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The deets on downsizing on Long Island

There may be savings in moving to a smaller home, a decision that requires a mental adjustment.

To save money, financial planner Nick Mavromoustakos, 42,

To save money, financial planner Nick Mavromoustakos, 42, downsized from a condo to a studio apartment in Long Beach. Photo Credit: Heather Walsh

So, there you are raking leaves and getting ready to clean out the gutters. Later, you plan to tackle the basement, which is looking like a thrift store drop-off center. Then, it hits you. What if you had fewer chores? Fewer bills? Time to read or travel? Is there a way to do that?

Yes, the magic word is “downsizing.”

Statistics are scanty as to how many people these days are selling their residence to move to a smaller home, apartment, co-op or condo. Real estate agents say it’s a common occurrence, however, especially among aging boomers.

Is it a trend?

“No, it’s just a part of life,” says, Stacy Zigman, a broker with Re/Max Central Properties, who specializes in helping people of all ages and walks of life transition to reduced living quarters.

Why downsize? Lots of reasons. Older adults often make the move because of increasing physical limitations, medical needs or handicapped access. Those still active may want access to a walkable neighborhood with more restaurants and nightlife. Being closer to relatives or relaxing in a warmer climate are other considerations.

So is money. A smaller or rented dwelling can eliminate or reduce stresses such as property taxes, insurance and utilities. The extra funds may be needed to pay down credit card debt, student loans or boost a retirement fund. Some in today’s hot housing market have been able to sell their larger home for enough to buy a smaller one outright, eliminating their mortgage payment altogether.

The decision requires a mental adjustment, too, says Jeff Stone, a seniors specialist with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Manhasset.

“You have to downsize your mind,” he says. “You have to wrap your head around moving from a 10-bedroom home to one with two bedrooms.”

Making the choice to leave a home isn’t easy no matter what the age, real estate experts say.

Seniors especially may be put off by the idea of moving from a cherished and familiar place, Zigman says, but once they realize the advantages and what to expect, many actually look forward to it.

“Their children think it’s going to shake them up,” she says, “but they are stronger than they realize. It’s impressive to see.”

Here are three examples of Long Islanders who chose to downsize and what they experienced.

‘Couldn’t keep up with the bills’

The last few years have not been easy for Lorraine Vanek, 59, who during that time got divorced, was hurt in a car accident and whose mother died after a lingering illness. Realizing it was too much, she sold her three-bedroom ranch, split the proceeds with her ex and moved in with relatives.

“It was a lot of life changes happening at the same time, and I couldn’t keep up with the bills,” she says.

After a year’s search, the former biologist finally found a two-bedroom Cape built in the 1950s in East Northport renovated by a young couple. It has one bathroom, a kitchen, living and dining room and an unfinished basement and attic. She lives there with her 22-year-old son, Matthew.

“We lucked out,” she says. “I think they built houses better back then.”

The decision to downsize was emotionally difficult since her former home was where she raised her children, she says. That, along with the packing and the decisions about what to take and leave, made the experience draining.

“I never want to move again,” she says.

Vanek, who now sells cosmetics, sometimes misses her former home, especially the fireplace, she says. On the other hand, she is under less financial strain with a smaller dwelling and likes her new neighborhood. Things are better these days.

“It wasn’t easy to go through, but now, coming out on the other side, I don’t regret it,” she says. “We’re happy and closer to family. It’s all good.”

DOWNSIZER SAVINGS Vanek bought a smaller home for $350,000, the same amount she and her then-husband got from selling their larger house. Since it is smaller, she pays less in property taxes and utilities, saving an estimated $200 to $300 a month, she says.

‘Wanted us to find a place together’

They have only been in their Copiague condo rental a month, but Santo and Connie Galatioto already are grooving on their maintenance-free existence.

“I like the idea of writing a check once a month and having somebody come and do everything,” says Connie, 68. “And I like being able to just close the door and travel any time we want.”

The smaller home is definitely a change for the couple, who had a four-bedroom, 2 1/2-bath house on the water in Babylon for 17 years. But after their children left and the years passed, they found themselves using only a small portion of the space, she says. The area they occupy now — a two-bedroom, two-bath condo on the ground level with a living and dining room, large kitchen, foyer and patio — is about the same space they used in their former home, she says.

The decision to make the change came after her 74-year-old husband developed medical problems last year, Connie says.

“It could have been life changing, but he healed and is fine now. But it made me realize I didn’t want to be in the position of having to sell and pack up the house by myself. I wanted us to find a place together.”

They might purchase their condo later if things go well, she says. Water recreation was an important part of their life in their former home, especially for their children, she adds. So, it’s nice their new residence is next to a canal that opens onto the bay.

“I don’t have any regrets,” she says. “It was the right move for us. We’re very comfortable here.”

DOWNSIZER SAVINGS The Galatiotos pay $3,150 a month in rent, more than their former mortgage payments. But that house was paid off. What they don’t have to worry about today is the $24,000 in property taxes and expenses such home repair, landscaping or damage from another superstorm, Connie says. As it is now, their living expenses are about the same as with their former paid-off home, she says.

‘I had to get rid of a lot of stuff’

As an experienced financial planner, Nick Mavromoustakos, 42, was well aware of the advantages of downsizing when it came to his pocketbook. What he didn’t anticipate was how it would affect him philosophically.

“I’m happier now,” he says. “It was a blessing.”

This epiphany came after he decided to examine his own financial goals and realized paying down the mortgage on the $580,000 condo in Long Beach he purchased three years ago was a priority. It was a big place, and he found himself considering buying more furniture simply to fill it up, which he realized was a needless expense, he says.

His solution was to refinance the condo, which had a doorman, swimming pool, a gym, master bedroom and a balcony with an ocean view, then rent it out.

What he found to replace it was a one-bedroom studio coop for $199,000 a block away with a much lower mortgage payment. Surprisingly, Mavromoustakos discovered that he liked the spartan existence in his new place, which is one room containing a couch, his bed, a work area, small kitchen, a bath and no water view.

Minimizing his life also has given him new peace of mind.

“One of the things I like most is the simplicity,” he says. “You can’t be lazy. I had to get rid of a lot of stuff just because I didn’t have room for it. It forces you to be more organized. It forces you to be more efficient.”

It was a “bonus” revelation he might never have had otherwise, he says.

“I don’t think I’m ever going to go back,” he says. “Even if the mortgage were paid off on the condo, I’ll probably stay where I am and re-rent it.”

DOWNSIZER SAVINGS Mavromoustakos still has about $200 in expenses associated with his condo, but with his reduced co-op mortgage and maintenance tab of $1,500 he figures he is saving about $2,500 a month.

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