Swapping a high maintenance family home for a sea or tree change can give you more time for the things you enjoy. But it may not deliver the funds needed to enjoy a quality retirement.
Swapping a high maintenance family home for a sea or tree change can give you more time for the things you enjoy. But it may not deliver the funds needed to enjoy a quality retirement. Supplied

Want a sea change? Think twice before making the switch

SEA OR tree change? Downsizing to a coastal town or regional hub can hold lifestyle appeal but don't bank on it as a strategy to fund your retirement.

For many empty nesters, who may not have had the benefit of employer-paid super throughout their working life, the value of the family home can be seen as the jewel in the crown of a retirement funding strategy. After all, who cares about the age pension when you're sitting on good real estate?

Swapping a high maintenance family home for something smaller can give you more time for the things you enjoy. But it may not deliver the funds needed to enjoy a quality retirement.

Super industry body ASFA did the sums recently, finding that downsizing for a sea or tree change has the potential to free up valuable home equity. As a guide, sea changers moving from the Sydney metro area to the popular NSW retiree haven of Forster-Tuncurry could pocket up to $650,000 in home equity thanks to the difference in median home prices between the two regions.

However, there are drawbacks to consider. Choosing to live outside our big cities can make it harder to access specialist medical care - something that becomes more important as we age.

In addition, property price growth in our major state capitals tends to outpace regional areas. This matters because further down the track you may need to rely on home equity to fund the rising cost of aged care.

Downsizing within the same city often provides fewer financial benefits than a sea or tree change. Property transaction costs in particular will eat away a substantial chunk of your home equity.

In Sydney for instance, the median apartment price is $762,509, and on that price you can expect to pay $29,807 in stamp duty alone. Once you've set aside sufficient proceeds to live off comfortably for the rest of your life, you could be faced with taking a very substantial downgrading in the type of housing or lifestyle you can afford.

The bottom line is that relying on the value of your home should not form the focus of your retirement plans.

If you're eager to cut housework or garden maintenance, downsizing can be a good option. But if you're hoping to fund a decent retirement, it makes much more sense to grow a separate pool of investments - preferably throughout your working life.

The beauty of this strategy is that it gives you choices. If you don't want to sell a much-loved family home, you don't have to. And if a more compact home is on your retirement radar, you can afford to do it on your own terms, moving where and when you choose.

Paul Clitheroe is a founding director of financial planning firm ipac, Chairman of the Australian Government Financial Literacy Board and chief commentator for Money Magazine.


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