Good Housekeeping (UK) - - Contents -

Carol Sar­ler on mak­ing the big move

What to do when your home is too big for the re­main­ing fam­ily, and the money tied up in bricks and mor­tar starts to look ap­peal­ing? With three gen­er­a­tions un­der one roof, Carol Sar­ler al­ways thought she would stay put – so she’s more sur­prised than any­one to dis­cover how lib­er­at­ing it can be to move on...

Pity the poor friend who, only three years ago, dared to de­scribe my house as an as­set – and had his head chewed off. Had he no heart, I thun­dered. This is not just bricks and mor­tar: this is my home. This is the sum of decades of mem­o­ries and mile­stones; it is my fam­ily’s roots, refuge and shelter. My grand­mother and my mother both died in the first and only homes they bought, and for sen­ti­men­tal – al­most spir­i­tual – rea­sons, I planned to do like­wise. With the mort­gage paid off, it would soon be time to hun­ker down for an old age soothed by the fa­mil­iar. So let that be an end to talk of as­sets. Ex­cept, of course, it wasn’t.

Like one of those ear­worm songs that loop in­side your head, my friend’s words in­vaded. For the first time, I ac­tu­ally read the prop­erty pages. I learnt that nearly half of all movers are down­siz­ers; that the

av­er­age wind­fall for mov­ing from, say, a de­tached to a semi-de­tached is £117,000; and that if you live in Lon­don, as I do, that rises to an av­er­age of £200,000. Tax free. Blimey.

I also learnt that, al­though the av­er­age age of a down­sizer is 53, sur­veys say the best age to do it is 64: you’re men­tally ag­ile enough for the wheel­ing and deal­ing, and young enough to en­joy the fresh and the new. And I was, at the time, 64.

So I started ca­su­ally pop­ping into lo­cal es­tate agents where, to a man and to the penny, they all told me the same value for my house – it was 26 times (let me say that again: 26 times) what I paid for it 33 years ago. Funny thing, the lure of lu­cre.

With newly greedy eyes, I looked around our huge, ram­bling, early Vic­to­rian ter­raced house – the kind that dom­i­nates our cities across the coun­try. Lovely high ceil­ings, but the heat­ing bankrupts you. Gor­geous cor­nices, but hel­lish dust­ing. Nice gar­den, but back­break­ing. Heaps of space, but who, pre­cisely, for?

I live with my daugh­ter, Flynn, who is at work all day, and her seven-year-old daugh­ter, Milly, who is at school all day. Nei­ther of their fa­thers is still part of our dotty mé­nage. So why was I rat­tling around the vast creak­ing floor­boards, play­ing who-blinks-first with im­per­ti­nent mice to whom we gave free lodg­ing?

I talked to Flynn. We thought. We talked some more. But, re­ally, it was a no-brainer. The Sar­lers were go­ing to pack up, down­size and move.

It would turn out to be the best thing we’d done in years; so much so that I am now an evan­ge­list for the later-life new start. Pre­cisely be­cause you’re NOT grow­ing old by hun­ker­ing down with the fa­mil­iar, you ac­tu­ally feel less… old.

But if the first hur­dle is de­cid­ing to sell, the sec­ond is harder: what and where to buy. If we were to down­size, how would we avoid a set­tled-for com­pro­mise?

For one cou­ple we know, this meant cut­ting their house space in half but gain­ing twice the gar­den space – their kind of heaven. For us, it was about mak­ing less profit but mov­ing to a nicer area, ful­fill­ing my long-held han­ker­ing for Crouch End in North Lon­don. Crouch End is cor­rectly teased for aspir­ing to Bo­hemia – as long as it doesn’t lose its Waitrose – and for sport­ing more luvvies on the high street than a BAFTA red car­pet. Still, for an in­ner-city-vil­lage feel, it’s hard to beat. We did not want to feel ei­ther loss or less. So to move from a large Vic­to­rian to a small Vic­to­rian would hurt. The so­lu­tion, which I would rec­om­mend to any­body, is to go for Some­thing Com­pletely Dif­fer­ent. It might be cot­tage to


[con­tin­ued from pre­vi­ous page] ware­house. House to house­boat. Du­plex to bun­ga­low. Any­thing that does not in­vite com­par­i­son. Our con­trast? An­cient Vic­to­rian to very, very mod­ern.

I thought we’d need per­sua­sion to leave what ev­ery­one calls the char­ac­ter of the old. Truth was, one paw on a porce­lain tiled floor with heat­ing un­der­neath and Flynn and I were hooked.

Yes, the rooms were smaller. But there were enough of them: four bed­rooms meant one each and one for Flynn and Milly to turn into a Nan-off-lim­its study-kitchen of their own, for TV time and break­fast to­gether. (We are fond and close, not stupid.)

A sin­gu­lar de­light is re­al­is­ing that you are al­lowed – no, meant – to splurge. Your cir­cum­stances are the di­rect op­po­site of young peo­ple buy­ing their first home: they spend ev­ery penny they have on the best ba­sic prop­erty they can af­ford, then do it up as the years go by.

The down­sizer, by con­trast, doesn’t ex­pect as many of those years. On the other hand, she does have a few bob to spare – she’s mak­ing a profit, re­mem­ber? So rather than throw­ing it all in the bank, you can keep a bit back to make it ex­actly what you want from day one. In our case, that meant spend­ing £10,000 to knock out two walls and in­stall a kitchen on the roof gar­den. No, not ev­ery­body’s pri­or­ity. But that is another ben­e­fit for the down­sizer: the younger buyer’s taste and per­sonal style is still evolv­ing; by my age, you know ex­actly what you want.

Less space de­manded that we chuck out half of all our pos­ses­sions. But we did it, sur­pris­ingly, with rel­a­tive ease. We let it come from the heart: if we’d never liked it, then it went, re­gard­less of worth. Some might say you can’t take a huge 1920s wal­nut din­ing ta­ble to a mod­ern house; we de­cided that if you love it enough you can. So we did. Milly, how­ever, was an im­mense con­cern. Milly, who four years ago was di­ag­nosed with in­cur­able brain dam­age in­flicted in the womb. Milly, who finds any change a force for fear. So we told our sell­ers of her prob­lems. And, though not a con­tract had been signed or a penny ex­changed, they said they were off on their trav­els, here’s a key, bring Milly over ev­ery week­end to get used to it. It was their trust­ing kind­ness, not the im­pend­ing loss of our home, that brought the one and only tear to my eye.

The loss of our home, slowly and surely, just stopped be­ing that. Each room cleared out looked more like any other empty box; why had I been think­ing that they held decades of mem­o­ries and mile­stones? They didn’t. We did.

Ev­ery good thing we had we could take with us: fam­ily, pets, prized pos­ses­sions and, yes, mem­o­ries and mile­stones. Yet, by the same to­ken, there were things we were freed to leave be­hind.

The move, in fact, ac­tu­ally helped us to deal with our re­cent tragedy. Milly – and her dis­abil­ity – ob­vi­ously would come with us. But our very worst of times, the shock, the grief, the terror of the ini­tial di­ag­no­sis… well, cu­ri­ously, we found that we were able to leave those within the silent old walls that had wit­nessed them.

And so it was that we took the good, left the bad and walked away with nary a back­ward look.

A cou­ple of weeks ago, I hap­pened to pass the old house, glimpsed the young doc­tor who bought it, with his grow­ing fam­ily – and I felt not a twinge. It’s their turn with the big space now. I smiled at the huge li­lac tree, once a twig I planted in the front gar­den, and at the sturdy bay win­dow be­hind it. Very nice bricks and mor­tar, I thought. But, still, just bricks and mor­tar af­ter all.

‘We did not want to go for loss or less,’ say Carol Sar­ler. ‘The so­lu­tion? Some­thing Com­pletely Dif­fer­ent’

‘Ev­ery good thing we had we could take with us… and there were things we were freed to leave be­hind,’ says Carol

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