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.
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!
- Can you raise children in a small space?
- The Small Home Buyers’ Guide Part 2: how to find the house of your dreams