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Updated on Wednesday, June 26, 2019
You’ve settled into your dream house and have called it home for years. But now you realize your family has more house than it actually needs, plus a large mortgage to match. Is it time to downsize?
The answer depends on what your financial and lifestyle goals are. Below, we share one story about a Florida-based family downsizing their home. Giving up 1,600 square feet allowed them to pay off their mortgage in a fraction of the time and achieve their goals of globe-trotting.
Keith and Nicole’s downsizing story
Keith and Nicole DeBickes loved their house in Delray Beach, Fla., but with more than 3,500 square feet of living space, it was perhaps larger than they actually needed at the time. “One day, I came to the realization that I had a 400-square-foot bathroom that I spent 20 minutes a day in, and we had this big formal dining room and formal living room that we never used,” Nicole said. “And we had a really big mortgage to cover it.”
She also wasn’t thrilled with the schools in the area — or with the idea of paying for private education. She and Keith knew they had to make a change.
The DeBickes (who work as an engineer manager and software engineer, respectively, and make between $100,000 and $200,000 combined annually) put their house on the market and started looking for a smaller home that was zoned for better schools.
They eventually settled on a 1,900-square-foot, four-bedroom house in Boca Raton. “We wanted to buy with the idea that we’d have a much smaller mortgage and we wouldn’t have to pay for private school,” Nicole said. “Then we could do things with our family like travel or retire earlier.”
The couple took out a 30-year mortgage for $110,000 in 2007, much smaller than what they had before. They then refinanced into a 15-year loan for $150,000 in 2009 to remodel their kitchen and upgrade their electrical work.
Pros and cons of downsizing your home
Deciding to downsize your house is a major decision that takes a good amount of effort and planning. Consider the following pros and cons before you choose to move forward.
- Reduces your mortgage debt.
- Potentially reduces other housing-related expenses, such as utilities.
- Frees up cash to reduce or eliminate non-mortgage debt.
- Gives you a smaller house to maintain.
- Reduces your available square footage, giving you less space than you’re used to.
- Unless you have enough equity to cover the purchase of your new home, you must qualify for a new mortgage.
- You’ll have to sell your existing home.
- You will have to shell out thousands of dollars for both your home sale and new home purchase.
Tips to pay off your mortgage more quickly
The DeBickes didn’t like the idea of having a mortgage on their downsized home. “We didn’t want to be working every month for a mortgage,” Nicole said. “We don’t like debt, and we wanted it to be gone.”
The couple buckled down and started making double and triple payments every month on their home loan. They drove older cars, carpooled to save on gas and maintenance and packed lunches to cut down on their food costs. The family took relatively modest vacations, staying with family or driving to the west coast of Florida.
All their diligence paid off — the DeBickles submitted their last mortgage payment in fall 2013.
If you’re on a mission to be mortgage-free sooner rather than later, here are tips to help you get there:
- Make extra principal payments each month. Try rounding up your monthly mortgage payment. For example, if your payment is $1,325 every month, pay $1,400 instead or increase the amount by even more, if your budget allows. Be sure to communicate to your lender that you want the extra payments applied to your principal balance and not your interest.
- Pay biweekly instead of monthly. Split your monthly mortgage payment into biweekly payments. Since there are 52 weeks in a year, you would make 26 half payments, or 13 full payments. Making one extra full payment each year could allow you to shave a few years off your mortgage term.
- Consider recasting your mortgage. If you have at least $5,000 or $10,000 — depending on your lender’s requirements — you could use that lump sum to recast your mortgage. A mortgage recast allows you to lower your monthly payments by paying your lender a set amount of money to reduce your mortgage principal.
- Dedicate windfalls to paying down your principal. Every time you get a tax refund, bonus or some other windfall, use it to pay down your outstanding loan balance.
Achieving financial freedom
Although they’re now mortgage-free, the DeBickes were still putting money away like crazy. They eventually quit their jobs (temporarily) and traveled abroad for two years with their boys, who were 10 and 7 in 2015. Without a mortgage payment, they were able to amass the $190,000 they thought they needed to travel for 28 months. “We have been living on one salary and saving or paying off the house with the other for 12 years,” Nicole said.
Despite their hefty savings goals, they’ve been able to take the boys to Europe and Costa Rica, too. “We want to really get them prepared for what travel is going to be like,” Nicole said.
The trip, which is outlined on the family’s website, FamilyWithLatitude.com, took the foursome everywhere from Ireland to France, among other spots. Nicole and Keith “road schooled” their children as they traveled, with the help of Florida’s virtual school program that allows them to take classes online.
They planned to rent their home while they were away, which will help finance part of the trip and cover some house expenses, such as insurance and property taxes. In the meantime, they are maxing out their 401(k)s and taking care of college funds for the boys.
“(In 2014) we were able to purchase the prepaid college plan for my youngest son in a lump sum,” said Nicole, who had already done the same thing for her eldest. “So I know that both boys have good college funds to take care of them.”
The bottom line
If you’re looking to move into a smaller home and save money in the process, it might make sense for you to downsize. Just be sure you’re clear on the benefits and drawbacks, and how the choice to cut down your square footage would align with your personal goals.
In the end, the lack of debt will allow the DeBickes the freedom to not only to travel the globe, but to hang out with the important people in their lives.
“With both of us working, we haven’t been able to spend as much time with the kids as we wanted,” Nicole said. “It’s a real luxury that we can do this. I’m looking forward to spending time together as a family.”