Downsizing is not an easy decision — but it’s a smart one if you know deep in your heart it’s the right step toward aging in place.
Timing is part of the decision-making process.
Years ago, my mother wanted to move from the house that she and dad built and lived in for more than 40 years. While it was a simple brick rancher, it still did not meet many needs as they aged. Once mom was gone and dad was still in the house, he often wished they had relocated to something with no steps, friendlier bathrooms and a smaller yard. Eventually, health forced him into assisted living.
During the two years dad spent in assisted living, I learned it was not how I wanted to end life, and I knew the right house in the right area could help prevent that.
Even before dad’s health decline, my husband Ken and I knew we wanted to sell our one-acre waterfront, two-story home in Yorktown, Va., for something that was easier to close up and leave for more traveling.
The master bedroom was downstairs but there was still too much upstairs space that we did not use regularly. Instead, we wanted all bedrooms and baths on one floor. We wanted to comfortably “age in place,” as they put it, or stay in our own home and bring in help later in life, if needed.
The Bermuda lawn needed mowing every four days, something Ken did with a self-propelled, mulching push mower. One summer we traveled during mowing season, a company hired to tend to the lawn used rider mowers that scalped the grass and uprooted pavers. After that fiasco, we were reluctant to turn that chore over to anyone else.
June to November, we worried about being away during hurricane season. Overall, we were too tied to the yard and its needs. Hundreds of plants in beds we personally installed needed 300 bags of mulch dumped and spread annually, a ritual we began to dread. Over time, I became allergic to many plants in the garden, especially perennials with sticky stems and saps, so gardening was not the fun time it used to be.
Most importantly, I was 100 miles round-trip away from my grandkids, ages 2 and 4, in Virginia Beach, Va., and riding the interstate was getting old.
Fortunately, Ken was ready to give up the big-yard responsibility. He, too, was ready for one-floor living.
Marketing the house
Early on, we knew it would take time to sell our house, and we were OK with that. We interviewed three agents. Two agents told us our house would sell for $100,000 to $150,000 less than what we expected. The third agent estimated its price in our ballpark and was willing to work with us. We firmly told him we were patient sellers and would wait for the right buyer.
The 10-year-old house was in selling condition, and we had it on and off the market for about a year, removing it when we were gone on extended travel.
Late last year, we took the house off the market, planning to list it again in spring when a couple who had looked at the house earlier made an offer we could not refuse. It was a stressful time to pack up and move because my father was critically ill, and I was at his place many hours of the week.
About 10 days later, dad passed away, and we had his funeral over the Christmas holidays.
Ken and I went into full-move mode.
Selling extra stuff
Before the movers came for an estimate, we decided what we wanted to keep and what needed to go. We are probably like most couples –– one wants to hang on to most everything while the other one wants to let too much go. Letting go is easier for me.
I posted items for sale on Facebook, by uploading a photo of each item with a description and price, including stashes of Arm & Hammer laundry detergent and Bounty paper towels I bought on sale. Before I knew it, too many “I want” and “save-for-me” messages were arriving, making it difficult to keep track of who wanted what. I private messaged our address and a time to pick up their items, stressing cash only. By weekend’s end, we sold more than I had imagined. After that, we made a second round of that’s-got-to-go decisions, and again used Facebook to sell those items at a garage sale. By noon of garage sale day, remaining items were boxed for donation to a Habitat for Humanity ReStore, which sells used items.
We also contracted an upscale consignment store to transport two bedroom sets, two living room sets, as well as rugs, knickknacks and art to their showroom. Cost for that was $200, well worth the several thousand we made on the sale of items.
We also let close friends know of some furniture we had for sale, and several took advantage of that opportunity.
After traveling to Virginia Beach weekly for three years to help with the grandkids, I knew where Ken and I did not want to live — anywhere near the oceanfront or other tourist-heavy areas.
Those trips also taught me Virginia Beach has two personalities: the oceanfront with its crowds and noise; and the peaceful Princess Anne and Pungo areas with winding back roads, farms with produce stands, horse stables, pastures and almost 25,000 acres. Sandbridge, too, is a nice place to live if you locate in the northern end with the year-round residents.
With those three areas in mind, we looked at about 30 houses.
Luckily, we found West Neck Villages, a 55-plus community with an Arnold Palmer-designed golf course. Its Village Hall features a swimming pool and exercise room, and hosts dances, bingo, poker games and educational and fun clubs. The 1,500-house community links to two family-type neighborhoods and an upscale section called Indian River Plantation. Combined, the three neighborhoods offer miles and miles of biking and walking trails with green spaces and lakes.
For me, a roundtrip drive to the grandkids house is 16 miles versus 100 miles. Plus, my son works at the nearby city municipal center, so I can meet him for lunch. Major retail stores are within five miles.
We settled on a 10-year-old house with three bedrooms, an office, two baths and a wide-open kitchen, living, dining and sunroom area downstairs. A room over the garage offers great out-of-the-way storage capacity and a place for the pool table. The manageable yard — about one-fourth the size of what we left — backs up to woods in a land management trust.