What to Know If You Downsize Your Home to Save Money

Know the costs, consider the trade-offs and prepare for changing circumstances when downsizing.

The biggest house isn’t always the best house, especially if you’re hoping to simplify your life and save a few bucks while you’re at it. Often as people age, the desire to cut back and streamline in order to take a step up in lifestyle can mean taking a step down in home size. The reasons to downsize your home are many. They include shrinking expenses, reducing upkeep and maintenance, moving closer to family or starting a new adventure.

In fact, new single-family homes continue to decrease in size in 2017—according to the National Association of Home Builders—which creates more options if you’re looking to downsize your home to save money. Among baby boomers, 37 percent plan to move from their current home, with 54 percent of those moving also planning to downsize to a smaller home, according to the Demand Institute, which tracks consumer demand.

“A lot of people might wake up one day and realize that their home is just too big,” says Judy Dutton, deputy editor at realtor.com. “Oftentimes it is because the kids have gone off to college or because your aching back can’t handle raking up the fall leaves one more time.”

Before you downsize your home to save money, make sure you know the costs.

While there are many reasons to downsize your home, it’s important to thoroughly understand how downsizing will impact your finances and lifestyle before packing up those moving boxes.

Know the costs

If you’re considering downsizing your house to save money, you’ll want to be clear about the potential hidden costs before making any moves. Although a smaller home typically comes with a smaller price tag, if you’re subject to capital gains tax on profits from the sale of the larger home, those can potentially reduce your savings.

“Just because you’re moving out from a big house into a smaller one doesn’t automatically mean that you will be rolling in dough,” Dutton says. “Everybody assumes that downsizing will save you money, but oftentimes there are surprise curveball costs that creep in.”

The cost to move and furnish a new home is one of these common curveballs. The price of shipping household goods in 2014, for example, was nearly $13,000, according to Worldwide ERC, which tracks relocation data. Depending on the size and layout of your new space, you may also need to purchase new furniture and pay for storage for items that don’t fit in your new home.

There are plenty of reasons to downsize your home, including lower housing costs, less maintenance and less space.

It’s also critical to consider the cost of living in the smaller house when you downsize your home to save money. Many retirees, for example, relocate from the country or the suburbs to more expensive cities where they can walk to places easily and have access to culture and restaurants, says Bill Gassett, a Realtor at RE/MAX Executive Realty in Massachusetts.

“I am seeing a lot more millennials moving out from the city into the country, while the older folks are doing the opposite,” Gassett says.

People who downsize into a condo or a property with a homeowners association (HOA) will also need to factor in the cost of monthly HOA or condo fees, Dutton says. Check the association’s finances to make sure that it has a healthy reserve fund and won’t need to raise fees right after you move in, she adds.

Do your homework if you want to downsize your home to save money and assess the true costs before making any decisions, Dutton suggests.

Among baby boomers, 37 percent plan to move from their current home, with 54 percent of those moving also planning to downsize to a smaller home.

– Demand Institute

Consider the trade-offs

Like most things, downsizing your house to save money comes with trade-offs. Downsizing your house to save money may reduce some expenses, including your mortgage payment and utility bills, Dutton says.

One reason to downsize your home is to reduce property taxes. “There can be a pretty big difference in property taxes between one community and the next based on things like school districts and access to highways,” Gassett says.

Another popular reason to downsize your home is to cut back on the amount of maintenance and upkeep you need to do. “A lot of people find that it is very freeing to not be weighed down by the maintenance concerns of a large home,” Dutton says.

One common misconception that homeowners have, however, is that a downsize from a single-family home to a condo or property with an HOA brings a complete lack of maintenance. In reality, Gassett explains, some condos and HOAs have strict rules that could irritate former homeowners.

Downsizing your house to save money can come with other costs.

“If you have gone your whole life being the king of your castle and then all of a sudden someone else is telling you what you can and can’t do,” he says, “that can be really shocking.”

While downsizing your house to save money may sound appealing, change can be difficult, especially if there are a lot of memories attached to the previous home. You may also miss some of the features of a larger home, such as space to host a large celebration, extra rooms for guests or a basement for storage.

Prepare for life’s changing circumstances

If you decide to downsize your home to save money, you’ll also need to consider how big the new home should be. Do you need space for unexpected circumstances, such as an adult child moving back home or a parent needing assisted living care? Or do you want an extra room so a grandchild can visit?

“I have certainly heard of a lot of parents who purposely get smaller homes where the kids can never move back in,” Dutton says.

If you want to downsize your home to save money but also want room for the possibility to house family, Dutton says a current trend is to have a multi-use room in a smaller home that has a pull-down bed for visitors.

When downsizing your house to save money and determining how much space you’ll need in your new place, think about your objectives for downsizing. Do you want to be near family? Is the ability to walk to shops and restaurants enticing? Are you eager to travel? According to Gassett, some homeowners actually downsize into two smaller properties—a smaller property in their hometown and a second residence in a vacation destination.

“Just because you’re moving out from a big house into a smaller one doesn’t automatically mean that you will be rolling in dough. Everybody assumes that downsizing will save you money, but oftentimes there are surprise curveball costs that creep in.”

– Judy Dutton, deputy editor at realtor.com

Find your own adventure

There are many reasons to downsize your home, whether it’s to save money or to simplify your life. Freeing up your time or your finances (or both) provides opportunities for a variety of new adventures, such as traveling, cultural activities, spending more time with family, volunteering, starting new hobbies or learning new skills.

The surest bet to downsizing your house to save money is not to make any assumptions about how much you will spend or save. Instead, do your calculations to find the best way to start your new journey.

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