To downsize or renovate? We look at the pros and cons

It’s a question that can creep up on us or come at a rush because of infirmity or crisis. How to make the decision?

Key Points

  • Research shows the vast majority who have downsized are happy
  • A number of online resources are available to help you make your house more age friendly
  • Improve conditions for older Australians by joining our Better Housing campaign

That open staircase can change from being a quirky talking-point to a trip hazard. 

A shower-over-a-bath stops being a convenient two-in-one feature, instead becoming a very real impediment to personal care.

An open fireplace no longer feels as warm when lighting it becomes a daily struggle.

A lush garden can change from being a pleasure to a jungle. A tiny garage moves from being a hassle to preventing you from safely accessing your car.

Most older homes were built without consideration of accessibility, making them poorly suited to safe living in older age.

In addition to hazards, crowded bathroom designs, narrow doorways and low-situated power points, older homes lack well positioned handrails and trip-free shower recesses.

It’s perhaps inevitable that many older Australians reach a decision point: to renovate or downsize?  

Renovating resources

Renovating to make your home suitable for you as you age can be as simple as installing a couple of rails to undertaking complete bathroom and kitchen renovations.

To get started, check out the suggested guidelines at the Liveable Housing Australia website

You might also like to check out our interview with home renovation guru and media personality, Cherie Barber.

Read more here.

The advantages of renovating

Renovating allows you to stay in your house, neighbourhood and the community you are familiar with.  

You know where to find the best cappuccino and the layout of the nearest shops and doctors. You might have friends nearby and neighbours you know well.

There is also no pressure to declutter or downsize the mementos, artworks and furniture you’ve gathered over the years.

You do it your way.

When renovating, you can choose elements and features that suit you; everything from colours to the height of rails and benches.  

Changes can be made gradually so that you are not overwhelmed by a bigger renovation project.

And, for those with time and skills, there is the opportunity to enjoy the project management and perhaps flex some hammer-wielding muscles. When engaging tradespeople, you can use existing networks of people you know and trust.

Improving the accessibility of your house will help you stay at home for longer...and may also improve your property's value. 

The disadvantages of renovating

What’s that old saying about renovating — that you should estimate the time and cost, then double both?  

Any delays or changes to plans are particularly troublesome when you urgently need independent living features.  

And, let’s face it, using a camping stove on the back deck while the kitchen is being renovated isn’t all that appealing.

Then there’s the stress. If you are not someone who relishes a big project, is a renovation something you really want to take on?


If you instantly picture a retirement village when you think of downsizing, then it’s time to think again. Retirement villages are one great option, as are land lease communities, senior rental villages, freehold over 55s housing villages and granny flats (now, more trendily known as tiny homes). Other options include a smaller house or apartment. 

The advantages of downsizing

Most downsizing-style accommodation already offers features you already need or are likely to need in the future. These include single-level living, wider doorways and shower recesses, and balcony doorways that are trip-free. 

Some downsized accommodation options are co-located with higher level care facilities, reducing the magnitude of later change if needed.

Though many people don’t want to move initially, research shows the vast majority who have downsized are happy.

The Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute reports that those who had downsized enjoyed the following benefits:

  • less house and garden maintenance
  • an increased sense of safety arising from having others nearby
  • a sense of adventure in exploring a new area and making new friends. 

Many downsizer options come with shared facilities like cafés, pools or social groups. This can help you enjoy later life without having to leave your (new) home. 

The disadvantages of downsizing

Downsizing can involve considerable research and decision making. 

Financial and legal aspects can be complex and confusing. Then there are uncertainties that come with anything new — what will your new home really be like once you’ve settled in?

Research shows most downsizers report a medium to high level of stress around the move, but this did not stop them being happy once they had settled.

Assessing the pros and cons

Most people want to stay at home but those who have downsized are happy they made the move.  

It's also interesting to note that the number of positives for both renovating and downsizing far outweigh the negatives.

What this suggests is that it is not so much the outcome but the process of making an active decision that leads to satisfaction and happiness. And the earlier you make the decision, the better.

If you actively consider the options, thoughtfully discuss ideas with loved ones and trusted advisors, and come to a considered decision, you will be in good stead for safe and enjoyable living for years to come.

Our Better Housing campaign

It should be easier for older Australians to downsize into more age friendly housing. There are too many governmental, taxation and industry barriers. 

Our Better Housing campaign seeks to broaden the housing options for older Australians beyond the limited and standardised ‘cookie cutter’ offerings. 

As part of this campaign we are calling on for accessible design features to be included in the National Construction Code. You can find out more and sign the petition here.   

Join the Better Housing campaign.

The information in this article was sourced from the Downsizing website.