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Why strategic downsizing is on the up these days

EVERYBODY’S doing it. Not smoking or breaking their New Year’s resolutions – though there’s a fair bit of that going on too – but downsizing. Sue Laming, of Savills, says: “Finally, there’s decent value in the market. Nobody’s getting short-changed. Only 18 months ago there was virtually no downsizing, only distress sales. But now that property is selling close to peak, it’s a decent time to do it, and that’s exactly what people are doing.”

The motivating factor is to reduce financial uncertainty by pocketing sizeable equity that you can use either to buy a house outright or that you can put into a fund for the kids’ school fees or set aside for a rainy day. Those putting money away for the kids are more likely to downsize in terms of value than space – sell the flat in Kensington and you can probably find somewhere cheaper and bigger outside London.

But it’s those whose children have flown the nest and who don’t necessarily need to live within commuting distance of London who are driving the trend, says Bruce Tolmie-Thomson, of Knight Frank’s country house department. “Strategic planning is the name of the game. Why should there just be two of you rattling round a great big house, with hefty gas bills and the rising cost of maintenance?”

Tolmie-Thomson says the pattern tends to go like this: young couples move from their small flat or house in London to a bigger property in the commuter belt where the kids have space to play around. Then, once the children have left, people retire and trade in the proximity to London for “a cottage with roses in the garden” – trendy locations for such retreats are Devon, Wiltshire and Somerset, says Tolmie-Thomson. The prices reflect this in those parts, but stock is healthy, driven in good part by the new movement in the market.

People are being highly strategic about their downsizing now. Tolmie-Thomson says that prospective sellers are coming to him with a game plan of anywhere between one and five years, preparing themselves in order to maximise their return for their retirement. “They’ll ask: ‘should we renovate the swimming pool? Redo the tennis court? Get planning permission for a cottage?’ The whole big thing is planning ahead.”

As for recession-caused panic-sales, Tolmie-Thomson reckons we’re through the worst. November and December were among Knight Frank’s busiest months on record. The market is moving and appears to be yielding copious fruits for those looking to downsize – this is a good time to go
smaller.