Downsizing? Read my Small Home Buyers’ Guide!

Downsize Small Home Buyers' Guide ZoeAtHome.com

People all over the world are choosing to downsize. Climate change, the GFC and the rising cost of living have inspired us to act to reduce our footprint on the Earth.

For my husband and me, we chose a smaller home so that we could afford to have an inner city lifestyle similar to those we saw when we were travelling abroad. We wanted our children to have access to all the things the city has to offer. We didn’t want the car-dependent lifestyle. And we didn’t want to take on a massive mortgage.

I’ve come to the conclusion that success in real estate is largely about managing trade-offs. Whatever your budget, you can buy well if you know what you are prepared to sacrifice in order to get what you want in a home.

If you’re choosing to downsize, you’re likely trading size for other features in a home that are more important to you. For us, we bought a smaller home so that we could be in the location we wanted, a great suburb with lots of cafés, restaurants, shops and services.

So what should you look for in a smaller home? Here was our checklist, roughly in order of importance to us:

  • Location. We had our hearts set on one partucular suburb: we even knew which streets we preferred. We wanted to be able to walk everywhere, both to keep fit and interact with our community. So we looked up proposed houses on Walk Score; our current home has a score of 82%, which is great for our lifestyle.
  • North-facing. If the living area windows face north, your home will be flooded with natural light, even in winter, but you won’t get the powerful afternoon sun flooding in. Slightly north-east is also good, as you won’t get the morning sun in the summer months, which heats up the house too quickly. A northerly aspect makes a house much cheaper to heat and cool: I think it’s the opposite in the Northern Hemisphere.
  • Floor-to-ceiling windows, with a view. A view is good for mental health. It’s also really important because that’s what you’ll be looking at for years to come.
Small home-buyers' gude ZoeAtHome.com

The view from my living room window

These were the top three things we weren’t prepared to compromise on. We were really lucky because we also got most of the other things on our list:

  • An open-plan layout, without too many hallways which are an inefficient use of space. If it’s open plan, you can create different zones with the right kind of furniture. For more on this, click here to read about my Lego Furniture Theory.
  • Insulation in the ceiling and the internal and external walls. It’s difficult to retro-fit these elements, but they do make it cheaper to heat and cool your home. Insulated internal walls are great in a small space because they provide sound-proofing, which gives everyone more privacy.
  • High ceilings make a house feel more spacious, even with a small footprint. However, raked ceilings can make things difficult down the track. You can’t insulate them easily, and you can’t install downlights or ducted air-conditioning.
  • Ventilation helps with climate control. You can open the windows when afternoon breezes come in and passively cool your home.
  • Having a second toilet is a luxury if you don’t have two bathrooms. If we’d bought a house with two bathrooms it would have cost us a lot more. Therefore, if you can extend your home to add a second bathroom, you’ll improve the value of your home significantly.
  • And obviously, price. Do not underestimate how wonderful it feels to have a manageable mortgage! If you run out of money, you can always put renovations on hold, or give up on your holiday plans: you can’t give up your mortgage.

Above all, what you’re looking for is potential. The house we bought has a 20-year-old kitchen and bathroom and it was very dark. Most of the people at the open inspections took one look around and walked straight out the door! But my parents showed us a few quick things we could do to modernise it while we planned a bigger renovation. We didn’t know much about renovating, but slowly we are learning. One day we’ll have the house of our dreams!

Kitchen Before Picture Zoe at Home

This is my ‘before’ picture!

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8 thoughts on “Downsizing? Read my Small Home Buyers’ Guide!

  1. I read your bit on which direction things should face and then realised for the northern hemisphere, it’s all the reverse of what you say!

    • Thank you for your encouraging comment! And thank you to everyone who has commented so far. I always look forward to hearing what people think. Actually I’m trying to write an ebook- it’s not as easy as it would seem!

  2. Zoe, your blog is very educational, and interesting. One tip I have stolen from here is the phone log. So what are you “trying” to write an ebook about? The same subjects you are covering on this blog?

    • The book is going to be called “How I paid off my mortgage in under 5 years, and how you could too!” or something like that. But we still have 4 years to go, so I’m still thinking about how best to write it up. Also, it’s hard to find the motivation to write it because, unlike the blog there is no posting schedule to keep up with. I have now written 50 posts at about 500 words each: that makes 25,000 words in just a few months! I could have written a book by now at that rate!

      • Paying off your mortgage in 5 years is an accomplishment in itself. especially if the housing prices are similar to ours, even during this financial crisis, where the prices has gone down. I have no doubt that you will have that book ready in 4 years time. And if you win the lottery you don’t have to write an entire book, but you will be able to settle for a short story.

  3. Lovely view. I’m with you on the city. (and I’ve been through 2 houses with kitchen remodels now… I’m hoping that when I downsize I can finally get something that’s already ‘done’)

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