Smaller home, fewer worries – downsizing can set you free

CorrespondentSeptember 1, 2013 

  • Tips for getting rid of all that stuff

    Once you’ve decided to downsize, you have to figure out what to do with a lifetime of accumulation.

    Deanne Morgan, a professional organizer and owner of Central Carolina Organizing in Durham, said the key is to break the task into small, manageable chunks.

    “Try it on your own, and if you’re really struggling, call for some help. A lot of people find that it’s much easier to make decisions when there’s a mutual third party with them,” said Morgan.

    This may mean calling in friends or family, a professional organizer or a senior move management company, such as Assisted Moving of Raleigh. Owner Peg Guild helps clients decide what to take to their new place. After a traditional moving company hauls the possessions, she helps clients unpack, down to putting the right lampshade on a lamp.

    Here are a few tips from Morgan:

    • Start by getting rid of anything you don’t want or need, such as clothes that don’t fit.

    • If your adult children have their things in your home, say that they need to make decisions about what they want to keep. If necessary, give them a deadline to get their stuff.

    • Storage will be key in a smaller home, so identify and keep furniture that offers storage.

    • Go ahead and pass heirlooms to other family members.

    • If you have boxes upon boxes of pictures and memorabilia, scan them into your computer and save them on compact discs so they take less space.

    • People usually have a strong attachment to one type of thing such as jewelry or tools. Ask yourself: Is the object something you will re-use? Does it have huge sentimental value? Is it rare? If you say no, get rid of it.

  • Know the lingo

    Mary Fraser, administrator of the Aging Transitions program with the Orange County Department on Aging, explains terms for senior living.

    •  Active adult community: Offers independent living, usually for those who are at least 55 years old. These communities typically provide no personal care or meals.

    •  Co-housing or intentional communities: “It’s a group of people who come together and they decide that they want to live together and support each other as they grow older,” Fraser said. They usually have clustered housing with common space. They regularly eat together and share responsibilities such as landscaping. Some communities require members to be 55 and older but not all are age-restrictive.

    •  Shared housing: A group of single people live together for support and companionship.

    •  The villages project: In the theme of “it takes a village” some neighborhoods are starting groups such as walking clubs or a caring team that makes a meal or walks the dog for a sick neighbor. “Most of them are the older residents coming together with the idea that they want to live in their own homes and they want to live in a caring community and they want to help each other,” Fraser said.

    •  Continuous care retirement community: CCRCs may provide all levels of care, from independent living to nursing home-type services. People might be required to move in when they can live independently. “It’s really based on an insurance model,” she said. “You pay in a certain amount of money and you have access to a higher level of care when you need it.”

    •  Assisted living: These facilities provide three meals a day and assist with activities of daily living such as bathing, dressing and getting to the bathroom. They provide transportation and medical oversight but not medical care. To be licensed, an assisted living facility needs to have a supervising nurse, but not all require their nurse to be on staff full-time. Most staff members are nurse’s aides.

    •  Nursing homes: Similar to an assisted living, but nursing homes offer skilled medical attention with doctors and nurses on staff.

    The Orange County Department on Aging is hosting an author series called “Aging in Community: Planning for the Future.” It kicks off Sept. 17 at the Seymour Center in Chapel Hill with author Sarah Susanka. Call their Aging Help Line at 919-968-2087 for more information.

Lisa Dowd is ready to downsize. The 59-year-old nurse practitioner and her husband, Pat, recently sold their home in Cary. The 2,500-square-foot townhome was in a great location, and they had friends nearby. But their home was just too big and required too much upkeep.

Later this year, they will move into a new 1,545-square-foot house in Del Webb’s Carolina Arbors, an active adult community in Durham. In the meantime, they are staying in an apartment.

The priority for the Dowds when downsizing was to find a one-level home within commuting distance to their jobs at Duke. The couple, especially marathon runner Pat Dowd, liked the neighborhood’s pools and gym. Low mortgage interest rates encouraged them to make their decision now, six years ahead of when Lisa expects to start her retirement.

To peers preparing to downsize, Lisa Dowd’s advice is simple: Make sure the new place is close to what your like, whether that is restaurants and shopping or music and theater.

“The other thing is to join organizations or groups to meet people. That’s what we did,” she said.

Decide what you want

If moving to a smaller home is on your mind, take some advice from Fonville Morisey Realty senior real estate specialist Tracy Santrock. She advises clients to see what a smaller home actually looks like to make sure it’s what they really want. Her clients commonly downsize to homes that are 1,500- to 1,800-square feet.

“They’re looking at the cost associated with keeping a 2,500-square-foot house – gas, electric, water, homeowner’s fees – trying to cut those expenses. And they’re looking to meet new people,” said Santrock, who works in Cary.

Santrock said homes in active adult communities such as Del Webb feature elevated dishwashers and pull-out shelves so residents need to do less bending. They also have garage extensions for storage and walk-in storage areas with easy access.

Account for health needs

Another senior-focused real estate broker is Sybil Carpenter Hobbs, who works at Keller Williams Realty in Cary. Many newly constructed homes are targeting seniors by placing a master bedroom and bathroom on the main floor, she said. A lot of homes are being built with doors wide enough for a wheelchair or a walker.

Bob Wallace, an 80-year-old retired Methodist minister, has been happy with his retirement community, Croasdaile Village in Durham. He and his wife, Chris, moved into the independent living section there in 2007. They have an apartment with nearly 1,100 square feet. Croasdaile offers more advanced levels of care, including assisted living and skilled nursing care.

“We had some health problems that sort of showed us that living out in the country where we were alone was not necessarily a good thing to do for the long-range future,” Wallace said.

It’s a problem if people wait for a health issue to move because they might need time to get into the community they want, Wallace added. He and Chris waited six years to get into Croasdaile. They like its affiliation with the United Methodist Church, and they knew people there before they moved in.

Taking the first steps

The idea of downsizing can be overwhelming when you think about leaving your old house and purging your possessions.

“One of the surprises is that once you downsize, there’s a real sense of freedom, a load off your shoulders,” Wallace said. “It’s amazing what happens.”

Many of his friends found it helpful to participate in the Stay Put or Move On course at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Duke University. The 12-week class takes participants to visit six to eight continuous care retirement communities in the Raleigh-Durham area. They also have classroom time to learn about different options in communities.

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