This research shows that downsizing, or ‘rightsizing’ as it is often termed, is an integral part of the current and future housing preferences of older Australians. Findings are based on analysis of the Australian Housing Aspirations (AHA) survey and interviews with older Australians and key stakeholders.
Of the 2,422 older (aged 55+) respondents to the AHA survey, 26 per cent had downsized, and a further 29 per cent had considered downsizing.
Older Australians perceive downsizing as more than just a reduction in dwelling size. Rather, it refers to internal and external spaces becoming more manageable, and a reduction in belongings. It also includes a financial benefit to the household.
Downsizers are mobile, with only 22 per cent staying in their original neighbourhood.
One of the policy rationales for downsizing is to reduce the underutilisation of dwellings. However, this is at odds with the attitude of many older Australians who consider spare bedrooms necessary, using them as permanent guest rooms (58%), studies (50%), or dedicated rooms for children or grandchildren (31%). However, two-thirds of downsizers surveyed did move to a dwelling with fewer bedrooms, with three being the preferred size for older Australians (James, Rowley et al 2019).
Older Australians who had downsized did so to achieve a particular lifestyle (27%); for financial outcomes (27%); because their garden or property required too much maintenance (18%); or because they were forced to do so (15%). Perceived benefits of downsizing for those who had not yet downsized included a reduction in property maintenance and household running costs.
Among survey respondents who had considered downsizing, a change in health circumstances, either for themselves or their partner, was considered most likely to prompt a move—and the importance of this as a catalyst increased with age.
Across the local government areas (LGAs) studied, there was a large variation in the availability of established dwellings that suit the size and tenure aspirations of older Australians.
Forty per cent of potential downsizers said they would be likely to move if there were suitable housing in their preferred locations. Thus, policy that seeks to enable effective downsizing for older Australians should focus on delivering diverse and affordable housing options, in both metropolitan and regional locations and across tenures.
Policy settings should also ensure: new dwellings adopt design principles that will enable households to age in place for longer; and better availability of information around downsizing options.
As more and more households rent into retirement, there will be an increasing need for secure, stable, affordable and appropriate housing options in the social and private rental sectors.