Why downsizing doesn’t make sense for us yet

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Five years ago I had a cyst on my spine which caused agonizing pain and meant I could barely walk for four months. Eventually I had a flight of three cortisone shots and the cyst either drained spontaneously or as a result of the injections.

Although I have been back to normal for several years, the experience still haunts me. We’re investigating living in a property that is all on one floor, but it doesn’t look like a move is in the cards for us in the near future.

We own a beautiful mortgage-free infill house near the Finch subway in Toronto. It has 3000 square feet on three floors including four bedrooms, four bathrooms and a finished basement. The house was brand new when the deal closed in early March 2001. We paid about $520,000 then, but similar homes in our area are now selling for over $1 million.

Moving to a condominium is out. My husband needs “dirty space” for his woodworking hobby and he loves to garden. I like to be able to walk out my door and immediately connect with the streetscape. And condo living is not necessarily cheaper than maintaining a house.

According to a 2013 Globe and Mail article condo fees in older buildings at the Queens Quay waterfront and elsewhere in downtown Toronto run anywhere from $700 to $800 per month for units that are just over 1,000 square feet. That averages to about 75 cents per square foot. If maintenance is neglected, fees can increase dramatically and owners can be responsible for significant, unexpected one-time levies.

I also have no interest in being on a condo board and I don’t like the idea that the value of one of my most significant assets can be impacted by arbitrary decisions of other owners.

Ideally, we would like to buy a large bungalow in our area. However, if we did so we would likely end up with much less house for more money. Small three-bedroom bungalows in North York are selling for $850,000 or more depending on the size of the lot and the condition of the house. Moving costs and renovations would mean we’d have to take on mortgage debt again or eat into our retirement savings, which we are simply not prepared to do.

Relocating to less costly parts of the city or out of Toronto altogether are also not currently options. My Mom lives about 10 minutes from us now in Thornhill and is requiring increasing amounts of care. I love living a five minute walk from the subway so I can access the downtown core easily for business or for pleasure.

Another style home that would be great for aging in place is a bungaloft with a main floor master bedroom suite. It has the advantage of having a smaller footprint than a sprawling ranch style bungalow so it requires a smaller lot. While bungalofts are being built in retirement communities and suburbs, they are very uncommon in the GTA.

We talked to the builder of our current home about buying a large lot with a small knockdown house on it and building two new bungalofts. The idea would be to make enough on the sale of the second house to cover the costs of the land and the new construction.

We realized that wouldn’t work when he explained that it would cost over $600,000 to build each house and we learned a double lot with a shack on it in our area was listed at $1.4 million.

I realize that in the grand scheme of things deciding where we grow old is a “first-world problem” and in future we will have to be more willing to make compromises. And even though the commercials drive me nuts, if no better solution presents itself, we could always invest in a couple of chairlifts.

But for now at least we are staying put and working out regularly so we can continue to run up and downstairs easily.

Have you downsized recently? Did you make money or have to spend money on the deal? Feel free to share your story.

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