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Tips for making your downsize work for you

By Matthew McCormack

Thinking of moving out of the big family home now the kids have grown up and downsizing into something smaller, or an apartment? It can be a daunting prospect but for those empty nesters who’ve successfully done it, it can be the start of a whole new adventure.

“It’s very emotional because you have to let go of many things and have a big clean-out and when you’ve been in the family home for a while, that’s tough,” says Terry Carver, who shifted from a big four-bedroom Federation house with a pool in Sydney’s Roseville to a two-bedroom apartment in Potts Point 12 years ago.

“But I love it. It’s such a buzz living in an area close to the city. I have five hatted restaurants within 100 metres, I can walk everywhere and if I want to go away for the weekend, I just lock up and leave. And if I forget something, I can always phone the concierge and ask them to check it for me!”

People need to be prepared to declutter and adopt a more minamalist aesthetic.

His best tips for a successful downsize are to check there’s good storage both within the new home, and additional storage areas outside, like storage cages in the building, and storage units allowed to be installed at the front of car spaces. “And make sure your building of choice is well run as living communally does involve a whole lot of rules and things you might have little control over,” says Carver, a corporate adviser on mergers and acquisitions who’s also the chair of his Ikon building.

“It’s important to do your homework, a strata search and talk to people who already live in the building. You don’t want one with problems or special levies coming up.”

“I love it. It’s such a buzz living in an area close to the city. I have five hatted restaurants within 100 metres.”Terry Carver, Downsizer

So what other tips are there for making your downsize work for you?

1.  Sell the family house before you buy your downsizer home, advises Kellie McMillan, Belle Property Neutral Bay sales agent. With a big house on the Upper North Shore, you might be surprised at the price of apartments on the Lower North Shore. “So sell first, for peace of mind!” she says, recommending the second half of the year to put the house on the market – giving buyers time to enrol their kids at nearby schools.

2.  Be prepared to get rid of lots of stuff, which is always a challenge for downsizers, says Byron Rose of buyers agents Rose & Jones. “People need to be prepared to declutter. Their big old antique furniture mightn’t fit the proportions or space of a – usually – much more minimalist apartment.”

3.  Think of that as a positive new start, a chance to clear the decks to allow the possessions that inspire you to shine, rather than seeing it as being forced to let go, advises Sue Axlund of Axlund Goldstein Interiors. “It’s the opportunity for a clean slate, functional furniture, clever storage and good styling. And sell or donate CDs, DVDs and sports gear to schools or sports clubs. Giving makes everyone feel good.”

4.  Be prepared to compromise on your downsizer home. You might want a view, three bedrooms, three bathrooms and double parking but McMillan says they’re scarce. “So be flexible and ready to compromise on your wish list.”

5.  You often won’t even need two cars for apartments in highly walkable areas, with good public transport, predicts Murray Wood, director of CBRE Residential Projects. “People start by saying they need two car spaces but soon realise they only need one car,” he says. Services like GoGet are a useful filler.

6.  Choose an apartment building that’s encouraging a good mix of singles, couples, families and older people, and is actively building a sense of belonging, recommends Ben Fairfax, of developer Capital Bluestone. “We have purchaser events where people buying into a building can get together before a project is completed to get to know their neighbours,” he says. “That helps with the move and with the whole community fabric.”

7.  It can take a while to adjust to living with other people, and sharing a lift with others, the lobby, the car park, warns Rose. “So buyers should pay attention to the design of the apartment so they do retain privacy, and the size of their block so, if that’s an issue, they’re not sharing with too many people.”

8.  Make sure there’s effective security at the building and that it has a good front door with a clear street address and identity, says Turner architect Annraoi Morris. And check balcony or terrace depth. “Alfresco dining is very popular and that indoor-outdoor connection is a big part of life today,” says Fairfax.

9. Lots of amenities compensate for less space and the loss of the garden for a downsizer, believes Morris. See what the building has, or will have. Communal rooftop gardens? Swimming pools? BBQ areas with dining tables and seating? Cinema rooms or roofs? Landscaping? “Some people will end up with gardens bigger than they had at home,” he says. “And they don’t have to look after it!”

10.  If you’re still nervous about buying off the plan, engage a buyers’ agent to help you. “We’re finding this happening more and more now,” says Wood. “There are now some very good developers and while caution and prudence is always advisable, and you must do your research, who dares wins in this situation.”

11.  If you’re moving nearer to the city, be prepared for noise, warns Carver. “You might hear neighbours, street noise, traffic, fire engines, the loading dock for shops below. Have a good look around beforehand.”

12.  And don’t be surprised when, between selling the family home and buying a smaller place to downsize into, your children hold out their hands for a share of the cash difference. “A lot of people like to give their children a helping hand with, say, a deposit on a place for them,” says Rose. “But there may not be as much money left over as people think, and they certainly shouldn’t dish out the whole lot to their children!”

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