What is downsizing?
Put simply, downsizing is the process of moving into a smaller property. You might be considering taking this step for a variety of reasons – it could be to boost your finances, reduce your expenses, help you pay for care, or to move into a more suitable home or a better location.
Here we look at the pros and cons of downsizing and some of the reasons that you may consider it.
The pros of downsizing
Downsizing can be a tough decision, especially when you’ve built up many fond memories associated with your family home, but there are also distinct benefits to help make the move worthwhile.
There are many reasons why people may choose to move home in later life. It may be that they simply want to live somewhere different or to be closer to family. Or perhaps a recent (and possibly unforeseen) change in circumstance, such as a health issue or bereavement, has caused them to reconsider their living arrangements.
If you’re in any of these situations, it may be time to consider the three main benefits of property downsizing.
An opportunity to move into a property that is easier to manage, making it easier to maintain independent living.
A chance to move to a more favourable location, perhaps nearer to your family and friends.
A potential way to raise money by moving to a less expensive property, perhaps also with lower energy bills and maintenance costs.
In most cases, smaller properties are also cheaper to run. As a downsizer, you can generally expect your council tax and energy bills to be lower. Maintenance and repair costs are also likely to be lower, particularly when downsizing into a more newly-built home, which should also bring lower energy bills. A well-insulated modern home with an efficient new boiler and central heating system will cost less to heat than a draughty Victorian home with unmodernised plumbing, for example.
Of course, it’s also a lot easier to keep on top of household tasks in a smaller property, which can be a huge bonus if you’ve been struggling to manage your current home.
Cons of downsizing
While downsizing can be a great option for many people, it may not be right for you at the moment. Weigh up whether any of the following drawbacks might affect you.
- Leaving friends and neighbours behind: a move closer to family may sound like a good idea, but if you already have a strong network of friends and neighbours, you could end up with less day-to-day contact than you have at the moment. This may also put more responsibility on your friends or family to do more for you than you feel comfortable with.
- Lifestyle changes: if you’re considering moving to an entirely new area, can it offer everything you need to continue living a fulfilled life? Make sure you research the local area, and if you have any hobbies that are important to you, be sure you can continue them in this area.
- Who are you moving for? Do you feel pressured by relatives to make a move? While their intentions are good, make sure that the move is right for you, too. If you still feel happy and confident living in your current home, it may be a good idea to explain to them that you aren’t ready to consider downsizing just yet.
- A smaller home means less space: while this can be an advantage, it’s useful to think ahead about how much space you might need for hobbies and accommodating family or visitors, for example.
Our downsizing checklists give you key questions to ask before you commit to a move. This will help you make the right decision.
Reasons to consider downsizing
Downsizing for financial gain
Many retired homeowners see themselves as asset-rich but cash-poor: they own a property, but live off a small regular income, such as a pension. Downsizing to a less expensive property can be a way to raise money, which could be used to supplement your pension, pay off your mortgage or a loan, or spend on holidays or a new car.
Property prices vary enormously, based on a wide range of factors (they can even change from week to week), so carry out your own research thoroughly before deciding to sell a property.
Sometimes the term ‘releasing equity’ is used to describe the process of making money from selling an existing home and buying a new home at a lower price. However, this is misleading. Releasing equity means holding on to the current property and borrowing against its value. Read more guidance about this approach in our article about equity to release to help for care.
Changes in health or mobility
Even the most minor changes in health or mobility can affect day-to-day life. You may be finding it less easy to move around or get in and out of your home, particularly if there are stairs or external steps. If this is the case, you might be more comfortable in a bungalow, ground-floor apartment or mobile home.
If you’ve recently had to stop driving, it can become much more difficult to get around your area, and can also affect your social life and your day-to-day needs. In this case, it may be worth relocating to an area where friends and amenities are in walking distance, or are more easily accessible by local public transport.
It was definitely the right decision. I’m in a bungalow in a pleasant, quiet location close to absolutely everything.
Loneliness or isolation
Coping with bereavement is a very difficult thing to go through at any stage of life, but it can be especially distressing if you’ve lost your partner, especially if they were your only regular company. If your friends or family used to live nearby but have now moved, this can lead to further feelings of loneliness or isolation.
In these circumstances, a new home can feel like a new start, particularly if you move to an area where friends or family are nearby, or where there is the potential to meet and socialise with people of your own age.
However, if you’re dealing with a very recent bereavement, consider if it would be better to wait a while before making a move of this kind. This is already a very difficult time, and moving to a new home may add too much additional stress.
Downsizing and inheritance tax
If you own your own home and leave it to a direct descendant when you die, your estate can benefit from an extra Inheritance Tax (IHT) allowance, known as the residence nil rate band (RNRB). This is a tax-free allowance of up £175,000 in 2020/21, which is in addition to the standard UK IHT allowance of £325,000. This extra allowance can also be transferred to a surviving spouse, meaning they could pass on a family home worth up to £350,000 tax-free in 2020-21.
But would your heirs lose out on some or all of this allowance if you downsize or sell your home before you die?
Take a case such as this, for example:
- If Mrs Smith died in July 2020, when the maximum RNRB was £175,000, and her husband had died the year before when the RNRB was £150,000, the maximum RNRB available for her estate would be £325,000.
- But if the couple had downsized in 2018 to a property worth £200,000, then £125,000 of the tax-free property allowance may not be applicable.
However, in cases such as this a ‘downsizing addition’ can be applied, which means your estate can benefit from the full RNRB even when you have downsized or disposed of your property before death. The rules are complex, however, and a number of conditions must be met before an estate will qualify.
The calculations are explained in detail on Gov.uk, however it’s always advisable to seek professional financial advice when dealing with complex tax or inheritance issues.
A ‘downsizing addition’ means your estate can benefit from the full tax-free allowance even if you have downsized.
Use our calculator to estimate how much inheritance tax might be payable on your estate:
Consider all the options
Whether you’re a homeowner, private tenant or living in council or housing association accommodation, there are a number of downsizing options available. Read our article for more information about your options, plus some important factors to bear in mind.
Whether you’re a homeowner or a private or council tenant, there are a number of downsizing options available.
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