As someone who has spent 30-plus years advising clients going through the house sales process, there is something quite cathartic about switching roles. The boot was very definitely on the other foot the moment my wife and I decided to downsize.
Several issues were brought into sharp focus. It quickly became apparent that it was not just as simple as selling the existing property and buying a smaller, less expensive one.
Different questions race towards you at alarming pace. What does downsizing look like? What end result should you be looking to achieve and (even for us) what is the actual process of selling and buying?
Like many couples of our age, we rattle around in a property that was once a vibrant family home, but which now exceeds our requirements. Although we like to think that we maintained it well throughout the last 16 years, it is Victorian and, like its owners, will require increased TLC over the coming years.
Against such a backdrop, the choice of a new home involves careful consideration. Firstly, location.
There is little to be gained by leaving an area that not only provides everything you require but with which you are also comfortable. Depressing though it might be, it is probably sensible to plan for a time when using a car is not going to be possible, so the location should be within walking distance of everyday facilities.
Next, the choice is between modern or traditional – or low or potentially high ongoing maintenance costs.
Modern or new build properties in most cases also eliminate the need to take any garden equipment with you. Let someone else take care of that for you. Likewise stairs will at some point become more challenging so if you are moving to an apartment block make sure there is a lift.
The size and amount of accommodation is probably the most difficult decision to make. You become used to having a certain number of rooms, but the trick is to ask how many rooms you actually need to survive.
As you move towards retirement, it is critical to assess what your cost of living will be and to set that against your likely monthly income. If the choice is between an expensive, luxury home and hermit-like existence or to something smaller which means you still afford the occasional foreign holiday, I’d always go for the second option. Last but by no means least, it may be time to consult your solicitor about inheritance tax. It is normal these days for title to the property to be taken in joint names “pro indiviso” – each party owns a half share of the property and that will be dealt with in accordance with the will.
However, there may be some simple alternatives that will minimise inheritance tax liability and ensure your loved ones receive the maximum benefit from your estate.
In the end we opted for a new build apartment that ticked most boxes. It will not be complete until early next year so then our focus turned to when to sell our existing property.
The residential market in Edinburgh is as strong now as it has been for several years. Will the market stay as strong for the rest of the year? My personal view is that several matters could have a negative impact, such as the Scottish election in May quickly followed by the EU referendum.
Historically, these events create an element of uncertainty and the property market has never been good at dealing with uncertainty. So my decision was to strike while the iron is hot.
There is nothing like personal experience to help you empathise with clients and customers.
• Wilson Hunter is a Partner at Gillespie Macandrew