The Emotional Cost of Retirement

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

Unless something drastic has happened, very few of us can sell a home, shut the door and walk away without feeling at least a twinge of regret. The emotions that tie us to a property run deep and although there may be some level of excitement when it comes to moving, it is pretty likely that the experience is going to be tinged with a little sadness.

Moving on to bigger and better things is one thing, but what happens when the decision to do so is linked to retirement? Downsizing and moving to a smaller home once the children have flown the nest stirs many emotions, not all of them good.

As much as a property is worth in monetary terms, homeowners are unable to put a price on the sentimental value of a home. Estate agents will tell you that many who decide to sell a property in which they have not only lived for years, but where they have raised a family, often comment on this issue. The truth of course is that a new owner simply doesn’t care about your memories and certainly isn’t going to pay more for a ‘happy home’.

Moving on and leaving a lifetime of memories is one of the hardest decisions people have to make. The decision is often complicated by the fact that retirement properties are much smaller than family homes. Downsizing is far more difficult than many of us believe. Excess furniture has to be sold and what to take and what to leave can become a major - and emotional - issue. Regardless of how much we understand that we need to make lifestyle changes, knowing this and actually implementing these changes are two totally different things.

Generally speaking, older folk living in European countries do not face the same challenges. The houses there tend to be smaller than those in South Africa and a significant number of people live in one house virtually from the cradle to the grave. Given the much larger properties, coupled with the high crime levels often associated with freehold living in this country, a large majority of South Africans will, at some stage or another, take the decision to move into a smaller, safer and easier to maintain property.

There is a severe shortage of retirement property in South Africa and most schemes not only don’t come cheap, they also have long waiting lists. Much has been written about the need to secure your future and the importance of booking your spot in a well-run retirement initiative timeously, but very little has been said about the emotional cost of moving onto a totally different phase of your life. The emotional toll can be very high, although there are ways to make the transition a little less painful.

Here are some tips for those who are considering ‘moving on’, even if this means scaling down:

• Start to de-clutter as soon as the children leave home. Although there may be no need to sell that eight seater dining room suite immediately, most people are amazed at the amount of clutter that accumulates over a period of time. The good news is that getting rid of ‘excess baggage’ can actually be a liberating exercise.

• Do not make hasty decisions as to where you want to live. Moving to a distant location and getting away from it all may seem to be a good idea, but moving far away from friends and family comes with its own set of complications. Buying a property on the assumption that the children will love it and visit often, could backfire. Your children and grandchildren have their own lives to lead and although visiting your little place on the coast may really appeal, if the trip entails a long drive, you may see them less often than you would like.

• Many retirement schemes operate under sectional title management. Although hundreds of thousands of South Africans live on estates run by bodies corporate, this type of living is not for everyone. Living with rules imposed by someone else can be difficult and those who prefer doing things their own way should perhaps consider other options.

• Retirement properties are generally more expensive than an average home. This is to be expected. You are buying into a lifestyle, and lifestyles cost money. Communal living has a number of benefits and much of the cost is shared. However, many people don’t seem to be able to get over the fact that they are exchanging a larger home for a smaller unit and yet their costs will increase. There is no such thing as a free lunch. If you want to retire to a place that has outstanding facilities geared for the elderly, you are generally going to pay a premium for the privilege.

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