Downsizing as a lifestyle choice rather than economic necessity

During an economic decline, downsizing becomes more common when home owners find themselves increasingly cash-strapped and debt-ridden, but this is only one reason motivating South Africans to move to smaller homes.

Sandy Geffen, Executive Director of Sotheby's International Realty South Africa, says downsizing can also free up a considerable amount of money each month that can be put to good use, such as boosting your retirement fund, decreasing debt or saving for an overseas family holiday.

“Two other reasons commonly cited by people selling larger homes are lifestyle and security. Compact homes generally require less maintenance, which means home owners can get out and enjoy life rather than spending weekends mowing the lawn and attending to a seemingly endless list of basic maintenance. And as the smaller properties are usually situated in gated communities or estates, they offer a greater level of security.”

According to a report by specialist property research company Lightstone, one in 10 recent residential property purchases in South Africa have been in gated communities, and despite the fact that the rate of development nationally had slowed, demand had not. The overall value of these properties is around R800 billion, which according to Geffen indicates the extent of this trend.

“Lightstone’s research shows that only about a tenth of the properties in this sector that fall into the luxury category,” says Geffen. “The vast majority are the sort of compact homes that specifically cater to this movement in lifestyle demand – people wanting safer, smaller and easier to maintain homes.”

Justine Roux, Area Specialist for Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty in Johannesburg’s Atholl, Illovo and Inanda, says that up to 70% of the homes currently for sale in her areas are by older couples who have raised their families and are now downsizing.

“They want to have flexibility to travel, be with their grown up children, migrate to retirement homes at the coast or just have more time and money to do the things they enjoy like playing golf.”

She adds that Illovo has also become popular with this market, especially those who want to stay in the area, as there are numerous lock-up-and-go homes in secure complexes within the suburb.

Grahame Diedericks, Manager Principal for Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty in Midrand, adds that another common reason for downsizing is convenience.

“Buyers often want to move closer to major metropolitan centres for the convenience of being nearer to work, schools and amenities and cut down on commuting time, and in many instances are forced to downsize due to increased property pricing in certain areas.

“And, although it’s certainly not always the cheaper option, people place a high premium on the peace of mind afforded by living in a secure, access controlled complex or building rather than in a house with large grounds.”

According to a recent report released by FNB Property Economist John Loos, the overall percentage of South Africans citing “Downscaling with Life Stage” as a reason for selling, rose substantially from 13% in 2008 to 27% in 2016.

Loos says: “Selling to downscale due to life stage refers most often to home owners whose children have left home, or they are merely becoming too old to maintain a larger home, and so the decide to downscale to a smaller or cheaper home. These people are typically in the older echelons of the home owner market, and have now become a strong driver of repeat home buyer demand as they downscale.”

But whatever the reason for downsizing may be, it’s never an easy task and it takes considerable forethought and planning to minimise the stress of transplanting one’s life and worldly goods into a smaller space.

Geffen advises: “If you think that there is even a possibility of downsizing in the near future, start the process slowly by gradually getting rid of things that you haven’t used in years and researching property options in areas you like, as well as the potential moving costs.

“Then, if you do decide to go ahead with the move, you are making informed decisions and are already in the mind set so it won’t seem such an insurmountable, Herculean task.”

According to Geffen, there are certain actions to help one navigate the ordeal with less stress, but it involves planning ahead and not leaving everything until the last minute.

Start thinning out your belongings at least three months before the move. Set aside some time each day each day if possible and methodically work your way through the house. Work with three boxes labelled: keep, sell and donate. Be ruthless, especially with items you haven’t used for a number of years – you’re unlikely to use them in the future.

Use floor plans to prearrange your furniture before the move. This is a useful reality check and will also help to make any difficult decisions about what to keep and discard. If there is a choice between two items, always opt for comfort unless it’s a valuable family heirloom.

Be creative. Whilst it’s impossible to recreate your larger old home in the new, smaller space, familiar elements can be incorporated or transplanted; a favourite chandelier can be moved across and built-in features like cupboards can be installed in similar colours, materials and design. Curtains can easily be altered so if you love your old floral drops then have them adjusted to fit your new space – it will save money and afford comforting familiarity.

Go digital. Memorabilia like photograph albums can take up considerable space, so if you can’t bear to part with them digitize the photos, which can then be stored on a computer or external hard drive. There are several smartphone apps available or you can simply take your albums in to a photographic shop. Favourite photos can then also be blown up and framed to hang on the walls in the new home.

Spoil yourself. Although downsizing is a time to declutter and reduce one’s possessions, it’s also a great time to invest in new, high quality bedding and bath towels. They may be small luxuries, but few things make one feel as comfortable and snug as fluffy bath towels and crisp new sheets.

Geffen concludes: “No matter how welcome the move may be, it’s almost impossible to not experience a sense of loss and nostalgia, especially when sorting through one’s treasured possessions collected over many years, so it’s important to remember that the move is a fresh start rather than a sad goodbye.”

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