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Household Finances Boomers, don’t sit around on your plans to downsize your home

Boomers, your biggest regret five years from now may well be your complacency about housing in 2016.

There's been a noticeable uptick lately in the number of voices raising concerns about the surge in house prices in some cities, most notably Toronto and Vancouver. We've seen this happen a few times in the past several years, only to have house prices keep rising and housing skeptics retreat into silence.

The variety of voices we've heard from lately about housing demand some attention, though. The Bank of Canada has dropped its usual clinical tone and flat out told people Thursday that continued price gains in Toronto and Vancouver are unsupported by current economic fundamentals. Two bank CEOs have called on the government to take steps to cool housing, and the federal Finance Minister said this week that his department is doing a "deep dive" gathering information on housing.

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If their concerns are starting to unnerve you, here are four things you can do:

Research the market

Start with the big picture by using our House Price Data Centre to look at national and city prices. Is your city hot (Toronto, Hamilton, Vancouver and Victoria), lukewarm (Montreal and Ottawa), or cool (Calgary, Quebec and Halifax)?

Our database also shows current and historic price data for neighbourhoods in certain cities. For even more detailed data about your area, search the website of your local real estate board (easily found on Google). Further perspective can be gleaned by looking up homes on websites such as Realtor.ca and Zoocasa.

Finally, find a real estate agent who knows your neighbourhood and invite them over for a quick chat about how much your house, with its various upgrades and flaws, would likely sell for. Ask how long houses in your neighbourhood are taking to sell, and whether the cost of staging your home makes sense.

Do a best/worst-case analysis

Our Downsize Your Home Worksheet was designed to help boomer homeowners time their next move by showing the impact of price gains and declines on their current house. If you have a rough idea of how much you will need for your next home, the calculator will show you the amount you can expect to have left over – or how much extra you'll need – after selling the family home and paying related costs.

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For a simple analysis of how you'd be affected over the next five years if prices fell, try our Housing Price Correction Calculator. The point here is to convert the somewhat abstract percentages we so often talk about in financial matters to a hard dollar figure. If you remain optimistic about housing, you can also use the calculator to show how much money you would make if prices increase.

Go condo shopping

This weekend, check out some condo open houses (your local real estate board will have a list). See if condos are a fit for you and, if so, what you get in your price range. Our Does it Pay to Downsize Calculator will show you how the cost of owning a condo compares to home ownership and renting.

A fair number of people say they "don't want to live in a box in the sky," but condos have a lot going for them. Two key benefits are much-reduced maintenance and upkeep, and the wide availability of buildings across city neighbourhoods and districts. Always ask what the condo fees are, what they include and how much they've been going up.

Check out condo alternatives

Renting a house or condo is an appealing option for some downsizing boomers, but the challenge is to find something suitable. Get a sense of what your local rental market has to offer by scanning the listings on Kijiji, Craigslist and various other websites you'll find by searching on Google for house, condo or apartment rentals in your town.

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As discussed in a recent column, hot real estate markets complicate downsizing because you're both selling and buying at elevated prices. Solutions: Move out of town, move into your cottage, rent an apartment and travel half the year or move to a warm country with low living costs. If you're nervous about housing, it's time to consider your options.

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