We were cemented together by co-ownership of our marital home. After 20 years of family life, the house needed repairs, and the mortar in our marriage had crumbled. COVID restrictions prevented us from selling. When restrictions lifted, the sudden sale took me by surprise. I had eight weeks to pack up my old life and find a new home that would suit my needs for retirement and beyond.
Much was riding on my decision. The perfect place needed to meet my needs as I aged but not be a millstone of chores and repairs so I could continue to travel.
Here are the factors that came up during my search. Spoiler alert: I did find the perfect place.
1. How To Recognize The Flight Response
The Life Stress Inventory scores stressful events, and when your total is over 100, you’ve blown your mental health budget. A change in residence is 25 points, but often coincides with other life-quaking moments such as retirement (45 points), divorce (73), financial changes (38), and the kids moving out (29).
Stress induces a fight-or-flight response. I found myself wanting to run away. I could now live anywhere, such as aboard a yacht, a canal boat, or in a vacation town. I could also invest in wheel-estate and go vagabonding across the countryside.
However, when sense prevailed, I realized fleeing wasn’t a long-term solution. Even though I loved to travel, I needed a base. If I found an attractive home, it would open up possibilities for house swaps or renting my home out to travel.
2. I Should Reconsider Moving To The Countryside
Some retirees successfully move to the countryside. I briefly considered such a dramatic move but recalled my mother’s experience when in her late 60s she sold her two-bedroom unit in the city. Retiring to the seaside, she thought her family would constantly visit her. We did initially. But, as the novelty of the location wore off and we became busier with careers and kids, our visits dwindled.
After I had my daughter, my mother drove the two hours each way to spend quality time with her first grandchild. She now knew where she wanted to be.
During her country escape, city prices had escalated. Even though her seaside home had three bedrooms, buying back into town meant she could only afford a one-bedroom flat. The bedroom was so tiny she couldn’t fit in her double bed, and not wanting to give it up, she slept in the living room!
Was she happier? Yes. She loved all the activities the city offered and helping out with grandchildren. She had a close relationship with her grandchildren for the rest of her years.
But, grandchildren grow up and grandparents find themselves less in demand when they become teenagers and beyond.
3. Family Is Silver
The six-million-dollar question. Should we move closer to our family when we retire? Especially when we are solo.
I’ve chosen to move to the inner suburbs partly because I love the vibrancy of cafés, events, and cultural pursuits. Coincidentally, I’ve moved closer to my son, but I’m under no illusions. He’s only 27, unmarried, and likely to move to another city to further his career.
Kids no longer stay put. My daughter made a career move from Australia to the U.S taking her immediate family with her. She could not have known that the COVID-19 pandemic would strike, and it would be impossible for me to visit my grandchildren for two years.
4. Friends Are Gold
I propose a new saying: “Keep your family close but your friends closer.” Retired friends often have more time than immediate family to help out. When I was selling, I asked a friend who’d studied visual merchandising for some tips on furniture placement. I thought she’d visit for an hour, but when she saw the mess I was in, she grabbed her pajamas and moved in for the next three days. We shifted everything, so the place looked like a showroom. She also cleaned out every cupboard and helped with my ordeal of sorting through the hundreds of family photos after a separation. She’d sit next to me, hand me a pile, and say, “do it!” Then she would have the next stack waiting for me, so I couldn’t dwell.
Another friend invited me to stay with her for two weeks when my selling and buying dates didn’t coincide. Another friend stored my furniture in her nearby garage so that I could avoid the expense of removalists taking my belongings to an interim storage facility. Other friends gave me an hour here or there to help with packing or helped with advice such as the name of a good removalist or a helpful real estate agent. Even emails from kind friends that they were thinking of me lifted my spirits.
My son and his girlfriend helped by putting together IKEA furniture, to which I am grateful, but with full-time jobs and hectic social lives, they didn’t have as much time as some of my friends to help out.
5. Solo People Need A Community
When looking for apartments, I envied one friend for her community-minded block of flats. The residents had a Facebook group. All she had to do as a solo female was put out a call if she needed help with moving heavy furniture, and young men raced downstairs to her aid. She also told me she had moved near her daughter, who was only a street away. Although, while they had weekly phone calls, she hardly saw her. “If anything happened to me,” she said, the residents would be the first to notice I wasn’t up and about.”
Unfortunately, a flat in her complex didn’t become available during my watch. However, her situation made me realize that we don’t simply buy a property for aesthetics, but also for the community, especially as we age.
There are lots of retirement communities, but they come with hefty fees. Not too many burly young men to shift couches. I started to look for other places that might offer a community without being an official retirement option.
6. I Didn’t Want Repair Work Or Renovations
While the friend’s complex was communal, it was also old, and I was tired of cracks and the expense of renovations. During my search, I found new buildings had their issues. After the Grenfell Tower disaster of 2017, most people have heard of flammable cladding. This cladding problem is almost global, including in the U.S, China, Italy, the Middle East, and Australia. Flammable cladding can relate to buildings from the late 1990s through 2020. As well as being a potential fire hazard, owners usually cover the cost of removing cladding and living without exterior walls in the process. I became as terrified of buying in a new building as I was one with cracks and maintenance issues.
7. I Should Buy With Aging In Mind
I have a friend who is almost 90 years old and has happily bought a flat three flights of stairs up for the exercise. Looking into my crystal ball, I knew arthritis would not allow me this option. I needed elevators and shops not far away.
A quote by anthropologist Margaret Mead kept buzzing in my head, “liberation is tied to transport.” While I drive now, I might not always get behind the wheel. Some friends in their 70s already won’t drive at night. Being near public transport seemed imperative and close enough to my pursuits so that taking an Uber wouldn’t be overly expensive.
8. Exercise Needs To Be Close
I grew up near an Olympic-sized pool and spent my summers swimming. Later, when I became a teacher, there was a pool on my way home from work. While I could have driven past, the pool was in plain view, so I stopped every night to do laps. Some people move close to a golf course or hiking trails when they retire, thinking they will pursue a new activity. If they don’t enjoy these new pursuits, they are stuck in locations far away from the activities they do love. I still relish immersing myself in water. Water aerobics or gentle water exercise classes always lifts my spirits. I knew I should go back to living near a pool.
9. All’s Well That Ends Well
After a horrendous period of simultaneously selling the family home, separating, and looking for a new home, I bought into an upmarket block of apartments above a supermarket. It’s like having the world’s biggest pantry downstairs.
There are elevators and no stairs for when I need a knee operation. My realtor bought in the same building, as did a builder, so I knew there weren’t any major construction issues. The block is only four years old; there is nothing I need to do. By chance, it overlooks a fantastic pool complex due for completion next year. When I look out the window, I won’t be able to avoid the call to water.
Transport is outside my front door.
With one and a bit bedrooms, a balcony, and a nearby pool, it’s like living in a luxury hotel. Even as I write this, I hear staff vacuuming in the hallways. I rarely hear other noise because the building has incredible soundproofing. It might not be everybody’s choice to live the way I am, but it is the perfect apartment to lock up and leave or use for house swapping.
I looked at over 50 properties when I was searching. Crazy but necessary. When I saw this place, it answered my needs, and thankfully the stars aligned so I could move in.
Many residents in the building are downsizers, so there are people my age but several young people as well. The residents have a book club, a sewing circle, and a weekly drinks night. There is a barbecue area, lounge with a library, and dining room that I can reserve for large family functions. The first gathering I plan is a huge afternoon tea to thank those wonderful friends who helped me through this ordeal.
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