hard to make these decisions.
  2. Their home is also an investment—a tax-free one for the matrimonial home. Why shouldn’t we treat this sale and try and maximize my parents return on it?

If you have aging parents, I feel that it is so important to have conversations about what they want their lives to be like as they grow older. And of course, as we get older, it’s important for us to ask ourselves these same questions. 

Even though I’m still working my way through this, I thought I would share a few tips for talking to your parents about downsizing:

  1. Ease into it. If you have the time, begin asking your parents questions every now and then to get a sense of where their heads are at in terms of their next living situation. Ask where they envision retiring one day. If they could live anywhere, where would they live? You can talk through hypotheticals with them, and share downsizing experiences that your friends’ parents might be having. Not only will this give you an idea of what you can expect next, but it will hopefully get your parents talking and thinking about it too, if they’re not already.
  1. Frame things in the positive; ask what their NEXT dream home is like. Getting older and leaving the home they may have lived in for decades might be too scary for many people to even begin considering. Position it as a brainstorm or a creative exercise, a conversation around the kitchen table about what their NEXT dream home would be like, what amenities it would have, and the kind of qualities they’re looking for.
  1. Identify pros and cons of their current home. Ask your parents to take into consideration the costs (in terms of time, energy, and money) to maintain their current home. What needs to be done with each new season? What updates will need to happen in the next few years? What are their current expenses like, and how will those expenses change in the coming years? You can also focus on all of the great things their home offers them, and recount all of the benefits it offered them in the past. Was it wonderful to raise a family in, and does the home still suit them in those ways? (Maybe they remember how nice it was to have a huge yard for their kids to play in, but now the yard goes largely unused while still requiring hours of maintenance each week, for example.)
  1. Tour homes or retirement communities that they might eventually be interested in to show them what’s out there. It can’t hurt to tour a few different types of communities, like condo communities and retirement homes. For example, if your parents are totally turned off by the idea of living in “a retirement home,” they might change their mind once they see all of the different options that are out there. They can get an idea of what they do and don’t like, and the prospect of living somewhere that they can be surrounded by new friends and things to do might be something they want to transition to sooner than later!
  1. Talk about the financial aspect of everything. Finding a balance between what your parents want and what is financially feasible is something that I can always help people with, but it can help to plant a few seeds. Your parents might have some great equity in their current home that they can tap into for their next place, or they might need to cut their current expenses in order to continue living on their retirement income.

Sometimes, having an outsider come over and talk about housing and finance brings the extra benefit of a totally different point of view (and can take the pressure off of family members). One option is to have an evaluation done on their current home so you can have a better picture of their current financial situation.

If you need help starting the conversation or would like a home evaluation, I would love to help!

Your Friend. Your Neighbour. Your Realtor.