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The Downsizer’s Dilemma

Updated: Mar 21, 2019

Baby Boomers have been driving social change and economic growth in the US since the 1970s. Today the Boomers are shaping the real estate market in unintended ways by simply staying in their homes longer. According to a recent study from Trulia, 80% of Americans over the age of 65 own their home. 65 is also the age when people have traditionally considered downsizing their homes. The classic reasons for downsizing include:

  • The Home is Too Big: Unused rooms and the park-like yard become a waste of space after the children have left home.

  • Maintenance Costs: Taxes, utilities and home/yard maintenance lead the way.

  • Funding Retirement: For some, home equity represents a significant portion of their retirement savings. As we’ve learned, home equity is not a certainty nor is it typically liquid.

  • Lifestyle: It’s common to see retirees sell one large house to in order to buy two smaller homes, one of which will likely be considered a second or vacation home.

  • Less Environmental Impact: A growing number of people are concerned about their carbon footprint. Smaller homes use less energy, especially when they’re newer.

  • A Quest for a Simpler Life: Moving to a smaller home forces the owner to de-clutter. It also requires less cleaning and yard-work over the long run.

Still, with these compelling reasons to move, older homeowners are staying in place longer. Some experts claim that Baby Boomers are contributing to the housing inventory crunch. What we are seeing in Northern Nevada are additional challenges effecting homeowner mobility including the following:

  • Shortage of Inventory: There just aren’t enough homes on the market. Moreover, retirees typically look for practical, affordable, single level homes in a convenient location. Any guess as to what attributes most Millennials are looking for in a home now? Yep, practical, affordable and in a convenient location. In our area, the two largest generations in American history are often battling over the same houses.

  • Lack of New Construction: According to a 2018 report by Zillow almost 60% of “new home” buyers are over the age of 55. Unfortunately, the selection of new homes in Washoe County is also relatively low. We’re offering less than 50% of the inventory buyers had to choose from in 2005 and Northern Nevada building permit applications for single family homes are down again this year.

  • Delayed Gratification: According to Bloomberg Magazine, people are retiring much later in life. In 1990 38% of those aged 62-64 were still working, in 2017 that number rose to 53%. Also consider the growth of multi-generational homes (adult children & parents living together). In 2009, while in the depth of the recession, Pew Research estimated that 17% of families lived in multi-generational homes. In 2017 that number rose to 20% despite a much healthier economy.

  • Wealthy & Middle-Class Boomers are living longer: Today the typical Baby Boomer is projected to live well into their 80’s. Homeowners are simply able to delay this decision longer than past generations.

Downsizing is a complex subject and the answer is not always to sell the house. For some the best strategy is to age in place and/or to modify the home to make room for family members or future care-givers. In any event, it will pay to review all your options and a develop a plan early on. Nobody likes to think about getting old but the biggest mistake I see aging homeowners make is to wait until the decision is pressed upon them. In any event, it’s good to have a trusted advisor nearby during times like this, I can help.

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