Country houses for sale

Property Talk: When is the right time to downsize?

Sometimes our homes can get too big for us, meaning it’s time to downsize. James Fisher speaks to those involved with the process to get their advice on how to know it's the right time.

‘It happened really quite quickly I think,’ says Nick Hewer. ‘I’m going to be 80 in February, so something clicked. The clock went “tick” and we realised that we can’t keep on managing this.’

To most people, the idea of owning a property such as Nick’s Park Farm, with its seven bedrooms, swimming pool, tennis court and 12 acres of land in Northamptonshire, would be a fairytale. It’s easy, when browsing the homes on this very website, to get jealous about the space and lifestyle on offer.

Nick Hewer with his partner, Catherine.

But at the same time, for many, including the former Apprentice adviser and Countdown host, there comes a time when it all gets a bit too much. ‘At the moment, we’ve got two gardeners coming twice a week, and it’s still a struggle to keep the grass down, or the hedges cut, or keep the pond clean,’ he adds. For as much as you admire the beautiful properties for sale in these pages and may think ‘who would dare leave such a paradise’, the answer may often be people looking to downsize.

Downsizing itself has a very simple definition (‘to move to a smaller place of residence’), but the reasons behind it can be very complex. One of the benefits can be freeing up some equity tied up in an older, larger home, but, for many, it’s the simple benefit of finding somewhere more manageable, that’s closer to various amenities and closer to their kids and grandchildren.

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‘It’s all of the above,’ says buying agent Richard Winter from Surrey Property Search. ‘For example, I have a client who had a 6,000sq ft home in the countryside, but they spent three or four nights a week in London and all of the sudden they’ve got a big house that they don’t use any more. They don’t see the point in heating the pool every year any more.’

Buying agent Michelle Hendrie extols the attraction of being closer to the children and grandchildren, and also notes that, as a whole, ‘far fewer people are happy to take on a project’ when moving to a smaller home, and that the trend has now ‘moved from having a smaller version of what they are coming from, to something more modern. People are much more open to something newer, eco friendly and energy efficient’.

Ray Mead Road in Maidenhead, Berkshire: this four-bedroom Victorian home offers the downsizer charm, idyllic walled gardens and river views (Savills, £1.2 million).

Nick and his partner, Catherine, speak effusively about moving closer to their granddaughter, who will soon be only a field away, although they admit that the person who will be most upset about them leaving Park Farm will be said granddaughter, who loves the space to roam and the pool to swim in. ‘She takes my dog on a lead, she’s got her own little electric car and the two of them go off roaming round the woods,’ he says, before adding: ‘I think we’re being really unkind, but there we are, she’ll just have to suffer!’

Obviously it’s tough to leave behind a place full of memories. Nick and Catherine say that they have ‘no bad memories’ of their years at Park Farm, and reel off highlight after highlight from their time there, including looking after Catherine’s dad, a former Spitfire pilot, who used to sneak into the main house and help dispose of any excess whisky, as well as happy memories of big family parties, the kids growing up, flying kites and the friendly community of their village, Preston Deanery. But, as Catherine points out, ‘for a long time I think we both realised that there would be a risk staying in this large place at our age. Neither of us would be able to manage the complications of the gardens and the woods and so on.’ They admit that they embraced the challenge 15 years ago, but now time has caught up with them.

They are, however, excited about their new home, which is smaller and in a village nearby. ‘We are most looking forward to the manageability of the new home, to taking some of the stress out of our lives,’ says Nick. ‘The move can be an emotional time for clients,’ agrees Simon Roberts, head of the south and east regional agency at Strutt & Parker. ‘This doesn’t mean that it needs to be a negative experience, though, and it’s often about reframing the experience. Downsizing should be seen as an exciting next step — whether you’re upping sticks to a new area, moving closer to your grandchildren or freeing up equity so you can travel more.’

West Street in Kingham, Oxfordshire: a three-bedroom Cotswold-stone cottage (Knight Frank, £625,000)

Moving to a smaller home is still moving and, as such, requires a not insignificant amount of planning. Of course, it’s important to find the right agent to help you through the process. The sale of Park Farm is being handled by Michael Graham, who, according to Nick ‘sent what was effectively the cast of Madame Butterfly for the first meeting, there was about 10 of them!’. Most agents have a helpful ‘to do’ checklist on their websites, with Strutt & Parker’s containing tips such as ‘visualise your new lifestyle’, ‘get your new home buyer ready’ and ‘leave yourself time’. Time is a key one, with Nick and Catherine admitting that they were ‘amazed at the amount of planning that goes into it’. They also add that ‘you’ve got to be mentally quite strong, as it’s a hard process. It’s a long journey and it’s tough emotionally and physically. You’re saying goodbye to things.’

Finding a new place to downsize to is also key, and where buying agents such as Mr Winter and Ms Hendrie can be of great help. Now is as good a time as any, they say, with Mr Winter confessing that ‘half of what I’m doing at the moment is downsizing. Most of the people I sold to when they were 45 are now 65–70 and are keen to downsize.’ When it comes to buying and selling, Ms Hendrie also suggests aiming for a quick exchange and a delayed completion, which gives ‘vendors the comfort of knowing they have time to find something’. It’s also worth exploring a ‘rent back’ scheme, where vendors can sell their home and stay a little longer until they find exactly what they are looking for.

Ivy Cottage in Wateringbury, Kent: a double-fronted Georgian property with four bedrooms and many period features (Jackson-Stops, £825,000)

Mr Winter also adds that although lots of people are currently looking to downsize, the market is still a bit tricky. It’s vital to list ‘at the right guide price’, he says. However, according to Mr Roberts, a cooler market has brought a lot more downsizers forward, who didn’t want to be involved with the ‘frenzy’ of 2021 and wanted more time to ‘consider their next steps’. ‘It’s therefore no surprise that we’ve seen an increase in downsizers coming to the cooler market in recent months as it feels like a more approachable space,’ he concludes.

Throughout our chat, it’s clear that with every laugh about Park Farm, there is a moment of sadness at moving on. ‘I’ll miss the space, it was fantastic, amazing,’ says Nick. ‘And also the privacy and the beauty of it. You can stand there and go “how bloody lucky are we?”.’ But it’s clear that they are both thrilled at the prospect of a simpler life and more time with family. ‘This is what we’re doing. Simplifying life and clearing the brain of the hundreds of things that have to be managed at the moment.’ That certainly sounds like something to look forward to.

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