No one ever wants to face the fact that they’re getting older but trading down at the right stage in life can free up the golden years, provide a home you can future-proof and possibly even generate hard cash.
If you're struggling to heat your home, living in a house that is too big or finding it hard to meet its upkeep then it may be time to trade down, says estate agent Rory Crerar, a consultant at auctioneer Herman White, who recently took the plunge.
Crerar has just swapped a 1960s-built property of about 1,700sq ft – half of which, he came to realise, was in use only a couple of times a year – for a property of about 1,000sq ft. He sees a lot of people living in similar situations. “In many cases their children have flown the nest and living as far away as Canada and Australia, the houses are virtually empty, many are Victorian and can be a nightmare to heat.”
Crerar says pragmatic considerations such as taking students in or trying the rent-a-room scheme to pay for upkeep are worth pursuing, but it can take weeks, months and even years to come to the decision to downsize. His advice is that if you know your home is just too big for your needs then be sensible and move.
Yes, you lose out on floor area, he says, and, if you buy an apartment or duplex, there’s an annual maintenance fee to consider, but a house really needs to be upgraded every 20 years anyway so the costs even out whether you stay or go.
Questions to ask
When should you move?
Move when you are still able to, says the late 50-something. "We moved because the kids had left home but early to mid-60s is the time you should start considering it. You are still young enough to get involved in the new community you're going into and you need to have the energy to make new friends. If you're too tired to get involved then it is already too late."
Can I afford to downsize?
Before you ever put your home on the market you need to crunch the figures to see if you can afford to move, Crerar says. "You need to have a clear idea of how much your home might sell for and the expenses you have to outlay to sell it, including agent's fees, solicitor's fees, stamp duty, movers, storage costs and repaying any remaining mortgages. Subtracting these will give a strong idea of the money you have to buy with. Negotiate everything before you execute contracts so there are little or no surprises." He believes you need to come away with a substantial financial gain for it to make sense. "It's the only time you can avail of a tax-free windfall, and it can make a very painful process worthwhile. Don't make a similar sideways move with nothing to show for it – you might as well have upgraded your own house."
What about giving the kids money?
Despite the Taoiseach's remarks about tapping the bank of mum and dad for funds, Crerar says you shouldn't be giving the children anything when trading down. "Let the children look after themselves. At this stage in your life you need to look after yourselves first – the healthier you are the less it costs to run your home and the less onerous it is on your kids. If you're not fit and healthy then that becomes a struggle for the kids."
Where do I to move to?
You next need to decide where you want to live. If living in Dublin do you want to remain in the city or its environs? Or do you want to move to the middle of the country or live by the sea? He recommends carrying out "due diligence" and getting out to see and try where it is you think you want to live.
“In an ideal world you would rent short term to get a feel for the area and indeed try apartment living before making the jump, but in the current climate such short-term rentals are expensive and really difficult to find.” His advice is to do several day trips to the city’s suburbs to see what they really feel like.
Or, if you always fancied living by the sea then decamp to a coastal B&B in the area. Will the seaside still be appealing off season when 10ft waves crash the foreshore or the damp creeps into the postcard-pretty cottage you fell in love with on a sunny June day.
“The cost of a few days’ accommodation will be worth it to help you come to a decision and to narrow your choices,” Crerar says, advising also to check if there are shops nearby, within walking distance, and if not how would you manage if you were incapacitated?
“Are the shops only open during the tourist season or all year round? If you don’t have internet banking how many miles will you have to travel to the nearest bank and is it the firm you bank with or not? What are the public transport links like from it to the main cities and airports?”
What to do with a lifetime of belongings?
A lot of downsizers haven't moved in quite a while so you will have to ruthlessly declutter, he says, for up to 70 per cent of what you own just won't be applicable. His rule of thumb: if you haven't touched something in three years then it is unlikely you're going to touch it in the next three years, so get rid of it.
Crerar sold furniture and tableware at Herman & Wilkinson’s weekly household auctions in Rathmines. It didn’t earn him a king’s ransom, he says, but it disposed of a lot. The auction house won’t take everything so ask your local charity shops what they might be interested in. Family members may also take some of the furniture.
How do I future-proof my home?
Unless buying a new build your new abode will need some form of future-proofing, from upgrading insulation to new windows, a new heating system, electrics and plumbing, including a combi-boiler that provides hot water without the need for an immersion heater, and wheelchair-accessible door frames. If you insulate the walls you will also have to redecorate. This, he says, will probably cost anywhere from €30,000 to €50,000 on a 20-year-old property of about 1,000sq ft.
What about legalities?
"You need a really good conveyancing solicitor to be able to juggle the selling of one property and the buying of another at the same time," Crerar says. "There may be complications with the sale of your house that will delay the transaction and these delays can be costly." Be prepared, he says. "Things won't work out 100 per cent – they never do."
Finding the right property
The main difficulty in this market is finding a property that you can afford to buy, Crerar says, adding that if you buy something and it doesn't work out you can always sell it again. "It is costly but you can move again."
Five properties with good public transport links
142, Bloomfield Park, Donnybrook, Dublin 4
Agent: Eoin O'Neill Property Advisers
Bloomfield Park is a lovely, mature development in communal gardens with water features off the main drag on Morehampton Road. This one-bed, ground-floor unit of 49sq m, has a westerly patio and is just a five-minute walk to Donnybrook village. Management fees are €2,500 annually including security and a caretaker.
Transport links: The Aircoach stops outside the Hampton Hotel, a brisk one-minute walk away, and the 46A bus runs between the seafront at Dún Laoghaire and the Phoenix Park.
182 Bushy Park House, Terenure, Dublin 6W
Agent: Herman White
This three-bed 130sq m property is situated on the third floor and has a wrap-around balcony so a gardener can still keep plants. Rathfarnham shopping centre is an eight-minute walk away and Templeogue village has good shops, pubs and neighbourhood restaurants. The development adjoins Bushy Park. The management fee is about €1,800 annually.
Transport links: Bus numbers 49, 65 and 15 service this route.
23 The Crofton, 16-18 George's Place, Dún Laoghaire
Agent: Sherry FitzGerald
This two-bed, two-bath penthouse has ramps up from the car park and into the building and lifts to the top floor. The property measures 82sq m and has views spanning Dublin Bay. Dún Laoghaire's two piers are within a short walk of the apartment block.
Transport links: The Dart station at Dún Laoghaire is a five-minute walk. So is the bus stop where you can pick up the cross-town 46A.
21 Church Road, Sutton, Dublin 13
Agent: JB Kelly
Situated just off Greenfield Road, adjacent to Sutton Lawn Tennis Club, the Marine Hotel, the village and the seashore, this three-bedroom, mid-terrace artisan cottage is in need of modernisation, insulation and reconfiguration but could be lovely. Measuring just 63sq m there is scope to extend and introduce more light.
Transport links: The 102 bus travels from the station at Sutton Cross to Dublin Airport. The Dart travels north to Howth and Malahide and south to Greystones. The 31A services Howth and the city centre (terminus: Talbot Street).
Golf Road, Mulranny, Co Mayo
Agent: Rona Moran
Built in 1994 this three-bed detached house, set on more than an acre of land, is situated less than a mile outside the village of Mulranny, Co Mayo. It overlooks the nine-hole golf course that sweeps down to the sea and has uninterrupted views across Clew Bay to Nephin. The village is thronged in summer with visitors to the greenway, and the GN Mulranny Park Hotel, while closed for January, has a gym, pool, sauna and steam room facilities.
Transport links: A 30-minute drive away is Westport, where there are train links to Dublin and Ballina. There are Bus Éireann services from Westport to Galway and Sligo as well as several daily services from Mulranny to Westport.