Whisper it quietly-for some, downsizing is almost a dirty word. But, as the circle of life turns on, the prospect of heating bills halved, employing just one gardener, locking the place up and spending the winter in New Zealand and no outbuildings ever to be repaired again can make it more beguiling.
For Lindsay Cuthill, who heads up the country-house department at Savills, the best place to start when approaching the move seems counter-intuitive. ‘I often say to people “Before you get carried away, let’s go out for a day and look at some houses to get a feel for what you want first”. The worst scenario is when you run around and find a buyer for the big house, but then see the vendors are depressed by what they’ve seen and haven’t got their head around the idea properly.’
‘This is probably the first property purchase that can be done almost entirely with the heart, rather than the head,’ says Robin Gould of buying agents Prime Purchase. ‘Vendors no longer have to worry about proximity to schools and the station-it’s much more about them.’ His patch of Dorset and Wiltshire is key downsizing territory: ‘It’s a common mistake people make when downsizing from a house in the commuter belt: don’t move too far away from the children and grandchildren. Decamp to Devon and you’ll see them for a couple of weeks in the summer, but not again.’ Once the decision has been made to move, get the ‘big house’ looking as good as possible and find a buyer.
‘It’s here that people get terribly het up,’ says Mr Gould. ‘They probably haven’t bought or sold a property in 20 or 30 years and many get very nervous about not having anywhere to go.’ But it’s not unheard of to negotiate a long time between exchange and completion (two years in at least one scenario) or there are ways to slow down a sale once the buyer has been found. ‘And is it so terrible to contemplate a double move if the perfect house hasn’t come up?’ asks Mr Cuthill. ‘Especially if you’re moving-as most downsizers do-from a rural location into a village centre or market town. What better way to test the water than by renting?’
The key ingredients
Important elements for Rob Fanshawe at buying agents Property Vision include finding a house with a large kitchen and living room with plenty of light where everyone can gather and it still feels like ‘Mum’s kitchen’. Next on the list is a spacious master bedroom with his and her bathrooms and changing areas: ‘Space and modern luxury might be something they’ve never treated themselves to before because of school fees and so on,’ he adds.
A comfortable spare room is critical as is a large drawing room that gives the impression of being in a bigger house and can accommodate the extended family, but that can also be shut off when not in use. Finally, it’s essential that you can walk to the village shop or pub.
‘I’d add that a garden of a third to half an acre is ideal,’ says Mr Cuthill. ‘And some of my clients are pretty focused on future-proofing and request that I find something with ancillary accommodation that could house a carer, should the need arise,’ adds Mr Gould. Reduced room size is one aspect that many who are downsizing find hard to handle. As dining rooms tend to be the first to go in the move, there’s inevitably a problem with what to do with the furniture. ‘Thin out belongings at least three months before the move, taking it a room at a time,’ recommends John Corrie of Henry Adams in Chichester.
‘Auctions are an excellent way to sell items you won’t have room for.’ For those who don’t like the idea of less wall space for Aunt Dorothy’s paintings, it’s worth looking at apartments carved out of large country houses as the room proportions are often advantageous, adds Mr Corrie.
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