Friday, 10 February 2017

The Dilemma of Downsizing

From Wiggia

Along with many couples of a certain age my wife and I are wanting to downsize. All well and good and in the current climate it could be seen as a worthy contribution to the country’s housing woes regarding a lack of larger houses for larger families. This is the lead on an article about the governments intentions…….

Pensioners with large family homes will be given incentives to downsize in a drive to solve the housing crisis.
If only it were that easy. Firstly from an entirely selfish point of view I don’t give a stuff about other people’s housing problems. Having spent all my working life reaching a position where I can live in some sort of comfort all at my expense and effort, I am not inclined to want to “help” others who are not prepared to make the same sacrifices we did to achieve our end goal. And today they don’t. Nobody said it was easy and there certainly are more problems re expense than in our day but you have to help yourself and that for many today is not in their vocabulary. Help from others yes, help yourself - err maybe.

But I digress. The government’s proposal is a classic spin operation, the “help” they are promoting is getting older people to give up their “large” homes and move into sheltered accommodation. The help apart from paying moving costs is a bit vague though the use of a paint brush is offered. And the ceiling for helping with a stamp duty free move is 250k not a lot of big houses below that figure anywhere in the country, so in fact they are offering bugger all, and in fairness why should home owners be offered incentives to move with more tax payers money? Not of course that any real incentive is being offered or even spoken about. Give me a million and I will happily move on. So I think we can safely say not much will change from that source anyway.

The real dilemma for all those facing downsizing or wanting to, apart from those as my Australian friend says are “wanting to move to the waiting room” is simply finding an adequate property in the first place. Before we moved to our current property four years ago we were wanting to downsize from the last one, it became an impossible search. There were several reasons and most would apply to anyone wanting to take the plunge.

Firstly most people having had their pensions robbed by Gordon Brown are seeking to release equity from their homes to supplement lifestyle by downsizing, but the costs of moving and legal and estate agents fees have to be factored in as the likelihood of spending on the new property either in improvements, new kitchen and the like plus the inevitable redecorating. Many older people are past the DIY stage and will have to pay someone to do it.

All of this further reduces if a cash profit is part of the aim in moving to a property further down the chain than first envisaged, and once you start actually looking using that criterion you realise it not only reduces the cash available for purchase but also inevitably means you will be looking in areas that you thought you had left behind years ago. Nothing snobbish in not wanting that. I was raised in a prefab post war and was living with my parents until I married in a council flat in London's east end. Why would anyone want to go back to anywhere like that having managed to crawl out of there years before?

I exaggerate to make a point, but not totally as it depends on the money you get for the house you’re selling. For many people at the lower end of the housing market it makes no sense to move at all so they stay put until such time as “Gods waiting room” beckons. Small incentives from the govt to move there are not going to cut it with most older people who can still survive on their own and are happy in that environment rather than moving to one where they are living with others in the same late stages of life and spend a lot of time wondering which of their neighbours is next. Sod that, is a phrase that comes to mind.

For others like myself we simply could not find a place that came anywhere near the criteria we had set, and we are very flexible as to where we could go, having few family ties. If a house was found in a suitable area it needed far too much spent on it or had miniature rooms. We don’t want the same number of rooms but would like the main ones to be bigger than the you can’t swing a cat variety and as soon as you start looking at downsizing these are some of the problems that arise.

One item I can happily? forego is a large garden. It is something I have always cherished and always had and my business that I had and my love of having that space to do as like with is not easy to give up but advancing years mean that is now not a problem. A case of been there done that, and whilst an acre that we currently have is by no means the largest plot it is still quite daunting when you realise that you simply might not be in a position to do it justice, a position I found myself in last year when hospitalised.

As I said we could not find anything and our current property came up and despite needing a lot of updating, a last hurrah for me, it turned out well, but of course did not solve the problem, a problem now more urgent to solve because of the four further years of advance.

Naturally the preferred solution for the government would be to force all old people to emigrate releasing all those large houses for the millions they have imported over the last 15 years or so with their large dependent families. And as the older generation are the reason for almost all ills, an easier option for the blame game than to ever admit they have made and are still making a catastrophic mistake themselves. It suits the narrative to a tee. That of course is not going to happen and perhaps the withdrawing or curtailing of NHS services will do the job for them , a path that appears to currently in favour, with older people finding that getting to see a doctor is less likely than winning the lottery the effect of that must be felt soon.

I also read somewhere about a scheme where current suburbs could be bulldozed and high density housing put in its place, a solution that works well as Heinrich Himmler proved some years back.

On top of all these material problems is the whole saga of moving in itself, said by many to be more stressful than a divorce. I cannot vouch for that yet the culmination of a dozen or more moves has not made the process any easier. I really could write the book on the perils of moving. Far too long and tedious to relate to here, but as a flavour of what I might have revealed in full, a first move where the exchange of contracts took place and the lady ! who we were buying from changed her mind an hour later. This was ‘75 and the signed contracts were posted. Her solicitor was a family friend and when she phoned to say she had changed her mind he told her they had not yet posted her contract and didn’t. Ours had gone, no redress and a lot of expense. It was legal to do that in those days though rare as an event.

After that it was all downhill , you name it we have suffered it, and not once has anything we have done been reason or effect. Mindblowing. Throw in two incompetent solicitors in the mix who had to be sued for failing to do their job properly and I think you may get an inkling of what I think of a system that has never been overhauled to help make the process less stressful and fairer on the innocent parties when things go wrong. The book is in the offing, and actually some years back when I was telling the tale to someone who was working for a publishing house at the time did suggest it could be worthwhile. Mind you the time taken in writing a book on a subject that takes all my time anyhow is a non starter - or maybe not ?

I repeat when you get older all this is a very good reason for not moving. I cannot imagine how an older couple would react to any of our sagas especially if they have never moved or not for many years. On the other hand it might just be Gods will that I should shoulder the wrongs of the system on behalf of all humanity. A sort of sacrificial house mover. At times I have believed it so.

Another snippet from my life as a professional house mover - the viewer. We have certainly had some wrong uns over the years, but there is always room for one more category, and at our last property we had a viewer turn up in a people carrier with mother in tow. Not especially unique but never wanted as they try to enforce their view on the whole process whilst not actually buying anything. All was normal until we finished showing them round. As I looked back returning to the house I saw mother get out of the vehicle having just got in and spread a blanket on our lawn. I went back and was about to say what is going on when the husband/son asked if they could have lunch there.

Now I am an easy going sort of person normally and if he had asked and they had traveled a long way I may have said OK, but we were going out and I asked him to leave, nicely. With that he then told me they go house hunting on a regular basis, with no intention of ever actually buying anything. They are house voyeurs. To be honest I could not believe he had actually said that to my face and had to remove myself before I splattered him all over the herbaceous perennials. They then left in their own good time and no doubt we have had the same type before. It would be difficult to tell, and I am told it is an increasing leisure pastime, but to actually admit with no sign of any guilt to wasting everyone's time was a first.

So the quest to downsize continues, we will make it eventually, yet as before the pitfalls await no doubt in some new untried by us form, never the less downwards on onwards. 


James Higham said...

It's a trick, don't do it.

Thud said...

Nothing about buying or selling is pleasant either for oneself or for making a living.I must admit though that having sold a couple of houses in America it was while expensive almost a pleasure.

Anonymous said...

I agree with James. Best to rattle around until chipboard box time. We have discussed selling up, cruising till the money runs out then buy a campervan. The real fun will start when generation rent comes to the end times - no pension, no income, nowhere to go.

Michael said...

Equity release is well worth considering.

A chum is doing one privately with another chum.

Demetrius said...

The great question is are you living in the house or are you living for the house? If the costs of living in a property that is rather bigger than you need, heat, repairs, maintenance etc. plus others, mean that a lot of your income goes on that rather than on what you would like to do, it could be like some older people I know you they cannot afford to do things. Equity release is a risky thing as is taking on any significant debt. Some get round all this by using family trusts or selling to the family and then paying them a token rent. You pays your money and you takes your chance.

wiggiatlarge said...

In response to comments.

Firstly it is a practical reason for wanting to downsize, my inability to look after a large plot and my wife's failing health meaning a smaller place is better for the same reasons.Secondly the money itself is not a problem, it is the fact that downsizing without a profit for reasons above is simply a bad move.
Plus we have moved so many times attachment to property just doesn't exist for us, it serves a purpose for the time as do most material things in life.
Equity release is a bad move for anyone wanting to leave property or value to offspring, but as I have friends who having no offspring or not wanting to leave all their wordly goods to the same whilst remaining in the same place until the end, it does have the advantage of giving them cash to spend on themselves, after all in their case who gets the estate if their is no family, spend it and be damned.
There is no easy answer, everyone has different circumstances and they need addressing in different ways, but the problems as outlined in my post are very real so for those who think "the government is here to help" forget it