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Downsizing Trends

Updated: Jan 15, 2019

Thinking of retiring soon? Here are some trends to consider before making a move.

It is difficult to spot trends in retirement-related downsizing with certainty at this point, the wave of downsizing boomers is just starting. What can be said is this generation’s preferences are quite diverse, and what we can see most easily at this time is the range of the diversity.


Homes for the Semi-Retired

The boomer generation does expect to work longer, and the plan of semi-retirement is popular, whether it is to work part time in a current career, or to start a new one for retirement. I am seeing this in a request for some sort of office space functionality in homes, as well as a demand for in-city studio condos or co-ops for convenience of living in town for the work days, then going to a more rural home for the weekends or telecommuting.

Downsizing to Properties Already Owned

Retirees tend to be more mobile, own more properties, and live in diverse locations.Many in the boomer generation have found themselves with a collection of properties. Many times these have come from investment, inheritance, vacation property, housing purchased near children’s colleges, or as a result of combining households. Occasionally one of these “collected” properties is found to work as a new smaller residence, and the downsize process involves selling off an un-needed larger residence, as well as selling  other properties that have been held for investment to pay for educations or retirement.

Increased Mobility Allows for Diverse Retirement Locations & Housing Types

Another trend unique to boomers is increased mobility. Frequent travel is popular, and a portfolio of smaller retirement locations is common. Many have a place in the sun in the Sunbelt as their snowbird  parents may have had, but now that place in the sun can include a residence in Central America.  Sometimes, one of these residences can be an RV or live-aboard boat. Boomers are also wanting to be near grandchildren, and are open to frequent travel and often seek condos in location nearby family.

Preference for Urban Living

This generation also seems to prefer urban living, preferably with a high walkscore ( I have spoken to 80-somethings who fully understand Walkscore and it’s relation to property values). The planning community has worked hard in the last 20 years to promote vital urban areas with a variety of housing types. These innovations have been well-received by the current group of retirees. Many potential downsizers who have up-sized from the city to the suburbs in the past have jokingly told me that they would like to have the little bungalow that was their first  house they had in the city back again!


From Suburb to Small Town

In Washington, most suburbs are in the stages of transforming themselves from bedroom communities with single family homes into small towns. Most have identified an urban core “Downtown” area and some have created new “Main Streets” with mixed use development that features apartments or condos over ground level retail stores, with parking underneath. Other amenities include parks, town squares for gatherings or Farmer’s Markets, and transit centers with direct links to other urban centers. Suburban cities that have done this very successfully include Edmonds, Bellevue, Redmond, Kirkland, Mill Creek,  Renton, and Burien. Many more are in the process.

These transformed suburbs are proving to be very popular with downsizing boomers who realize they can relocate to a nearby condo, townhouse or small house in their same community for a reasonable cost, and have all of their amenities that they are used to within walking distance. These new urban areas also attract those relocating to be near grandchildren, as well as fist time buyers who desire an efficient place to live with conveniences nearby.

College Towns

Many are finding that college towns are attractive alternatives to big city or suburban life. College towns provide a stable economic base and cultural amenities that do not exist in other small towns at a reasonable price. In addition, many retires like the opportunities available for good health care facilities and continuing education. Many colleges in small towns are actively recruiting alumni to return there for retirement. The most popular college towns among downsizers in Washington are Walla Wall, Bellingham, and Olympia.

Other popular towns to retire in that do not have big colleges are Anacortes, Squim  Port Townsend  and Mt. Vernon in the “Banana Belt” warm area near the straits,  as well as Wenatchee, Yakima and Moses Lake in Eastern Washington.


This term can have a range of meanings, but what it means to everyone is a desire to not move to a retirement home, assisted living or nursing home as their needs for assistance advances. In some places, groups of community volunteers have formed to assist each other with their needs as they age. In addition, specialty remodeling firms have sprung up that assist people in remodeling their homes to make them more accessible for lower levels of mobility. The universal design community is active and quite creative in how designers strive to not make these changes look institutional.

To some, aging in place means staying in the home they raised their family in. However, many realize that as time goes by, the high expenses of maintaining and heating a large home that has more space than is needed, along with the time consumption required to do it, becomes overwhelming. Soon a decision is made to keep the best part of the old house, that being the neighborhood and the community bonds that have been forged there, and sell the large house and move into a nearby smaller house or condo for a more manageable and affordable aging in place process.


Currently, the main challenge for downsizers has been finding a home to buy.  Competition among buyers has been fierce with the recent low interest rates, with listings disappearing very fast. However, interest rates are starting to rise, and with this our market is beginning to come into balance.

Downsizing does take preparation too, and making a “Downsizing Plan” alongside with a Retirement Plan is a good idea.

You can keep up with the latest trends in downsizing.

Greg Bartell, Realtor®, GREEN, SRES, RE/MAX Metro Realty

Architectural Draft by silentviper_05


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