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For Many Seniors, Less Space, Fewer Belongings Make For A Happier Lifestyle

For Many Seniors, Less Space, Fewer Belongings Make For A Happier Lifestyle

By Leslie Maher - Austin American-StatesmanJanuary 4th 2014

Miniature houses with tiny, lighted street lamps on a snowy street create a festive holiday scene on three shelves in the new home of Jeff and Sue Alt. The little village reflects the small-scale living the Alts enjoy after recently downsizing their living space. “We just didn’t need as big of a house as we had,” Jeff, 72, of Lakeway, said. “We realized our kids were going to have to sort through all of our stuff and this move into a smaller place was such a good thing because it forced us to get rid of things we didn’t really use or need.”


Deciding to move out of the 3,000-square-foot home they lived in for the past 15 years was a hard decision. Although they gave up about 1,000 square feet, a beautiful view of Lake Travis, large upstairs storage space, workshop and an office, they say the benefits of their new home in the gated community of Villas at Flintrock Falls suits them better at this time of their lives.

“If anything should happen to Jeff, I’m in a place now where I could stay by myself,” Sue, 73, said. “I knew I’d be very comfortable in this area. This is a place we can be until we’re carted out.”


It used to be more commonplace for the aging population to remain in the homes they’d occupied for most of their adult lives for as long as possible. Often, a move meant going into assisted living or nursing home facilities. But today, a growing population of seniors who are living longer, more active lives has created demand for smaller, high-quality, lock-and-leave houses and condos that require little maintenance.


“I think things are different now. Grandparents used to stay in the same house where their kids grew up and that has changed,” Jeff, an Army veteran, said. “Kids aren’t as attached to that old homestead like they used to be. When we moved from where we raised our kids, I don’t think they were surprised. Society is just more mobile and people move more than they used to.”


Once they made the difficult decision to downsize, the search to find a smaller house in the right location began. Their adult children and grandchildren live in Houston and often visit, and most of their friends are local.


“We weren’t ready to go to a (assisted living) home or anything, and it’s hard to find a smaller house that still has the quality you want,” Sue said. “We still wanted a nice house, and we found it here. We gave up some individual space, and that’s an adjustment. But it’s so easy to keep clean.”


The Alts, an on-the-go couple who love golf and are planning a trip to Italy, picked an open floor plan with two bedrooms and a study in a neighborhood where several of their friends had already moved. “We made sure the areas we live in the most were the largest part of the home and so it doesn’t feel small to me,” Jeff said. “The house has a very open concept and it feels spacious. We’ve just found different places to put things.”


The Alt’s builder, Bill Aydam of Vintage Builders, said the design is very purposeful. “Part of the appeal for older clients are universal design standards which subtly incorporate wider doorways, easy to use lever handles on doors and fixtures, ample lighting, and more barrier-free areas in a single-level plan,” said Aydam. “This is a popular concept and demand has definitely increased over the past ten years.”


The downsizing market is healthy, according to Keller Williams Realtor Joe Jarusinsky, who has been buying and selling property in Austin for 10 years, and 24 years total. “As some people get older, they may want less responsibility such a smaller yard, or a low-maintenance condo,” Jarusinsky said. “Some older folks may be tired of taking care of a larger property, or they opt for downsizing because they don’t have the time for the upkeep that comes with a larger house.”


Jarusinsky said in addition to becoming empty nesters, there are other reasons why his clients want smaller living space. “A change in income, a job loss or job change, retirement, divorce, an increase in property value and taxes and cost of ownership are a few reasons,” he said. “I always do a thorough interview to find out exactly what people are looking for. I put myself in their shoes like it’s my money and my move to help make sure the move really makes sense.”


For clients considering a move, Jarusinsky says there’s plenty to think about and do before the for-sale sign goes in the yard. Being ready and willing to move doesn’t necessarily mean someone is financially able. “About 25 (percent) to 30 percent of credit reports have errors and it can take three to six months to fix, which most people don’t realize,” he said. “Before people make a big decision like this, they should get with a realtor and a lender to make sure all their ducks are in a row and there are no hurdles in the way. A Realtor should guide you through the whole process step by step.”


Aside from potential financial issues, some people find the hardest part of downsizing is parting with belongings that won’t fit into the new living space. The Alts donated and sold things they didn’t want to keep. “I didn’t get rid of enough stuff,” Jeff said. “We didn’t even realize how much stuff we had upstairs in storage until we had to pack it up.”


Professional organizer and senior move manager, Barry Izsak says sentimental attachments to kitchen appliances, furniture, books and knickknacks can create a real struggle for clients when it comes time to downsize. Helping seniors move – a trend he calls the silver tsunami – makes up more than half of his Arranging It All business.


“Hopefully by this age, we’ve learned that life is not about stuff. It’s the memories that matter and they’re in our head and nobody can take them away,” Izsak said. “I had a client tell me once, and I’ve said it a million times since then, that your house is not your home. You take your home with you wherever you go.”


Izsak said it typically takes three days to cull and pack a home. “This is a niche I love. I love working with seniors preparing to make this momentous move,” Izsak said. “I love hearing their stories and learning about their lives. I find them to be the greatest teachers.”


Downsizing advice from Arranging It All:

Thinking of moving? Realtor Joe Jarusinsky says ask yourself:

The Arranging it AllSM team is mentored and trained by a Certified Professional Organizer.

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