Tue09022014

Business & Real Estate

Tips on downsizing from someone who did it all wrong

If you are thinking that one day you may need to downsize, stop just thinking about it and start the move now. If your date is even five years away, start cutting back now. We didn’t. We added a huge 25-year solar system, new bathroom fixtures, new carpeting in the hall, new closet doors, outdoor and pool equipment and even a new pottery set a few months before we moved.

Stop buying. Stop upgrading.

Engage a realtor early. Find one who knows the area and is assertive and persistent – even with you – and who will be patient as you drag your feet about moving or selling at another’s price or getting rid of that old patio table set.

If you are a year away, start the estate sales now. Use a professional. Don’t expect much profit as buyers snatch the family heirlooms. Don’t even stay at the house. The sale of my portable sewing machine for a dollar hurt.

Plan your sale during good weather and when the garden looks the best. Avoid holidays. Don’t schedule around the time of family weddings or special occasions. We had a family reunion just days before we moved, and even with it catered, it was too much. Plan the last family homestead reunion as early as you can.

Your children, grandchildren, neighbors and friends will want next to nothing of your furnishings and keepsakes. Don’t plan on buyers wanting you to leave anything. Ours did not want even one potted plant. We had 30 potted plants to distribute the day before we moved. That was a painful surprise, as we could not have them all at The Forum.

If you can, hire professional movers. We used Senior Transition Movers and they were exquisite. Without them we both would have died or killed each other. They had smiles and moved like ballet dancers – as we sighed, sat and brooded that we had to say goodbye to so many years in the homestead. Those helpers were young, energetic and lugged hundreds of books off to libraries.

I had lived in that house 32 years. We had weddings, memorials, more than 200 summer swim and barbecue parties, YMCA board parties, three heartbreaking deaths, group therapy, personal therapy, book clubs, births of grandchildren, graduations, christenings, earthquakes, basketball games, celebrations and all the traditional holidays including Cioppino Christmas Eve dinners. Tom, my beloved husband, lived there nearly a decade. He helped me remodel the house. We loved the pool, patio, the 360 tulips, the nine fruit trees we planted just two years ago, the hundreds of daffodils hand-planted by Tom, and the two Norwich Terriers who traversed the half-acre.

It was hard to leave. It will be hard for any of you to leave a homestead. If you need to find a retirement solution or to downsize, start thinking about it long before it’s necessary. We did it in five months, from first idea to the end, and we nearly died before we could leave. This is why I urge readers to think ahead. You may not want to face this move yet, but situations change that may force you to downsize.

The good news is that there is life after a move. We are living it. We breathe, sleep, laugh, cry, yell and love in our new living space. We miss the house and its surroundings, but we are becoming more alive every day here. No more repair work, plumbing or irrigation problems, no more headaches about sidewalks, bikes or parents who drive children everywhere.

Downsizing while you can make the decisions will guarantee that the final years are wonderful. We enjoy our new villa, new friends, bridge games and having a place for our dog. Although I miss our former neighbors, we are safe here, protected by systems and organization – and best of all, having fun.

Jean Hollands is a former Los Altos resident and founder of the Growth & Leadership Center.

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