4 Considerations When Helping Your Senior Parents Downsize

Watching your parents age is never an easy thing, and helping to make life decisions on their behalf can be immensely stressful. This is one of the reasons why children who are tasked with helping their parents downsize into a more lifestyle-appropriate home often delay in doing so. And when you combine this stress with parents who aren’t quite ready to say goodbye to the family home, it can be a veritable disaster waiting to happen. And all too often, this is exactly what happens – an emergency or life event forces children to help their aging parents sell their home and relocate or downsize in less than ideal conditions.

It’s the elephant in the room. Your parents are getting older and won’t be able to stay in their home much longer. If you’re considering downsizing as an option for your parents and want to get out ahead of the curve, consider these four things you need to know about relocating your senior parents.

1) Downsizing Is Easier Now Than Later 

It’s no surprise that many parents are reticent to let go of the house they raised their family in. Memories and routines can be powerful reasons to stay, and it can be difficult for many people to see that their home no longer matches the ways in which their life and lifestyle has changed. For these reasons and more, our parents tend to put off selling the family home, saying they’ll get around to it “one of these days.” But many times, downsizing and moving into a more practical space gets put off until a major life event forces the issue. The death of a spouse, significant health problems, falls and injuries, or financial troubles can leave you scrambling to make hugely important decisions under the gun.

For members of the “sandwich generation” who are caring for school-aged children and their aging parents, helping to facilitate a downsizing relocation before events force the move means you can make better, more thought-out decisions. Relocating your parent in the wake of a life event often means you’ll be making rushed decisions which can result in spending more money, making less on the sale of their home, and being pushed into a new home that might not be the best fit – all things you’ll obviously want to avoid if possible. Making this decision early on means you can spend more time preparing the house for sale to fetch a better price, and you’ll have more time and options to find the perfect new home. Relocating a senior parent is hard; doing it on a forced timeline is even harder.

2) Downsizing Can Be Life Prolonging 

When a house no longer matches the lifestyle of an aging parent, it can become a huge obstacle – quite literally. According to Bruce Nemovitz, author of Guiding Our Parents in the Right Direction, 10,000 people turn 65 every single day. What’s more, there are 90 million people aged 55 and older in the US, and they consume 75% of the nation’s healthcare services. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 4 people over 65 in the US falls every year. Perhaps even more startling is the fact that every 19 minutes and older American dies from a fall. Falls are actually the leading cause of fatal injury in the elderly and the most common cause of nonfatal hospital admissions for older Americans. Those are some pretty sobering statistics, and can be a legitimate cause for concern for people whose senior parents are living alone in a big, old house.

Homes become dangerous for aging parents for a few reasons. First, larger homes, especially ones that have been lived in for a few decades, tend to become jam packed with stuff that’s easy to trip over, like furniture. Older homes also tend to require more upkeep and maintenance, which can be dangerous, especially for those 65 and older. During the winter months in colder climates, sidewalks and driveways need to be shoveled and can be treacherously slippery. Finally, many older homes weren’t built with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in mind. This means that it can be very difficult to “age in place” in these homes, as doorways and hallways are likely too narrow to accommodate a wheelchair or walker. Many doorways in older homes are 23-27” wide, but need to be 32” to fit a wheelchair through. What’s more, houses with narrow doorways and tight hallway corners present a significant challenge to EMTs and emergency crews, costing life-saving minutes when trying to get in the house and get your parent out after a fall or medical emergency.

Taking the steps to declutter and relocate into a smaller, easier to maintain home with wider hallways and doors can literally save or prolong your parents’ lives.

3) Moving is a Great Way to Declutter 

A significant portion of seniors have been living in their current homes for over 20 years. Life tends to change a lot in 20 years, and for most, the house isn’t the only thing that has been held onto for all that time. Decluttering is one of the most integral parts of selling a house, and in the case of your parents’ home, it can be a rewarding and cathartic part of the process. Often, people are hesitant to donate their possessions, and parents might not be ready to divvy up heirlooms amongst their children, but moving and downsizing has a way of forcing this to happen.

Decluttering is actually a surprisingly great way to bond as a family. It can be fun and rewarding to go through a lifetime of memories stored away in a house, to find old photos, trinkets, and mementos of ages passed. And many parents find they’re actually happier knowing that their loved ones are enjoying the items they were bequeathed, rather than simply allowing things to be riffled through after a death. What feels like an insurmountable obstacle in the path of selling and  moving often ends up being an incredibly rewarding and heartfelt experience. Plus, once the house is decluttered, it not only becomes safer, but it also becomes easier to stage and prepare for sale. A properly prepared home will have an increased likelihood of fetching the best purchase price. That’s a win/win everyone in the family can get behind.

4) The Sale of The House Can Fund Future Expenses 

One of the biggest benefits of downsizing is a purely financial one. Because most seniors have lived in their home for over 20 years, their homes are typically already paid off or close to it. That means that selling the family home and purchasing a smaller, more lifestyle-appropriate home can result in a significant profit. As mentioned earlier, selling to downsize on a timeline that makes sense for you and your parents, rather than when life events have forced you to, means you have time to properly prepare and market the home, giving yourself the best odds of selling at top dollar. 

While everyone wants to get the best price for their home, it is especially important for seniors on a fixed or reduced income. Profits from the sale of a home can in some instances actually be enough to cover medical and living expenses for the rest of your parents’ lives. One of the reasons that aging Americans frequently cite for not wanting to sell their home and downsize is that they are afraid of feeling like they have lost their autonomy or have become powerless. When you help your parents strategically sell and rightsize on their terms and their timeline, you have the ability to empower them throughout the process by allowing them to choose the best home and make the most money from their sale, setting them up to be financially stable for years to come. 

Whether you’re selling to downsize as a part of the aging process or trying to help relocate your parent after a life event has made moving necessary, you’ll want to work with a real estate agent who is best prepared to understand the needs of your aging parent. Contact a Zia Group agent today to provide your parents the care they deserve.

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