Susan Sulcs’s parents spent five years researching relocation options to move from their Geauga County home that they lived in for 22 years. When the time was right and a freestanding house became available in an independent living community in Cuyahoga County, they sold their home and relocated.
“They knew that if you don’t make the choice while you still can, someone will make the choice for you,” Sulcs says. “They were of the opinion that it’s much better when you make the choice.”
In August 2013, her mother and father, then ages 83 and 84, moved from a three-bedroom ranch with a basement to a two-bedroom ranch house with no basement.
Sulcs estimates her parents gave up about 60 percent of usable space with this transition. In return, they gained a maintenance-free living arrangement. Now they enjoy new friendships, organized trips to area cultural events and the freedom to come and go when they travel to Florida.
Independent living in a smaller home, such as in the case of Sulcs’s parents, within a retirement community, represents one downsizing option available to the senior population.
Other choices include moving in with an adult child or other relative, renting an apartment, buying a condominium or pursuing an assisted-living arrangement.
While there isn’t a specific recommended age for relocation, there are questions to consider, says Lee-Ann Spacek, owner and founder of North Coast Residential Relocation, LLC, of Solon, and serving clientele throughout Northeast Ohio. She also speaks at area forums on “Discovering Why, When and How to Make a Move.”
“We all have to look at our environments and ask, ‘Is my house safe?’ Is it convenient? Does it meet my lifestyle needs?’” Spacek says. “Relocation depends on what that person still wants to do and what’s their anticipated longevity and their ability to maintain a place.”
Consider the scenario of an older married couple living in 3,800-square-foot home with children who moved away 20 years ago. That couple can begin the relocation process by asking, “Can we do the laundry? Can we manage the stairs? Can we conveniently leave the house and drive to stores to do errands?”
“If the house is not supporting your lifestyle, why are you paying taxes, utilities, insurance and the costs associated with a large home?” Spacek says. “The whole idea is to consolidate your efforts, consolidate your finances and consolidate your bills, in addition to reducing your space.”
A Team Effort
Sulcs’s parents worked with a team of experts to help with selling their home and downsizing to a retirement community. They began by using the services of a relocation consultant who created a timeline to implement their goals and recommended realtors. After careful screening, her parents hired a realtor, which provided listing advice and suggested repairs to ready their house for sale.
The relocation consultant also referred the parents to a contractor — a “jack-of-all trades, almost a general contractor for little jobs,” Sulcs says. The contractor made a list of repairs, renovations and spruce-up tasks.
The family reviewed this list with their realtor and set priorities. They decided which tasks the contractor and family members would complete, along with the ones that were not essential.
The experts worked together, helping make the four-month turnaround of moving and selling a reality, Sulcs says. And, when appropriate, respectfully encouraged the process along.
Accessibility Outside and Inside
Other options available to downsizing homeowners include moving into a smaller home or moving into a parent suite at an adult child’s home. Sally Levine, founder and principal of Levine Architecture & Design, Ltd., of Shaker Heights, has provided architectural services, primarily to Northeast Ohio clients, related to making accessible that future smaller home or readying an adult child’s home for a parent to take up residence.
Often, when downsizing to another house, many elderly clients choose a ranch house, says Levine, whose work emphasizes human-centered design.
A universal concern the prospective owner usually has is “about the ability to get in and out of the house.”
That may involve making a door entrance wider. Other exterior concerns include having as few steps as possible or even none to the entrances, the latter made possible with a gradual grading of the paths to those entrances.
In Northeast Ohio, slippery paths during the snowy season are a concern. The use of radiant electric coils embedded in selected stoops and pathways helps to melt away snow and ice.
And inside the house?
“Bathrooms are number one,” Levine says. “People want to make sure they can bathe; they want to make sure they can reach the faucet.”
Changes can include curbless showers, comfort height toilets and bathroom counters designed with knee space to allow for sitting. Before moving into an adult child’s home, existing plumbing lines are evaluated to determine if they are located in such a way to easily add a bathroom.
The second concern is the kitchen. The area needs to be maneuverable, the cabinets reachable and “under-cabinet task lights (can) be installed to illuminate the counter work surfaces,” she says.
Going into these new arrangements, clients often think that accessibility-promoting changes will be institutional in appearance and detract from property values. Not so. The property does not have to look like it has been adapted.
“It’s not an add-on,” Levine says. “It doesn’t devalue the property. In the end, I’d like to think it adds to the value of our home. It’s a home like any other home. It’s just designed in a way that gives independence.”
Sharon Schnall is a writer in Northeast Ohio. She has worked as a geriatric social worker and a geriatric researcher.