Calls are coming in, emails are flooding my mail box; “feeling financially squeezed” and “downsizing” are the major causes for concern of my readers. Senior citizens have limited revenues and are watching in awe and panic as the development of condominium buildings and senior residences on the Cambie corridor and on West 41st Avenue change their neighbourhoods forever.
My wife and I have lived in our house for over 25 years. The mortgage is paid, but the property taxes, utility bills, garden maintenance and repairs are becoming a financial burden. We cannot do all the physical labour that we used to do. Revenue from our investments is barely covering the cost of living. We are in a financial “tight squeeze” and the stress is ruining our lives. Of course we heard that the houses on our street are selling for huge sums of money. We love our neighbourhood, our neighbours, our local shops and parks—is there a way for us to stay in our house?
– House-rich but Cash-poor
Dear “House-rich but Cash-poor”
There are many ways in which to reduce your living expenses in regards to your house and life-style. My first suggestion is to defer your municipal taxes. Under the B.C. property Tax Deferment Program, homeowners can waive either a portion or all of their annual property tax, and pay only one per cent interest on the total. There are categories that define who can qualify and the province recovers the cost, with interest, whenever the homeowner chooses to pay it, when the home is sold or from the homeowner’s estate.
My second suggestion is to think about renovating your home to suit your present needs, to improve accessibility or help a senior be more functional or mobile at home. There is a “BC Senior’s Home Renovation Tax Credit available, also “Home Adaptations for Independence Program.”(Please see the Useful Resources list in the centre of this Senior Line magazine or go to JSAs website: http://jsalliance.org/resources/where-to-go/ ).
My third suggestion is to consider a CHIP Home Income Plan which allows you to unlock up to 50%of the value in your home to do the things you want to do (https://www.chip.ca/). This represents tax-free cash you can use today. Simply put it is a loan secured by your home. But, you do not have to make any payments—interest or principal—for as long as you or your spouse live in your home. You must receive independent legal advice before making your final decision. Another idea is to rent out a space, either a “basement suite” or a “student’s room” in your home. Proceed slowly and carefully, inform yourself of all implications of any program or plan you decide on. You should be able to live comfortably and peacefully in your home for as long as you wish.
I always prided myself in being an independent woman in spite of a mobility issue which causes me to use a walker. Lately, however, I have had a medical setback; several months in the hospital have left me weak and immobile. I have decided that, in spite of my firm belief in “aging in place,” I must move out of my beautiful condo and into an assisted-living facility. I am determined but feel very anxious and frightened. I do not feel up to the task at hand. The idea of “moving” keeps me awake at night and the idea of “downsizing” brings me to tears during the day. Where do I begin?
-Panic and Tears about Downsizing
Dear “Panic and Tears about Downsizing”
Due to unfortunate circumstances which have changed your plans, you must now face the daunting task of moving and downsizing. Take a deep breath and wipe away the tears, there is help to be had and assistance available. You need a plan, a way of feeling that you are again back in control of your life!
The stuff: Imagine rediscovering clothes and shoes you forgot you had. Imagine the pleasure of turning up old letters or photographs you haven’t seen for years. Imagine giving family keepsakes to loved ones yourself rather than leaving them in a will. Downsizing is an opportunity. Start slowly, create a system of categories, ‘keep’, ‘discard’, ‘sell’, ‘donate’ and ‘give to family.’ Choose your favorite clothes to keep and find a consignment store for the clothes that are worth a ‘second look.’ Donating and giving put pleasure back into the process. If you wish to hire someone to assist you, how about Escape Errands (http://www.escapeerrands.ca) or just google “downsizing” and up comes people and companies who will assist you in the sorting, removing and moving of your possessions.
The location: Do you wish to remain in your neighbourhood? If so, have you seen an assisted living residence on your shopping expeditions? Walk in, ask questions. Perhaps you wish to move to a different neighbourhood, closer to a shopping centre, or more central, or closer to a family member. Google ‘assisted-living residence and the name of the district.’ Or, get a real estate agent or moving consultant to find a residence with exactly the features you want in your new home. John Verster and Jane Dewing (Changing Places, http://vancouvermoves.ca/) suggest in their article “How to plan the stress out of moving” (The Vancouver Sun, May 20 2015).