Buying your forever home

Buying your forever home

by Carly Susic, Melbourne Buyers Advocate 

There’s a lot of advice about buying your first home, but what about buying your last home? When you are buying your forever home, it’s important to get this purchase right. You want to be enjoying the property in your twilight years for as long as possible. As a buyers’ advocate, I’ve worked with hundreds of people in Melbourne buying their last home, so I’ve seen firsthand how crucial it is to make the right purchase decision—not everyone gets it right. 

Consider the future when you are buying your last home 

This may sound grim, but we are all getting older—so while denial and hoping for the best is far less discomforting, we do need to face the brutal facts. It’s no guarantee that your health will be or stay robust as you get older. The unfortunate truth is that as we age, our risk factor for many health conditions increase and we begin to struggle with mobility—we get more frail. 

One client of mine insisted she’d be able to drive into her eighties but she sadly suffered an eye condition which gave her double vision, forcing her to give up her licence. Luckily she lived within walking distance to many amenities so she was still able to remain in her home and get about without driving. Another client had Parkinson’s disease but planned for her husband to take care of the driving. Sadly, her husband had a stroke and died early at age 66, leaving her in a precarious living position in a property she could no longer manage alone. 

So when you are buying your forever home, it might feel nice to forget about the inevitable future, considering those aspects can help you make the best possible decision. 

Accessibility, accessibility, accessibility for the bathroom 

As we get older, it’s possible that we may need to use the bathroom more frequently. Perhaps bathroom mobility aids for the toilet or shower will be in your future. So when buying your final home, consider these potential future requirements for your bathroom. 

Of course, you can remodel the bathroom in the future, but wouldn’t it be better, cheaper and less hassle if your bathroom was well-equipped already? 

Ideally your forever home will have these bathroom features: 

  • ensuite readily accessible from the master bedroom 
  • wide doorway access 
  • spacious shower that will allow room for shower seat and hand rails 
  • no shower above the bath, as they are difficult to access
  • no steps or ridges on the shower recess that reduce access 
  • space around the toilet for handrails or toilet seats 

Single levels are preferable 

Many elderly people are frail, and can’t easily navigate stairs. No matter how fit and well you are now, if you want to live in your own home in your later years, choosing a ground floor apartment or single-level property is a wise decision. 

Look for properties with: 

  • no stairs leading to the front door (saves you putting in ramps later) 
  • wide accessible footpaths to the door 
  • no split levels or single steps in the interior 
  • wide hallways and door frames that can accommodate a walker or a wheelchair (just in case)
  • no steps in the backyard 
  • wall ovens over cookers that require you to bend down to get items out of the oven

You may not always be driving 

It may be easy to navigate steep hills or driveways in your car, but what if you are no longer able to drive? Many drivers are required to relinquish their drivers licence due to health conditions (which is best for everyone’s safety). If you factor in accessibility to local amenities, life will be much easier if you are ever regrettably unable to drive. Of course you can get things delivered and take public transport, but if you just need milk or bread, being able to walk to the local shops is highly valuable. Similarly, being able to get to the nearest tram stop, bus stop or train station will mean you’re still able to get yourself around Melbourne without relying on your car or expensive Ubers or taxis. 

Choosing a property with easy access to amenities will also mean it has good resale potential down the track, so it’s unlikely you’ll ever regret this purchase decision. 

Flat suburbs are best when you’re buying your forever home

If you need to get around on foot, hills are your worst enemy. Melbourne is quite a flat city, but each area has their hilly zones. Suburbs like Eltham, Templestowe and Warrandyte can be quite uneven. Consider areas that have plenty of footpaths, because some suburbs don’t have them everywhere—walking on grass is far from ideal if you struggle with mobility. 

When considering buying your last home, take a walk from the home to the nearest shops or train station. Imagine yourself doing that same walk in ten or twenty years. If it tires you now, it will only get more difficult as you age. 

Choose a low maintenance garden

If your garden is your paradise, don’t give it up. But consider a smaller area that will remain manageable. My client, Margaret, moved from the family home in Glen Waverley to a ground floor apartment in Carnegie, and she has transformed the small courtyard into a stunning garden. With two knee replacements she can’t kneel well so she takes advantage of the walls to create stunning hanging gardens. 

When you love your gardening, it can be tempting to think you will enjoy it forever, but it can be quite taxing on the body, with kneeling, lifting and lots of grunt work. If you struggle to maintain and regularly mow 600 square metres of lawn, it would be wise to consider something smaller that you can enjoy — you are only going to get slower, and it would be costly to move again because the forever home you buy is no longer suitable as you get older. 

Consider the potential of the property 

I had a client who was not worried about potential growth in value of the property as she didn’t have children so had “no one to leave it to.” But even if you’re not the one benefitting from the increasing value of the property, it’s wise to still consider it. You never know; your circumstances may change and you may have to sell quickly. If your home has appreciated in value, you’ll have more viable options. If you go into care, you may need to sell the home to raise a bond, and you’ll be grateful for the chance to sell at a good market price, and have strong buyer demand. 

Beware agents seeing you coming 

Agents love downsizers! They have plenty of money in their pockets because they’ve sold the family home, and agents are well aware of it. There is no need to let agents know how much you want to spend—keep it to yourself. Agents rely on you being uninformed about the market because you’ve likely lived in your previous home for years or decades. So they love downsizers because they can often persuade them to pay top dollar or above market value for a property. 

Agents are very charming and make you feel they have your best interests at heart—but they are selling a property at the highest possible price and within the fastest possible duration, so be wary of their advice. Agents might brush off your concerns about the accessibility of the property, or the lack of ensuite, so stick to your wish list and stand your ground. When buying your forever home, hiring an advocate can help you avoid agents as we deal with them on your behalf.  

Keep your lifestyle in mind 

Going from living in a large family home to a much smaller property takes some adjustment. Be prepared to declutter and change your lifestyle as you downsize. Many clients buying their last home tell me they want “this but smaller” meaning they want a smaller version of the family home. If you still enjoy a game of pool or want space to watch the cricket in peace, keep those lifestyle aspects in mind. If you still want to have the family for dinner, or play ping pong in the garage, don’t downsize to a property with a small dining room or only a carport. 

Consider proximity to family 

It can be difficult downsizing and changing suburbs, especially if you value being close to your children. As you get older, longer drives become uncomfortable so you want to be as close as possible. One client of mine chose to live ‘in between’ his two sons which only meant both children were a good 40 minute drive away. This meant he was often driving home alone late at night after visiting his sons and it became very difficult for everyone. In hindsight, it would have been better to be very close to one of them, and use that as the central location for family get-togethers. 

To summarise: buying your forever home

  • choose homes as low maintenance as possible 
  • consider accessibility, especially in the bathroom
  • choose single-level properties 
  • don’t assume you or your partner will retain good health as you age
  • anticipate that you may not be able to drive later in life 
  • choose a home within easy walking distance of amenities 
  • be cautious with charming agents who assume you have plenty to spend 
  • consider the growth potential of the property 
  • choose flat suburbs with footpaths that are easier to walk around 
  • don’t sacrifice features that require the loss of your favourite hobbies 
  • locate yourself close to family where possible 

Contact us for assistance 

As buyers’ advocates we can help you when buying your forever home and help you make the best possible investment for your lifestyle, health and financial situation. Contact us for a no-obligation consultation. 

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