There are differing estimates of the number of households looking to downsize - up to as many as 8million (HAPPI 2016). This is treated as a private matter that can be observed but no intrusion from policymakers is appropriate. An alternative view, and one that is shared by Lord Best, is that interference is justified as meeting the housing needs of the elderly could be the most efficient way of meeting the needs of younger households. Downsizing or rightsizing is a way of reducing under-occupation, reducing the need/demand for new building and meeting housing needs within carbon budgets.
Living in an ‘empty nest’ of 4 bedrooms and 2200sq ft village property for the last 10 years I have recently been one of the 50% of households registered with estate agents looking for a suitable smaller property in the nearby town. The thinking was to live closer to more daily amenities. Having found a buyer after two years of marketing through Brexit and Covid we had to choose between the suitable houses then available. The choice was a three bedroomed semi -detached house of about 1600 sq ft with a decent garden.
I grew up in a 4 bedroomed semi of about 1200 sq ft and the 30% increase seems to be the same process that has seen the Austin Mini ‘bloated’ into the BMW version. The 1960s versions do the same job as the 2000 version but the materials, weight and space have increased. We have given up a guest room with en-suite, a 4th bedroom, an en-suite and a large conservatory. But we still have two studies with potential for guests, a lounge with sunroom, and a kitchen diner large enough for the selling agents to call a ‘lifestyle room’ and for us to call a MUGA having had the grandchildren to stay. We have traded a £400 profit on gas and electricity (based on 2kW of PV and 1 sq m of solar thermal) for a bill of £6000 for installing less PV and no feed-in-tariff. In the very similar house next door there are two adults, 4 children, a dog, cat and chickens (the latter in the garden). Both adults have hobbies and businesses. The question hangs over our move, of why we still occupy twice what could comfortably meet our needs.
1. There is only so much stuff that can be disposed off in one go (even though the next move could be many years away).
2. Children and grandchildren might want to stay (ie <10 days out of 365).
3. Where would be put the balance of funds. Our move only produced £30,000 surplus but a smaller purchase could have produced 5 times that.
Whilst our credibility has been improved in the downsizing debate with the very many families who have not moved since children have flown, there are many unanswered questions that should be addressed by policy-makers in the transition to creating a carbon negative housing sector. Having outlined just one example of downsizing (the extreme stress and unavoidable costs of buying and selling have been omitted) the only suggestion I have to make in this blog post is to train up professionals to advise on all aspects of this process. Almost by definition these moves are undertaken by people in their later years and the extent of handholding that could smooth the process cannot be over–estimated. For the fees being charged by estate agents they could, if adequately trained, offer a much more ‘inclusive’ service to address the myriad issues incidental to the actual property transfer.