Many retirees say continuing to maintain a large family home after their nest has emptied is a burden —  both physically and financially.

Jennifer Pickett, the associate executive director of the United States-based organization, National Association of Senior Move Managers, which helps older adults with middle- and later-life transition issues, says according to a recent demographic survey of its members, 90% of clients (the 55-plus population) are downsizing.

Members of the association are seeing retirees moving into various scenarios — from buying another house or condominium to moving into a rental accommodation, independent living community or continuing care retirement community. According to the TD Canada Trust Boomer Buyers report, released October 2010, four out of five Canadian boomers said their next move will be to a smaller home, either to save money or to enjoy more luxurious features.

Bob Kentch, a seniors real estate specialist with Royal LePage Foothills in Okotoks, Alberta, says boomers and retirees are looking for something that still meets their needs, but at the same time is easy to manage. “Most people want to find something that’s affordable and is near their family — family is a big pull,” he says. Many are also looking for a turn-key property that has a number of upgrades — things that they’ve always wanted to have such as hardwood floors, granite kitchen counters and top-end appliances.

Advantages to downsizing in retirement may include:

  • Being closer to friends or family
  • Lower home maintenance costs
  • Better access to services that support your needs
  • Having more amenities such as access to a pool, golf course or gym
  • Not having to shovel snow or mow the lawn
  • Increased social interaction with other 50-plus residents

Some of the challenges of downsizing are:

Emotional considerations: Downsizing from a large family home to a condo can be a heart-wrenching exercise, says Kentch, and usually also requires deciding which possessions to keep and which to give away.

Property value: “In this economy, things just aren’t selling for what people think they should, so there are issues in terms of worth when you are downsizing. Also, things being sold going in an estate sale aren’t necessarily going to generate the dollars they may have a few years ago,” says Pickett.

Financial considerations: You need to make sure that you’re going to be able to afford to continue to live in your new environment long-term, says Pickett, whether it’s a condominium or retirement community that may charge maintenance fees.

The condo lifestyle: If you haven’t experienced a condo environment before, Kentch suggests renting one for a few months to get a feel for it, before considering ownership. If you have lived in a single-family home for most of your life, buying a condominium can bring surprises. Added maintenance fees are part of it, says Kentch, but there are also some things you can’t do that you can do in a single-family home, such as paint the exterior or build a deck.

If you are considering downsizing your home in retirement, Pickett says you should first examine your reasons for wanting to do it and ensure that your new environment will meet all of your needs. She says it’s also important to speak with your family before making the decision. Kentch agrees, and also recommends meeting with a realtor to discuss what you’re looking for and whether what you want is affordable.