As detached house prices continue to soar across Australia, more over 50s are looking to trade in their overly large and redundant family home for a new apartment or townhouse.

Recent research has indicated more downsizers are seeking apartments and townhouses with similar-sized living quarters to their existing homes but with more easily maintained features, improved security and in close proximity to transport hubs and amenities.

The guide below outlines the apartment and townhouse features downsizers should consider when searching for their new ‘forever home’.

1. Apartment size and bedroom mix

It’s a common misconception that downsizers are mainly looking for smaller studio or one bedroom apartments. 

In fact, the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute in 2020 found that downsizers have the highest satisfaction levels with three bedroom apartments, closely followed by two-bedroom apartments. 

The research pointed to the conclusion that the “perfect” downsizer apartment size - if there is such a thing - was two bedrooms with a study.

By having such an apartment, downsizers are able to cater not only for themselves but also visiting children, grandchildren and home office needs, along with storage requirements. 

Downsizers tend to be looking for spacious living areas, as shown by this
apartment at the Akoya project at Greenwich in Sydney

The same research also finds that downsizers are typically keen to have a small, low-maintenance garden or balcony space and a spacious living area which is similar in size to the home they are leaving.

This means that most downsizers are seeking the “Goldilocks” option – a mid-sized apartment or townhouse that’s neither too big nor too small but spacious enough to entertain and accommodate family and friends when needed.

It also means that, when inspecting an apartment building, you need to ask for the percentage of two and three bedroom apartments in the project.

A higher proportion of these larger apartment types means the project is more likely to accommodate downsizers and therefore you’ll be moving into a like-minded community, as distinct to a community mainly designed for renters, students or first home buyers.

2. Storage

Downsizing is not about having to do away with all the belongings you've acquired over many years to move into a smaller residence. 

It’s about keeping what you truly value and being able to store it comfortably in a new home.

Another thing to take into account are the hobbies or sports you may pursue in later life which require room to house equipment or supplies.

Downsizer-friendly apartments tend to have more generous storage

Because of this, it’s crucial to consider the amount of functional storage space an apartment or townhouse offers. This could include cupboards and storage units within the apartment itself as well as other storage facilities within the building. 

3. Fittings and finishes

If you see your move to an apartment or townhouse as being a permanent one, you’ll naturally want to find a home that has premium fittings and finishes, along with top quality kitchens, bathrooms, accessories and joinery. 

You may want the freedom to choose between different colour schemes and fixtures in line with your personal preference and taste. 

If so, look out for downsizer-friendly apartment developments that offer some flexibility and provide premium quality inclusions that will stand the test of time in terms of both style and durability.  

In contrast, sometimes you’ll see projects aimed at investors or first time buyers contain very functional and durable, but not necessarily premium, finishes. Think laminate kitchens as distinct to Caeserstone benchtops.

If you buy off-the-plan (that is before construction), you’ll be in a stronger position to influence the fittings and finishes in your apartment.

4. Gardens and outdoor space

Many downsizers are thrilled at the prospect of moving to an apartment or townhome where maintaining gardens or grounds is either less of a chore, or no longer their responsibility at all. 

In 2020, the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute found 60 per cent of downsizers moved to a dwelling with a smaller garden and 16 per cent went to no garden at all.

Many downsizer-friendly apartment complexes provide opportunity for residents to explore and use communal gardens and greenspaces (sometimes including BBQ areas and community vegetable and herb gardens). This means these downsizers can still get the garden experience, without having to spend time (or solely fund) the upkeep.

Outdoor communal vegetable garden at Golden Age's Sky Garden project

In addition a project with larger balconies and outdoor areas which can accommodate small gardens and BBQs, tables and chairs is likely to be targeting downsizers as a buyer cohort, meaning you’ll be moving into a complex with more like-minded individuals.

This reflects the fact that, as outlined in the above research, most downsizers are happy to lose the large yard and sprawling garden, but are keen to keep a small garden space of their own.

In addition, look for balconies which contain entertaining or gardening features such as taps or gas bayonets for BBQs.

5. Parking

When it comes to finding the right apartment or townhome, parking could be one of your primary concerns. Having a secure place to park and garage your car(s) is probably not a luxury you'll be willing to give up if you're moving from a large house.

As a result, apartment projects aimed at downsizers tend to have more parking spots. 

In fact, it may be well worth asking the developer about the number of spots across the project and the ratio of parking spots to apartments.

In addition, consider:

  • The overall size of garages and parking bays
  • The amount of room provided for loading walking aids and wheelchairs
  • The ease with which vehicles can be manoeuvred into and out of the garage

6. Accessible design 

It’s important that buyers take a close look at whether their future apartment or townhouse has the right design features to help them “age in place” should physical limitations and mobility become an issue. 

While some developers support Liveable Housing Australia Guidelines and will have taken measures to provide ageing-friendly inclusions, the laws and policies to support their mandatory implementation are still a work in progress. 

Trip-free design features, such as this hobless shower, are an important part of downsizer-friendly apartments

A national Building Better Homes campaign has also pushed the needle forward with basic accessibility standards but, as of October 2021, not all states and territories have committed to implementing them.

Things to look for include:

  • Trip-free doorways (including sliding doors to balconies)
  • Slip-free floors 
  • Spacious kitchens and laundries with well-placed benches
  • Continuous flooring in the bathroom with adequate space around the toilet
  • Higher power points
  • Lower positioning of windows to enhance outdoor views while seated.

It’s also important to have the ability to retrofit additional grab rails and bathroom supports if and when they’re needed.

7. Smart features

An increasing number of new apartment developments are adopting technology to improve access, usability and convenience. 

And it seems the appeal isn't restricted to younger buyers - many in the older baby boomer generation are expressing interest in "smart" apartments equipped with automated or remotely controlled devices.

The benefits of automation range from energy savings and concierge services to enhanced security. And buying into a development that has embraced smart technology can give you some of the following advantages:

  • Keyless entry
  • Automated lighting and temperature control
  • Energy use monitoring
  • Remote control via smartphone
  • Ability to remotely grant others access

8. Construction quality

Given your new apartment or townhouse is likely to be your “forever home”, the quality of the building is a critical issue.

Larger developers often handle the entire process in-house but equally, a diverse range of external architects, builders and project managers may be involved.

Each can have a major effect on the quality of the finished product and warrant close scrutiny.

Construction quality is a critical part of buying a new apartment or townhouse

As a buyer you should:

  • Look into a developer’s portfolio of past projects
  • Establish whether there will be consistency in the project team throughout the development (you would prefer the initial architect for instance to be there until the end)
  • Ask about the quality control process and how they will handle things if any issues or defects arise, including insurance schemes
  • Get the best legal advice possible before signing on the bottom line
  • See whether the developer (or its projects) have won any industry awards

9. Social clubs and community

Preserving strong social ties is the key to happiness and fulfilment as you age. 

With this in mind, apartment and townhouse developments targeted to downsizers are increasingly being designed to include thriving lifestyle precincts and social hubs. 

The aim is to allow residents to keep active while making and maintaining friendships and social connections. 

Developments might be set around a bowling green and tennis courts. In coastal communities, they may have berthing facilities and boating access.

Luxurious gyms and pools together with lounge areas, games rooms and in-house cinemas are among the other features buildings now include to lure buyers. 

Theatres and pools are a sign the apartment project may have a strong social network

Complementing these are outdoor facilities like communal rooftop terraces and gardens where residents can mingle for a drink or a barbeque, and play areas for children and grandchildren.

Of course, you may want to choose a project that not only promotes a sense of community within the complex but is also close to external social, recreation and sporting clubs. 

10. Access to shops and transport

The amenities that surround your development are an important factor in its liveability and give it greater potential to increase in value the longer you own it.

In fact, many modern downsizers are rejecting the idea of relocating to isolated communities and prefer to remain in centres that are close to retail, transport, restaurants and cinemas.

This has been demonstrated by the strong demand for two and three-bedroom apartments in areas where shopping and dining, clubs and recreation and medical and allied health services are available within walking distance or a short drive.

11. Concierges and security

Many downsizers are keen to give up work and begin a life of freedom and travel.

This means they are looking for a home they can simply ‘lock and leave’, without worrying about garden maintenance or security.

A good, modern security system and the presence of an on-site concierge are good signs that the apartment project is the right fit if you want to enjoy this lifestyle.

12. Marketing materials and identity

A developer’s project marketing materials are also an important tool for downsizers to use to ascertain whether an apartment or townhouse is right for them.

You could look for written affirmations in this material that the project is specifically designed for and targeted at downsizers.

Part of this research is to work out whether the developer has a scattergun approach to marketing and is simply targeting downsizers because they've exhausted other avenues.

13. Age limits

Some new apartment buildings, as a condition of their planning approval, can only be occupied by people 55 and over.

If such a condition exists on a project, it’s probably the strongest sign of all that it’s specifically for downsizers.

Comment from our CEO CEO Amanda Graham says finding an apartment or townhouse can be the perfect move for many empty nesters preparing for their next “life stage”. 

“It may tick all the boxes regarding location, quality design, space, style and comfort - as well as allowing them to live the lifestyle they want, set themselves up for financial security, and have the peace of mind of knowing that they can age in place.”

“More baby boomers are seeing apartments and townhouses as the perfect downsizing option,” Ms Graham. “However, like any major decision, it’s important to do your homework first, before signing on the bottom line.”

Marina Roussel is a freelance features and content writer focusing on property market trends, real estate and lifestyle

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