One of the most common conversations I have when I talk with people thinking about what they should do as they age concerns downsizing. It’s a discussion filled with emotion, fear, uncertainty and hesitation as they try to navigate the options for housing in their golden years.

The downsizing conversation often includes questions such as:

• Should we stay in our house and age in place?

• Should we build an accessory dwelling unit in case we need a little extra help?

• Should we move to a retirement community?

• What about an over-55 option?

• Should we just move to a smaller house?

This is a difficult decision – especially for those who have lived in their home for many years.

Fortunately, for many in this area, the financial aspect of the decision is easier because the value of their home has increased so dramatically over the years. That’s the good and bad news, as capital gains taxes will come into play (refer to one of my previous columns or call me for a quick, back-of-the-envelope calculation).

A common thread in nearly all of these conversations is that people wait too long to make their decisions, and often their options become more limited the longer they wait.

Weighing your options

• Aging in place. This option is often the most appealing, as the effort to move feels daunting. It is also the one that provides the most emotional security for many. In a perfect world, everyone could stay in their home as long as they wanted. Unfortunately, declining physical health and the increasing maintenance needs of an older home can become overwhelming.

• Adding an ADU for a caregiver to live in. This has become much easier than in the past. There are prefab options, full-spectrum installers and a substantially reduced bureaucracy. Finding qualified in-home care can be challenging and expensive, but it certainly allows people to live in their homes longer.

• Moving to a retirement community. There are many factors that make this a compelling option, but it is not for everyone. The most prevalent comment I hear is that “only old people live there.” Retirement communities can be expensive, but many of them offer an option that guarantees a percentage of your investment will go to your heirs.

• Moving to a 55-plus community. There are several in the Bay Area (The Villages and Rossmoor are two of the larger ones), and unlike most retirement communities, they provide no medical options. Such communities can be wonderful options for more active seniors who like tennis, golf or other recreational opportunities.

• Downsizing. If maintaining the large old house where you raised your kids has become more of a chore than a fun pastime, this could be a good option for you. Many seniors move closer to a town center, opting for a single-level home with limited or no maintenance. This turnkey option allows people to travel or come and go as they please without worrying about mowing the lawn or fixing the fence.

The best advice I can give is to understand that the process typically involves a decision that can take months or years to make. Start considering your options long before you need to make a decision. Those who engage trusted confidants are the ones who best navigate the transition. These stakeholders should include your family, friends, doctors, accountant and estate attorney (remember, a trust is a wonderful way to help protect your heirs from probate).

Owen Halliday is a longtime Los Altos resident and realtor who manages the Sereno office in downtown Los Altos. Call him at 492-0062 or email