Most older people not prepared to downsize, study finds

Financial incentives and support on the sales process could help unlock housing supply

Most older people who own their homes are not interested in downsizing even if suitable alternative accommodation or financial incentives are available, a new study by the Department of Housing has found.

The research explored how open so-called “empty nesters” were to downsizing and what kind of measures would encourage them to move.

It found that more than 75 per cent of the 560,000 householders aged 55 and above who own their homes had no appetite to downsize.

The main factors inhibiting mobility were attachment to the home, attachment to the local area, and/or the lack of smaller housing units available in the same area.


Lead researcher Eoin Corrigan presented the findings on Wednesday at a housing conference jointly hosted by the Department of Housing and the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).

He noted that the 25 per cent of people who said they would consider moving in the right circumstances amounted to 137,000 households, a large subset of the State’s housing stock, which could be targeted to unlock further housing supply.

The Government is considering offering incentives to people willing to downsize, including allowances around stamp duty and capital gains tax, in a bid to boost housing supply, and the report aims to inform the Government’s policy measures in the area.

The report found that respondents to the survey were typically living in homes with three bedrooms, but were using only two.

It concluded that a number of “supportive” rather than punitive measures could encourage people to downsize, including improving the local supply of specifically designed housing units.

Sales support

Another measure to which people responded positively was some kind of service that would “hold their hands” through the potentially tricky sales process, Mr Corrigan said.

The research found that most people in this age cohort had been in the same home for at least 35 years and were uneasy about selling and finding a suitable alternative given the financial and legal process involved. Others said they would be open to financial incentives to move.

“Demographically we’re an ageing society and if it is the case that there is a large pool of households out there that are perhaps thinking about downsizing but are a little bit intimidated, we should think about how we could help them,” Mr Corrigan said.

“The benefit of this survey is that it gives us indications of what might be focused on by the State,” he said.

The Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) has also called on the Government to identify and acquire appropriate housing and development sites to build accommodation for older people along with measures to increase density in existing towns and villages.

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy is Economics Correspondent of The Irish Times