When Is It Time For Seniors To Downsize?


I am very fortunate in that many of my clients are seniors and they look to me to assist them in their transition to downsizing their home requirements. It is not easy decision to sell the home where they raised families, celebrated with neighbours and friends and made a house a home.
For many seniors, just the thought of selling stirs up fear and anxiety about leaving their home, neighbourhood, and friendships for unfamiliar territory—so much so that they often convince themselves a move isn’t necessary.

Here’s a common Toronto scenario that I have witnessed: A couple begins the process of downsizing and preparing to put their home on the market, even putting down a deposit at a senior community. Then doubt and confusion set in, and the next thing you know, they cancel the move and ask for the deposit back. All this happens usually within a few days. Or, you might meet a woman who’s lived in her home for more than 30 years and whose husband has passed away, leaving her with the responsibility of maintaining a home that’s aging and in need of improvements. She’s on a tight budget and doesn’t have the resources to upgrade the home, but she still clings to the comfort and familiarity of her neighbourhood.

As a Royal Lepage realtor, I have taken an extensive multi day course (Senior Real Estate Specialist – SRES) on how to provide specific counsel relating to an aging population’s housing needs. I have become well known of my experience in dealing with seniors in that I have been ask on numerous occasions to write for the national magazine “Zoomer”.

Adult children are very concerned about their parents’ current living situation and it is critical that they are involved in any discussions of a move. The situation could be where the adult children live in the same community so are looking to have me partner directly with them in all aspects of the sale. Another scenario is where adult children live in other cities, provinces or countries and are relying on me to broker additional issues that may not be directly associated with the home sale. The great news is we live in a digital world so regular communication between all parties is key to keeping all informed of transition process.

On our very first meeting I like to guide them through the decision-making process. There are lots of questions and here are a couple of items that I like to explore to assess an individual situation:

  • Does your home provide the best environment for the physical needs you have?
  • Have you isolated yourself from friends and family because your inability to maintain your home has left it in disrepair?
  • Have you had trouble finding workers to take care of maintenance?
  • Are finances keeping you from enjoying the home you’ve loved for so many years?
  • Do you feel you have adequate security and access to care where you are?

If they can answer yes to more than one of these questions, then they are a candidate for downsizing.

For example, many seniors experience a debilitating sense of dread when they imagine trying to fit all of their belongings into smaller quarters. Many people, however, use only certain areas of their home the majority of the time. Measure the square footage of the areas the seniors currently occupy the most—say, the living room or den, kitchen, bath, and bedroom—and compare that with the square footage of the apartment or other living arrangement they’re considering. In some cases, the sellers might actually gain space.

Here are some additional steps I recommend to help you or an aging parent to overcome any fears.

  1. Visit senior communities and apartments in the area. Seniors might not be aware of the many choices available. Marketing directors often will be happy to give tours of their facilities and explain the different types of senior housing. Among them: Senior apartment complexes cater to older adults, but residents must be able to care for themselves. Retirement communities are self-contained residential complexes with support services and recreational and social amenities. Continuing care retirement communities offer three levels of living environments—independent, assisted living, and skilled nursing. Become familiar with all the facilities in your area so that you can speak knowledgeably to seniors.
  2. Talk to trusted advisers. Clergy, an attorney, relatives, a physician, or a best friend are all excellent sources of unbiased advice. Counsel seniors to discuss their feelings with their advisers and describe how their current situation is affecting their view of life. Encourage them to divulge any difficulties they’re experiencing, such as physical hardships and anxieties, such as loneliness. Then suggest that they let their advisers help guide them with love and concern to the right decision.
  3. Make lists of benefits and objections. List on one side of a sheet of paper all of the reasons a move would be good and to list on the other side all the negatives. Suggest they put the paper away for a couple of days, then reread the answers. After reflection, the right path to take could become obvious.

I find this transition process very fulfilling. It’s incredible honour and a privilege to be asked to be their trusted guide in making this journey.