The Australian dream used to be a house with a white picket fence. Is it now a two-storey mansion with security cameras and a 30-metre lap pool? Sometimes upsizing is a necessary move. It can act as a natural part of growing your capital and planning for your future. However, there are aspects and downsides of upsizing that you should consider. With them in mind, they may lead you towards choosing an alternative for you and your family.
Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about downsizing – moving into a smaller home as you grow older. However, if you’re only just starting to see your family grow, the opposite – upsizing – is much more relevant. As your assets, family and needs increase, you might just find you’ve outgrown your home and need more space for your day-to-day living. Upsizing isn’t as simple as it sounds though – from increasing your mortgage to maintaining a larger property, there are many factors to be taken into consideration before you upgrade.
What to consider when upsizing your home
There are few things quite as liberating as the feeling of moving into a bigger house, especially after being squeezed into something way too small for way too long. Striding the length of vast empty rooms, or shouting from one end of the house to the other to hear your own voices echo back, are just two of the small pleasures you might imaging enjoying once you have acquired all of that extra space.
However, there is a lot more effort and responsibility involved when you live in a bigger home, so before you take the step up, let’s run through some of the basics so you know what to consider when upsizing your home.
How Much Space Do You Actually Need?
If you still think upsizing your home is the right choice for you, then consider exactly how much space you might need. Going bigger doesn’t have to mean aiming for twice the size. A house of similar dimensions but slightly bigger can often be all that’s needed. One extra bedroom or a larger more open plan living space can make a huge difference. Even upsizing from a 2nd-floor townhouse to a place with its own outdoor space can be transformative.
Think about the needs of everyone who will live there and be clear about how the current issues can be solved in the simplest and most economical way. Remember if you move to something that is too big you may find your current supplies lacking and need to upgrade furniture, curtains, rugs and other household necessities. Bigger houses require much more effort to create a warm, inviting atmosphere so think practically about what space is needed and decide accordingly.
Why do you need more space?
Before you make any ‘big’ decisions, you should consider why you think you need more space and if a bigger house is really the solution. Be sure to think through all the factors that led up to this point. Many people come to the end of a long cold winter trapped inside and feel suffocated by their home, but a good spring clean and changing a few pieces of furniture can cure that sensation in no time.
If more people live with you now than when you moved in, then upsizing your home to something bigger is probably inevitable. However, many families get the timing wrong on this. If you are tired of big awkward teenagers clunking around the house, moving to something bigger may be too little too late. How long until they leave home? Are there other solutions such as adding an extension or having younger children share a room so older children can have their own space? Same applies if an elderly parent needs to move in – maybe a granny flat in the back yard is a better choice in the short term.
So what are the pros and cons of property upsizing in Australia?
Bigger certainly isn’t cheaper
As a recent study from Princeton revealed, there is a point in our pursuit for income growth where our daily happiness plateaus. This is because as we grow in our wealth we often grow in our daily responsibilities towards the sources of our incomes (our jobs). In other words, there comes a point where some things a just…enough. Beyond that, we start to pull our hair out. And this goes for our homes just as it does for our income. The more space we have, the more we feel we need to fill that space. The more rooms in our home, the greater the time necessary to maintain the cleanliness and structural upkeep of these rooms.
Can you afford the additional costs of a larger home?
Of course, a bigger house will have a higher purchase price but it also comes with a whole bunch of other costs that you may not have had in your previous property. Your first task is to be sure that your new larger mortgage is going to be manageable within your existing budget. If you were just getting by financially before, then upsizing your expenses is not the way to improve your quality of life. As well as the mortgage, there may also be increased costs on things such as insurance, rates, property tax, power, gas and water bills.
Larger homes can be glorious things but the costs of maintaining a bigger garden or repainting a larger house – especially a two-storey one - every few years can certainly take the sheen off things. Repairing and taking care of things is essential to the property not only retains but increases its value and this can become a costly exercise on a large demanding property. Unless you live in a tropical climate, it can be hard to justify the expense of managing a backyard swimming pool that you only use for a month or two each year. There will always be hidden costs you haven’t thought of too – such as paying someone to rescue possums out of your attic or getting ivy-clad walls dealt with so parts of your house don’t collapse. Talk to friends who have large homes and ask them what their gripes are so that if you still decide to go ahead, you are somewhat more prepared for the intricate needs and costs of a larger property.
Can you manage the upkeep of a bigger property?
One of the things that catch many homeowners by surprise is the amount of work involved in running a larger house. Obviously, there is more space to clean, so additional hours will be added to the time you usually spend doing housework. Maybe one extra bathroom is not so bad but if you’ve gained a whole extra floor or a kitchen that’s three times the size, you might find that small amount of free time you used to have becomes a thing of the distant past.
Inside the house is just the beginning. Homes with gardens, pools, ponds, fountains, chickens, large deciduous trees, lush sweeping lawns are alluring and romantic in notion only. The novelty soon wears off when you realise most of your weekend is now spent sweeping, scooping, cutting, clearing, mulching and cleaning. If you have the time, it can be a wonderful way to keep fit and to keep busy as you get older. But if you have a busy young family, make sure you factor gardeners, groundsmen and caretakers into your budget and, if the numbers don’t work, you may be upsizing your mistakes instead of upsizing your home.
Save on day-to-day costs
Because of the rise in costs that come with a larger house (water costs, electricity, maintenance), consider ways to mitigate against these when purchasing. Look for homes that include cost-saving measures in their build. These include sustainable construction techniques, double glazing, intelligent design to monopolise on natural light, solar panelling, water management (the recycling of greywater). Remember that you can include these sorts of cost-saving measures in a renovation if not an upsize.
Less money for play
Consider how much disposable income will be locked into the costs that come with your upsized investment. Beyond the pressures of paying for increased rates, mortgage and maintenance, will you have the money to maintain a happy and healthy day-to-day existence? If so, great! But if things will be a stretch, be sure that it is an investment that will pay off rather than keep you financially constrained.
More room to be alone
Consider the effects of a larger home on your family. Do your children really need a room to themselves or, if it suits your financial situation better, can they benefit from sharing for a few more years? There are always the risks that expanding your home can have on the closeness of your family. It’s harder to convince the kids to go for a walk with the dog after dinner when they have a home cinema calling. Assess your personal goals as a family as they should influence your financial goals and consider unforeseen results of providing the family with a larger home.
Will the costs of upsizing require you to invest in an area with less potential growth? Even if it would be nice to have the pool, is the entire purchase a strong investment? Consider the sort of homes people may want to purchase in the next 10-15 years and through talking to professionals and doing your research, ascertain whether your property will be a desirable purchase when you need to sell again.
The most obvious alternative to upsizing is renovating. The greatest benefit of renovating is that you get exactly what you require. Just as there is the risk of overcapitalising when renovating (spending more than what the renovation will drive in capital growth), this also applies to upsizing. One of the largest downsides of upsizing is when buying more than you need, and as such overextending yourself financially. Renovating also allows you to incorporate money-saving technologies into a build that meets your exact requirements.
Consider other alternatives to both renovating and upsizing. One of these could be investing in a small property (1-2 bedroom apartment) within a high growth inner-city area. Your kids may tolerate smaller living arrangements for a few more years if they know that when they reach a certain age they will have an inner-city apartment to rent while studying, leaving you with the perfect sized home once they leave, rather than needing to downsize again.