How to help your parents downsize

Parents - kissing on bench

The best way of helping your parents downsize depends on who wants them to do so:  you, them or all of you. Each situation requires a different approach. Here are some suggestions:

1. You want your parents to downsize. They don’t.

This can be the most challenging situation of the three since it carries potential family conflict. You may have a variety of reasons for your preference such as concerns about your parents’ health, financial situation or home responsibilities. You will have pushback from them with comments such as: “I’m fine. I can manage.”; “All my memories are in this home.”‘ “I want to take care of my garden.”;  “I want to stay here until I die!”; “I like my own food.”; “I don’t like (apartment) elevators.”; I don’t want to live in one room.”; “Retirement homes are too expensive.”; etc., etc.  Downsizing may or may not be the best solution for your parents at this time. Only by purposeful listening with the intention of truly understanding them, will their underlying concerns become apparent. A key point to keep in mind is that an elderly person has a deep-rooted need for control of their life. Books such as “How to Say It to Seniors” and “Coping with Your Difficult Older Parent” offer insights into this topic.

Since this may be your only experience with helping someone elderly downsize, you may wish to engage a professional to work through this with the family. Examples of local specialists include Elder Care Consultants and Retirement Consultants, with secondary help from other professionals such as Financial Planners and Lawyers. Creative solutions may resolve your concerns while satisfying your parents’ desire to stay where they are. Changes such as home modifications for accessibility, a reverse mortgage, and additional hands-on help may just what is required to satisfy the family’s goals. If it turns out that the optimum solution would be to downsize, then you will require additional resources in communicating with your parents to reach an agreement.

2. Your parents want to downsize. You don’t agree.

Although this scenario is less common than the first one, it still comes up. Your reasons may include the following:

  • You want to maximize the sale proceeds from their home and believe that home values will increase significantly in the near term. You don’t want your parents to miss out on the increased cash this will generate. The additional cash may be needed for their long-term care.
  • Your parents have an expectation of living with you but you don’t have space, time or funds that a multi-generational home will require.
  • You believe their independence will be compromised if they must relocate from their family home.
  • You believe the stress and effort of the move “will be too much for them” and their health will quickly deteriorate.

As with scenario 1, “seek first to understand”. The more you appreciate your parents’ desire to downsize, the more successful you will be in coming up with a solution. As with scenario 1, it may be necessary to engage professional help to navigate through their insistence on this big change. It is possible your parents may be able to stay where they are through a combination of home modifications for seniors, additional personal care, assistive devices and a reduction in the amount of stuff in their home.

3. Both you and your parents agree they should downsize.

Although this scenario is much easier to deal with than #1 and #2, there is still the possibility of some conflict in the details of the plan. Big issues such as “when, where and who” need to be covered in the planning stage of downsizing. (See “The basics“.) Since everyone agrees in principle, there is probably a tendency to rush the process. Also, the schedule will be greatly impacted by the amount of stuff your parents have. The more stuff there is, the more time will be required and the moving date will be pushed out.  If there is some outside factor that is forcing a fixed moving date, the more likely it will be necessary to engage outside assistance.

Regardless of which of the above scenarios applies to your family, it is important to remember that a downsizing project is temporary (i.e. there is a start date and an end date). Although the effects of a move are on-going, the move itself is a one-time event. The preparation and follow-up have time boundaries.

Does your family situation match any of these?

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Quill pen

Unless otherwise credited, all posts are happily authored with a quill pen …
Paul Ferri, Broker, ASA (Accredited Senior Agent)
RE/MAX Unique Inc. Brokerage*, Toronto, Canada
*Each office independently owned and operated

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