As we age, we look at our home in different ways.
A open staircase can change from being a quirky talking-point to a triphazard.
A shower-over-a-bath stops being a convenient two-in-one feature, instead becoming a very real impediment to personal care. An open fireplace no longer feels as warm when lighting it becomes a daily struggle.
A lush garden can quickly morph from being a pleasure to a jungle. A tiny garage moves from being a hassle to preventing you from safely accessing your car.
Most older homes were built without consideration of accessibility, making them poorly suited to safe living in older age.
In addition to hazards, crowded bathroom designs, narrow doorways and low-situated power points, older homes lack well positioned handrails and trip-free shower recesses.
It’s perhaps inevitable that many older Australians reach a decision point: to renovate or downsize? Here are a list of pros and cons to help you consider which option is right for you.
Renovating with a view to making your home suitable for you as you age can be as simple as installing a couple of rails and changing taps and doorhandles to undertaking complete bathroom and kitchen renovations.
Renovating - The Pros
Home, sweet home
Our typical initial instinct when asked whether we would prefer to stay at home or move elsewhere, is to hold on tightly to home. Research indicates that most older Australians want to stay in their home as they age. The rise of government supported Home Care packages is a strong positive facilitator of this aim.
By staying and renovating, you can stay in a house, neighbourhood and community that you are familiar with. You know where to find the best cappuccino and the layout of the nearest supermarket (well, until they change it and confuse everyone!). You likely have friends nearby and hopefully know some of your neighbours.
You can continue to be surrounded by memories and there is no pressure to declutter or downsize the mementos, artworks and furniture you’ve gathered over the years.
You do it your way
When renovating, you can choose elements and features that suit you; everything from colours to the height of rails and benches.
Changes can be made gradually so that you are not overwhelmed by a bigger renovation project.
And, for those with time and skills, there is the opportunity to enjoy the project management and perhaps flex some hammer-wielding muscles. When engaging tradespeople, you can use existing networks of people you know and trust.
Forward to the future
Improving the accessibility of your house will help you stay at home for longer...and may also improve your property's value.
This is because it is not just older people who will benefit from your renovated home – and will therefore be interested in purchasing it when the time comes.
Families with young children will appreciate stroller access and fewer trip hazards. Anyone who has an injury or disability will appreciate accessibility features that you’ve created through renovation.
Renovating - The Cons
What’s that old saying about renovating — that you should estimate the time and cost, then double them both? There is no doubt that renovating comes with potential pitfalls that can be time and money sinkers.
Any delays or changes to plans are particularly troublesome when you have urgent need of the independent living features you are installing. And, let’s face it, the days of using a camping stove on the back deck while the kitchen is being renovated are best left to those comfortably under 50.
Then there’s the stress. If you are not someone who relishes a big project, is a renovation something you really want to take on?
If you instantly picture a retirement village when you think of downsizing, then it’s time to expand your vision. Retirement villages are one great option as are land lease communities, senior rental villages, freehold over 55s housing villages and granny flats (now, more trendily, known as tiny homes).
Downsizing – The Pros
Most downsizing-style accommodation already offers features that you either already need, or are likely to in the future, such as single-level living, wider doorways and shower recesses and balcony windows that are trip-free.
Sure, some tweaking might be required but, if the bathroom wall is already strong enough to support a rail, it is an easier step to change the height of the rail than it is to first reinforce the wall.
Some downsized accommodation options are co-located with higher level care facilities, reducing the magnitude of later change if needed.
The positives of change
Though many people’s initial reaction is that they don’t want to move, research shows that the vast majority who have downsized are happy.
Research, published in 2020 by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute, reports that those who had downsized benefitted from less house and garden maintenance, an increased sense of safety arising from having others nearby and a sense of adventure in exploring a new area and making new friends.
Many downsizer options come with shared facilities, like a café, pool or social groups, that will allow you to enjoy life without even leaving your (new) home.
What's more, research also shows that downsizing may not only make your happier, it may also make your healthier and live longer.
This conclusion is backed by a report by public accountants Grant Thornton, commissioned by the Retirement Living Council in 2014, which found that retirement village residents live independently for five years longer than the national average. The report found that the average age of entry from a retirement village to aged care was 84, compared to the national aged care entry age of 79.
On a societal level, an under recognised positive of downsizing is that larger homes, often with unused rooms, are freed up for growing families.
Moving in with a like-minded community
Particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, people have seen the benefits of moving into a like-minded and friendly community which you will find in a retirement village or land lease community.
If you stay in your own home, you may find the neighbourhood changes around you - and not always to your liking - neighbours who were once your friends move away, or the neighbourhood is mainly made up of younger families with their own separate social networks.
If there is one thing that is guaranteed about living in a downsizing community, is that you'll never be isolated and alone.
Money, money, money
Downsizing can be a financial boon just when it is needed most.
For renters, a smaller footprint usually leads to reduced rents and, therefore, more disposable income.
For all, the costs of running and maintaining a smaller home are a huge benefit of downsizing.
Downsizing - The Cons
Is change as good as a holiday? Perhaps, for you, change simply causes stress.
Unless a straightforward option is on the table for you — perhaps moving to a smaller second home — then downsizing will involve considerable research and decision making.
There is no doubt that financial and legal aspects of downsizing can be complex and, at times, confusing. Then there are uncertainties that come with anything new — what will your new home really be like once you’ve settled in?
If you are concerned about the stress associated with downsizing, you might be interested to hear that research shows most downsizers report a medium to high level of stress around the move, but that this did not stop them being happy with their decision once settled.
Summarising the pros and cons for you
It’s interesting that research shows that most people want to stay at home AND that most people who have downsized are happy they made the move. And, isn’t it curious that, in this list, the numbers of positives for both renovating and downsizing far outweigh the negatives?
What this suggests is that it is not so much the outcome but the process of making an active decision that leads to satisfaction and happiness. This is especially so if you start the process well before you have an acute need resulting from a health crisis or other change in personal circumstances.
Regardless of the details of your final decision, if you actively consider the options, thoughtfully discuss ideas with loved ones and trusted advisors, and come to a considered decision, you will be in good stead for safe and enjoyable living for years to come.
Find out more
If you are looking to research options for downsizing, you’ve come to the right place.
And here are some other resources which might help your decision.
- AHURi research: https://www.ahuri.edu.au/research/resources/video/video-from-effective-downsizing-options-for-older-australians
- Expand your vision: https://www.downsizing.com.au/news/743/Downsizing-in-Australia-important-tips-to-help-your-move
- Fund your retirement: https://www.downsizing.com.au/news/808/How-to-use-home-equity-to-fund-your-retirement
- Boost your super: https://www.downsizing.com.au/news/816/The-downsizer-contribution-superannuation-scheme-your-questions-answered
- Research: https://www.downsizing.com.au/news/580/Most-Australians-happy-theyve-downsized-but-suffer-short-term-stress-new-report-finds