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Meryll Powell plays pickleball in Ajax, Ont. She is planning a move to British Columbia to be closer to her daughter and grandchildren. (Chris Young/The Globe and Mail)
Meryll Powell plays pickleball in Ajax, Ont. She is planning a move to British Columbia to be closer to her daughter and grandchildren. (Chris Young/The Globe and Mail)

Retirement planning

Move cross-country in retirement? Do your homework Add to ...

Meryll Powell moved to Canada from Britain in 1950, coming with her husband following his two years of mandatory military service. The two wanted to travel before settling down but ended up in Ajax, Ont., just east of Toronto, where they raised their daughter.

That daughter now has three kids of her own and lives in Salem, Ore. – much too far away for Ms. Powell’s liking. With her daughter planning to eventually move to Bellingham, Wash., Ms. Powell, who lost her husband 12 years ago, has plans of her own to move across the country to be closer to them.

“I don’t like being so far away,” says Ms. Powell, who recently turned 80. “It’s everything for me to be close to my daughter and grandchildren.

“If you can be close so you can share children’s growing-up years, it’s worth it. Plus, every time I fly out [from Ontario] it’s $1,000. Your financial situation is critical.”

Ms. Powell contemplated moving to Vancouver but was quickly put off by the city’s staggering house prices. Having spent a week with a friend who lives in Abbotsford, B.C., she fell in love with a new condo development being built there – only to discover all of the units had been sold before they were even listed. The same developer has a project in the works in Langley, B.C., not far from the border, where Ms. Powell plans to buy a condominium.

Moving great distances to be closer to children is not uncommon for empty-nesters. While moving in general has often been rated as one of life’s most stressful events, it can be especially so when it’s across the country and you’re in your later years.

Caroline Baile, a broker and designated seniors’ specialist with Royal LePage Your Community Realty in Aurora, Ont., says that seniors moving to be closer to family likely have the advantage of already being familiar with a certain area; they’re not exactly headed into the unknown. However, she says they still have homework to do.

“They might consider moving to the West Coast [from out east], but there are varying characteristics of each region and neighbourhood,” says Ms. Baile, who has had three clients lately move to British Columbia from Ontario.

“Would they be more suited for an urban property or rural? Each has their own unique characteristics and each need to be taken into consideration when making a large move across the country….They might be able to afford an area, but it might not be the right fit for them.”

She notes that Royal LePage has a program called Your Perfect Life that allows people to search homes by region, neighbourhood, demographics, and so on to get a better sense of various communities across the country.

Once people have decided where to relocate, planning is crucial when it comes to making the move as smooth as possible.

“Get family or friends to help, or better yet, hire an outside [moving] company that specializes in downsizing seniors,” Ms. Baile says, noting many companies offer seniors’ discounts or are open to negotiation. “Make moving checklists and find ways to reduce moving costs. We accumulate so much stuff in our lives; get rid of unnecessary items so you don’t have to pay to move them.”

Once the moving van has rolled out of your driveway, have realistic expectations about adjusting to your new home.

With three out of four grown children living in B.C., Hugh and Elizabeth Kerr moved to Squamish, B.C., from Waterloo, Ont., in 2008. They live in a suite in a home they bought with one of their daughters and her husband, who have two young children.

Things have turned out beautifully for the couple, who spend lots of time with their grandchildren, but they admit it took some time.

“We like it, but it’s been a transition,” says Mr. Kerr, who, like his wife, was 66 at the time of their move. “It’s a big move at an older age. Squamish is quite small, so it’s very different [compared with Toronto]. It was difficult initially, for the first couple of years.”

The two made friends through their church and curling, an activity they had never done before.

“It has worked out very well, but it was somehow harder for me,” says Mrs. Kerr, who continued working as a speech pathologist during her first few years in the Sea to Sky city. “It took me longer to feel comfortable. I missed my brothers and sister and friends in the east and needed more time, I guess.

“I’m okay now, though,” she adds. “I don’t even mind the rain.”

Although Ms. Powell has lived in Ajax for decades, the thought of packing up for a new home many kilometres away at her age doesn’t seem as daunting to her as some people might think. Besides hopping across the Atlantic as a newlywed to plant new roots, she moved around a lot as a child.

“I went to 10 different schools growing up in England during the war years,” Ms. Powell says. “So it isn’t really that big of a deal to me. It is a big move after living in the same city for so long; I have a lot of friends here. But I made sure there are social things for me there [in Langley], too. There’s a bridge club and athletic facilities; I play pickleball and table tennis. I’m totally satisfied that I’ll be quite happy there, especially if my daughter and grandchildren are nearby.”

Tips for seniors moving across the country

Dip your feet in slowly

Rather than sell their existing home and make a move they might later regret, seniors may wish to take extended vacations to a prospective new city or region.

“People can spend some time with family or friends who live in an area they are considering relocating to,” real estate broker Caroline Baile says. “It will give them the comfort of having established connections but also allow them time to get a feel for a community without the large expense of purchasing or renting and putting their belongings into storage.”

Get involved

“That’s my first advice,” says Hugh Kerr, who joined the Squamish Streamkeepers Society and whose wife participates in photography exhibitions, something she never had the chance to do in Ontario. “That provides the opportunities to meet people and make friends.”

Consider renting before buying

There are cons to renting; it means drawing on cash reserves instead of building up equity and may mean having to store some belongings. However, it often makes sense for seniors contemplating a major move. “It will give them the opportunity to get a feel for an area, including demographics, lifestyle, amenities such as social programs and hospitals, and property prices and not feel rushed into making this life-changing and possibly costly decision,” Ms. Baile says. “This most likely will be their last move, so it is one that requires great thought and planning. Renting first allows them to start establishing new relationships and get a feel for the community.”

Decide early

“I’ve missed so many of my grandchildren’s main events,” Meryll Powell says. “You want family around.”

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