The Hard Conversation: How to Talk to Your Parents About Downsizing

Are you worried about whether your aging parents can continue to care for their house, or get around it safely? If you’re looking for the perfect time to talk about downsizing, you could be waiting a long while.

For many of us with elderly parents, the responsibility of starting a conversation about their futures will fall on our shoulders. Fortunately, with the holidays around the corner—and families coming together to celebrate—now could be a perfect time to initiate the discussion.

If you need to talk to your parents about downsizing, here are a few tips for doing it right this holiday season…

1) Be emotionally prepared

This may seem obvious, but the conversation you’re about to have is bound to get emotional—for your parents, and for you.

The first thing to keep in mind is, you’re not alone. The number of seniors in Canada is set to reach over ten million by 2036. In other words, there are a lot of adult children out there facing the same dilemma that you are. Like you, they know something needs to be done, but aren’t sure where to begin. They may have concerns about “meddling,” even though taking action could save mom and dad a lot of heartache in the long run.

Before you sit down with your parents this holiday season, remind yourself that you have their best interests at heart. Be prepared for an emotional response, and remember that (ultimately) this isn’t your decision—but it’s one that you can help facilitate.

2) Highlight the practical

When it comes to downsizing, estate planning is often a major stumbling block. It can be hard to talk about wills, death, and how wealth will be distributed. That said, it can also give your parents greater peace of mind—provided you work together to create a structured plan that addresses their concerns and wishes.

By being part of the discussion, you’re also allowing your mom and dad to express their expectations. If they intend to pass their wealth on to relatives, now could be the ideal time for everyone to talk it through. Think of it as an opportunity for all family members to voice their concerns—and outline the support they can provide.

If they haven’t done so, your parents will need to start by making decisions about how to allocate (and potentially grow) their wealth. From tax and estate planning to budgeting for a smaller home or retirement community to creating a strategy to preserve their wealth, there’s a lot to think about. Be prepared to introduce your loved ones to professionals who have the right expertise—and the capability to help them navigate each step.

3) Frame it as an opportunity

A common mistake is approaching the downsizing talk as though you’re helping your parents make the best of a bad situation. Keep in mind, their home is likely their most significant investment. Capitalizing on the equity they’ve earned can help them enjoy a financially-sound and stress-free retirement.

During your initial discussion with your parents, position downsizing as an opportunity. Highlight its potential to free up usable capital, find a home that will suit their lifestyle, and reduce their monetary responsibilities. Remember that the property your parents are in now may require ongoing maintenance—a financial burden for most seniors on a fixed income. Focus on the low-maintenance, affordable, and fun lifestyle your parents can enjoy after downsizing, and they’re less likely to see it as a “problem” you’re managing.

Whether your mom and dad want to take their dream vacation or find the perfect city dwelling (close to their favourite restaurants, shops, and medical providers), freeing up capital can help them do it. By highlighting this potential, you’ll make it possible for them to imagine a bright future.

4) Look into their options

The idea of downsizing may seem less intimidating if your parents can envision the right living space. For this reason, it may be a good idea to do some preliminary searching before you sit down to talk.

If the goal is finding a smaller, lower-maintenance space, then a condo may be the right fit. Consider finding and presenting your parents with a few appealing options at relevant price points. Demonstrating how much they stand to gain financially may also provide motivation.

Currently, the average price for a unit in the Greater Toronto Area is $659,855. For a single-family home, it’s $1,360,246. The difference between these figures may shrink as the demand for condos rises (because other seniors are downsizing, and due to expected population growth in the GTA). This is yet another reason why your parents may want to start the process now.

Of course, if mobility or declining mental function are issues, other living arrangements may be ideal. From retirement villages for active seniors to assisted-living facilities that offer every convenience, there’s no shortage of comfortable options. The right real estate professional will know what’s out there—and help you find just the right place.

5) Work with an expert

While the process may start with a sit-down over the holiday season, this step is just the first of many. From delving into your parents’ financial situation to finding the ideal living arrangements to preparing their house for the market, downsizing is a full-time job.

At the end of the day, you need someone to help you bring the pieces together. For many families, that person is a real estate agent who understands the process inside and out. They should be experienced and empathetic when it comes to working with seniors, and possess actual investment knowledge and industry connections. They should also have a track record of home-buying and selling success—and understand what makes transitioning to a smaller space unique.

The truth is, packing up a family home can be emotionally challenging. This is often the underlying reason why seniors put off downsizing. Having a patient and compassionate professional work with your parents to create a clear roadmap can help them move forward.

Put simply, an agent with both vision and a commitment to personal service can help your family build a complete, end-to-end action plan—and see it through.

6) Getting started

Your mom and dad have likely already expressed worries about maintaining their property, finding a more suitable home, and issues related to their health and finances. A smart approach is to let them know ahead of time that you’ve done some research to address their concerns, and that you look forward to sharing it with them when you meet over the holidays.

To start off on the right foot, include relevant family members so no one is unprepared for the discussion. Once you’re all together, set aside some time to share your findings. Keep it positive, and focus on solutions and addressing your mom and dad’s concerns. You should also ask any professionals you plan to engage with for case studies and success stories to share. Remember, nothing will be more reassuring to your parents than helping them see a clear path toward an end goal.

If at any time during the conversation you sense anxiety or discomfort, take your foot off the gas and keep it light. There’s no need to force the issue, or to come to a resolution right away. Leave materials with your parents to review, and give them time to wrap their heads around the possibilities you’ve discussed.

Coming together

The holidays are a time for family members to reconnect and enjoy their time together. Unfortunately, looming issues (like the need to address your parents’ living situation) can make things tense. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way.

By working with cooperative family members and a professional with downsizing expertise, you can take on one of the biggest challenges your parents will ever face. So eat, drink, and be merry this holiday season—just don’t put off a discussion that needs to happen sooner rather than later!

Ready to help your parents plan their next step? Reach out to learn how I can help you approach the downsizing talk—and manage the process to ensure that it’s smooth.

Adrian Mainella

Adrian is an innovator, a problem solver, and a trusted expert in Toronto real estate.

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