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The rightsizing challenge 

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Nearly a third of people aged over 55 feel their home is too big, too small, or won’t be the right size for them as they age. 

‘Downsizing’ or ‘rightsizing’ sounds simple in theory – but finding the right property can be a major barrier to moving. In fact, of those homeowners who want to move, six in 10 (61%) said a lack of suitable properties was the main thing stopping them. 

We commissioned Opinium to conduct a survey to help us understand what this demographic wants from their home and what they plan to do going forward. Researchers questioned 2,166 over-55s who owned their home. More than eight in 10 (84%) of those surveyed owned their home outright, while 16% had a mortgage. Seven in 10 (72%) had been in their current home for 10 years or more. 

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Is your home too big?

One in six (16%) homeowners aged over 55 felt that their property wasn’t the right size. One in ten (11%) in this group felt their property was too big, while a smaller proportion (5%) felt it was too small. Of those questioned, 77% lived in a house, 14% in a bungalow, and 7% in an apartment or flat. 

The majority (60%) lived in a household of two people, 23% lived alone, and 17% lived in a household of three or more people. 

Many retirees complain they are asset rich but cash poor. Our research discovered that many people lived in a property that appeared to be bigger than necessary. More than half (53%) of solo dwellers had three or more bedrooms, while almost a third (29%) of two-person households had four bedrooms or more. 

The rightsizing challenge graph 1

82%

of over 75s would most likely plan to move to a smaller property.

84%

of rightsizers want to be close to family.

52%

would hold a cash windfall in savings.

Why rightsizing is a good idea

‘Rightsizing’ your home can be seen as a much more positive step than downsizing – you’re moving to a home that is more suitable for your current, or planned, lifestyle. 

By selling your house and buying a smaller, less expensive property you can release equity in your home and use this money to fund day-to-day living costs or enjoy a more luxurious retirement. Downsizing could also mean less onerous home maintenance, cheaper household bills, and better accessibility. 

But it’s not just about the size of your home – location is important too. Living in a village might be idyllic when you have a young family, but rural living can become isolating as you age. 

By moving to a better served location, you can reduce your dependence on driving and have amenities such as public transport links, shops, leisure facilities and a doctor’s surgery on your doorstep. By moving to a smaller property with better facilities, rightsizing can transform your life. 

We found that of those planning to move in the next five years, 84% wanted to be close to family and 80% close to friends. Nine in 10 (90%) said having things to do nearby was important, while 86% rated proximity to public transport as a crucial factor. The cost of the new property was deemed important by 98% of potential movers, while 87% would look for a home likely to hold its value in the future. 

What type of home do people want?

Of those who felt their property was too big, 71% planned to move in the next five years, with a bungalow (62%), detached home (36%) and flat (29%) the preferred property types. 

Those aged over 75 (82%) were most likely to plan to move to a smaller property. Nearly nine in 10 (86%) of those who lived in London and thought their home was too big planned to move within five years. Those in Wales were more likely to stay put, with only 44% of those who thought their home was too big looking to move in the next five years. 

Seven in 10 people said they wanted to move to a property with either one or two bedrooms, whilst 10% said they would consider moving to an assisted living style property. 

How to find the right property

Our research found that the main barrier to moving house after the age of 55 was finding a suitable property in the right location at the right price. Of those homeowners who told us they would like to move home in the next five years, 61% said a lack of suitable properties was the main thing stopping them. 

But what makes a potential home ‘suitable’? Almost all (97%) of those questioned who planned to move said the size of the living area was ‘somewhat’ or ‘very’ important. The size of the kitchen (89%), garden (84%) and the number of bedrooms (86%) were also important factors. Unsurprisingly, given rising energy prices, two thirds (65%) of potential homemovers said a property’s energy efficiency rating was a significant factor when choosing a new home. 

Two thirds (67%) of those who wanted to move in the next five years said the new property’s proximity to their current home was somewhat or very important. 

Our research found that almost half (45%) of those who planned to move said the stress of doing so would be the thing that put them off. Other potential barriers to moving identified by respondents to our survey included the costs associated with moving such as solicitors and removal costs (37%) and being able to afford a suitable property (36%). A quarter (25%) cited ‘emotional upheaval’ as something that would put them off going ahead with their plans. 

what type of home hero

Cash is king for those rightsizing

Our research found that if a house move in the next five years resulted in a financial windfall, 52% of movers would hold the money as cash, while 28% would invest it. 

Almost a third (28%) would gift cash to family, with home-movers in the East Midlands most likely to do this (52%). 

Those aged over 75 would be more likely to gift money to family, with 51% of this age group saying they would do this, compared to 28% of people of all age groups. Meanwhile, a quarter of people (26%) would also look to splash out on a big ticket item, such as a holiday or car, whilst a fifth said they would look to use the money to upgrade their new home. 

Rightsizing to become mortgage-free

Rightsizing to be mortgage-free is a popular move for homeowners with sufficient equity in their current home. Being in this situation can be life-changing, especially if you are ‘asset-rich cash-poor’. Our study found that nine in 10 (91%) of those planning to rightsize intended to own their next home outright. 

For example, say you had a £50,000 mortgage on a four-bedroom house in the country, but you were surviving on a small pension. If you sold your house for £400,000, paid off the mortgage, and bought a flat for £250,000, you’d have a windfall of £100,000. 

You could use this money to supplement your pension income, save or invest, pay off debts, or spend on a big ticket item such as a car or holiday. A smaller proportion of people (5%) said they would move into rented accommodation and that too has its benefits, such as increased flexibility, not having to pay for a property’s maintenance and allowing the individual to retain the full value of their property sale. 

However, tenancies are typically up to two years only and that lack of security can be off-putting for some. Many landlords also don’t allow pets or home alterations and that too can be a negative for many rightsizers. 

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Pros and cons of downsizing

Pros

More spare cash

For many people, rightsizing means becoming mortgage-free. For those already mortgage-free, a move to a smaller property can mean banking a lump sum of cash. In addition to this, bills will be lower on a smaller property. Combined, these factors can mean downsizers can have a lot more disposable income each month. 

Amenities

Rightsizing can give you the opportunity to move closer to public transport links, shops, leisure facilities and hospitals. Easy access to these amenities is likely to become more important as you age.

Rightsizing

Living in a property that’s right for your needs can mean less maintenance and jobs to do around the home and garden. This can mean you have more time to spend on leisure activities. 

Moving to a property that’s more accessible without stairs or steep driveways can also make things easier if you develop mobility issues later on. 

Cons

Finding the right property

With rightsizing normally intended to be your final house move, it’s vital to find the right property. But finding a suitable home – and beating rival buyers to it in a fast-moving property market – can be difficult.  

Emotional upheaval

If you’ve lived in your current home for many years, and brought up a family there, moving can be an upsetting experience. As well as leaving your home, you might need to get rid of surplus possessions and say goodbye to lifelong friends and neighbours. 

Costs

Any house move incurs significant costs such as stamp duty, solicitors’ fees and removal costs. These expenses can put a serious dent in the lump sum you hope to pocket from a move down the housing ladder. 

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