Downsize | Upgrade – A Guide to Downsizing with self-build

Downsizing with self-build is becoming an attractive option for an ever-increasing number of people, with more than 50% of people over 60 interested in moving, and 1-in-3 wanting to downsize. Gone are the days when downsizing was seen as an unhappy step, from an established home, to small and low-quality accommodation. Downsizing through self-build can ensure that you create a home perfectly suited to you and your way of life which can only contribute to your happiness (with research having shown that people aged over 55 are already happier than any other age group)

In this post we wanted to explore some of the main factors for those considering downsizing through the commission of a self-build home, which should not be an uninspiring bungalow, but a home of real architectural quality, which brings you joy through all the years you live in it.

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Why Downsize with self-build?

There are numerous advantages to downsizing with a self-build. Some of these are relatively obvious, such as having fewer rooms to manage and lower household bills, while some of them are financial, such as the wish to release equity in your current home.

However one consideration which is often less-discussed is that of the excitement of creating a home perfectly suited to your current and future needs. Often many people downsizing find that the bulk of the property market doesn’t cater for their wishes, with small and uninspiring apartments or soul-less bungalows offered as the main alternative to ‘family homes’.

People considering downsizing often bring a wealth of experience with regards to the type of spaces they like to live in, and this experience can be perfectly complimented by having a high-quality bespoke home designed to meet your needs.

Location

Most downsizing research has understandably focused on moving to population centres due to the proximity and concentration of amenities such as healthcare, shops, and social activities. These are of course extremely important things to consider, and have to be assessed in conjunction with how you see yourself living, proximity to family and friends, and any other factors important to you.

However, people downsizing rurally should not be overlooked, with many people not wishing to live in a built-up area. These people in particular have not been catered for by either the majority of the housing market, or wider Governmental policies, with the vast majority of research and initiatives focusing on the instances of people downsizing by re-locating to (or indeed remaining in) urban centres.

Finding a location for your home shares many of the considerations of any self-build search (see our guide to plot finding), in addition to other factors which may become applicable as time passes.

An extremely important thing to consider with regards to choosing your location or site is digital connectivity. With the internet being so central to shopping, staying in touch with friends and family, and indeed so many aspects of modern life, good internet provision is crucial to ensuring that your home continues to meet your needs moving forward. In fact, many of our downsizing clients consider it of greater importance than public-transport links, or even proximity to a GP clinic.

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Quality

Spacious downsizing is not an oxymoron, but concerns the size and quality of the spaces you inhabit. Too often the property market fixates on the number of bedrooms a property has, rather than how these rooms will be used, or whether a home has the type and quality of spaces you require to live your life in the manner you choose.

It’s important that the spaces in your new home are pleasurable, with atmospheric and spatial qualities in excess of your current or previous home. This will ensure that you don’t feel as if you have ‘traded-down’ with your choice to downsize, but have instead merely traded a greater number of rooms which may no longer fit your lifestyle, for a bespoke high-quality home, which often feels more spacious than your current home.

One key consideration with downsizing through self-building is ensuring that good quality space is available to accommodate friends or family when they come to visit. Whilst a self-build home should always be primarily ‘selfish’, and designed from first principles to meet your wants and needs, it’s also important to provide guest space that can allow visits from friends and family (when you choose to invite them!).

Materiality is very important when it comes to designing your home. Unfortunately most guidance available concentrates only on the technical qualities of materials with regards to guides for downsizing good-practice (ie non-slip flooring etc). Whilst these aspects are of course important, tactile and aesthetic qualities of materials must also be considered (see the importance of materiality as part of our design process), ensuring that your home is fit-for-purpose, but also designed and finished to a high standard.

Sustainability

Whilst all the homes we design are low-energy (such as our zero central-heating Strathdon House), this is of particular importance when it comes to downsizing. Reduced household bills are naturally one of the main advantages to downsizing through self-build, and it’s important that your new home is cheap to run whilst also being comfortable. New homes should be sustainable through their design, and should have excellent levels of solar gain, in addition to incorporating renewable technologies where appropriate, which are not subject to fuel price fluctuations (such as oil or gas). This allows you to have the peace of mind that your household heating bills will not fluctuate with the supply price of any fuel commodity.

Adaptability & Management

It’s very important to plan-ahead, and envisage not just how you may live in your new home when you move in, but also in 10-20 years (and more) in the future. Everyone is different when it comes to ‘future-proofing’, and so much will depend on your style of living, as well as any health conditions you may have. Some of the key considerations we’ve found through the delivery of new downsizing homes are:

– Accessible bathroom design (to be pleasurable to use, not merely meeting the building regulations)

– Kitchens designed to allow sufficient low-level storage, with a low-level worktop section (dining bar height), for potential future use as a low-level worktop.

– Door widths of 1m as a minimum, with minimal architrave and door surround which can trap fingers when operating mobility aids or wheelchairs

– The ability to live on a single level in the future should this be required.

– Low maintenance materials, both inside and out, which require zero upkeep wherever possible.

– Access to good-quality green space, an area of which can be enjoyed with minimal maintenance (perhaps sitting as part of a larger garden).

Whilst not ‘exciting’ to contemplate, by considering changing requirements at the design stage, it allows your home to adapt and evolve as your needs change, resulting in greatly extending your home’s useful lifespan for you.

Summary

In conclusion perhaps the most important consideration for those downsizing through self-build is that the house you create should not be some variation of a drab retirement-bungalow, but should be an exciting high-quality home, comprised of spaces of real architectural quality and ambition, which it is a pleasure for you to live in – hopefully for decades to come.

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