Ready to Retire – But Stuck In An Empty Nest?

So the kids have moved out and you’re stuck looking after 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and too much grass on your own.  

You’d like to retire soon, but the idea of spending a big chunk of your week cleaning, tidying, gardening and mowing is about as appealing as a stubbed toe.  

But it’s the family home, right? It’s home base, the nest to which the kids can return if they need to. It’s a safe haven, filled with memories – good and bad – and, most importantly, it’s yours.  

This can lead to some really powerful feelings.  

The financial reality can mean that selling the house could dramatically change how your retirement will play out. But it can also feel like a betrayal, making it a heavy emotional decision to tackle. 

This dilemma – what to do with a house that’s too big and too meaningful – is one we’ve seen quite a few people confront over the years.  

Here are five steps I’ve seen that seemed to help: 

 1. Assess and Review 

I’m quite fortunate in my work, because I get to know people over a period of time. We meet, sometimes every year, and I get to see how their approach and mindset evolves over the time. 

And there have been a few times where somebody has, over the matter of a few years, gone from “I must keep the house” to “It’s an awful lot of work for me on my own” to “I think it’s time”. 

This process of assessment takes as long as it takes – don’t let anybody rush you through it – and it may very well bethat you decide to keep the house for as long as possible.  

While you’re making your decision, though, it’s worth considering the real impact of each option.  

Keeping the house will let you continue to have that home base for your kids to return to, their family home and their memories. But selling it could free up important money that will help you live a better life in retirement.  


2. Ask Them 

Some people I’ve worked with through this dilemma were adamant they’d keep the house – “for the kids”.  

 They believed that the kids wanted them to keep the house because selling the house would leave the kids feeling  adrift. 

So after working through the numbers and seeing the consequences of the two options, I say to them – “have you asked them?” 

 The answer is always “no”. 

 Which is when we pause things so that they can go and have that conversation with their kids.  

 You know what? Most times, the kids are ok with their Mum selling the house if it means a better life for their Mum.  

 This isn’t to say they always want the house gone, or that they don’t care.  

 But they when they see what it means for their Mum’s future, then it’s a no-brainer for them. They love their Mum and if selling the house means she can stop going to work every day, they’re on board.  

 And the good ones will even help you pack! 


3. A Fresh Start 

The people I help tend to be retiring on their own. And there are, generally, three reasons somebody is taking that path on their own. Either: 

  • They’re single 

  • They’re divorced 

  • They’ve been widowed 

 In the latter two cases, this can often mean that their emotional relationship with the house is a complicated, weighty one. Sometimes it’s the house where they raised their family; but it’s also where their marriage disintegrated.  

Or it could be the dream home they finally bought together, only for their partner to pass away prematurely. 

This tangle of emotions is a powerful mix and, in my experience, can lead to people feeling anchored to the house – because to leave is to abandon their memories – or to wanting to move on as soon as they can. 

But the people I’ve seen that are happiest about their decision are those that have sold the house.  

I think it’s the finality of the decision, the big line they’re drawing under that phase of their life, that gives them an extra level of clarity.  

And given it’s part of another huge change in their life – don’t underestimate the emotional confusion that comes with no longer working – it’s a great, big reset for them. Which often seems to give them a really positive launchpad into that new phase.  

While those that choose to stay can tend to feel like they’re stuck in limbo, weighed down by the past and unable to fully embrace the joys of retirement. 


4. Paying Tribute 

I’ve seen people feel incredibly sad about leaving the home they raised their family in. “I feel like we’ve just abandoned it”, as somebody put it to me once. 

But, again, in my experience I’ve found that the people that acknowledge the role the house has played in their lives and almost pay tribute to it are the ones able to move on to the next stage a little bit faster and a little bit easier. 

It might feel a little silly at the time, but properly farewelling such an important place can, from what I’ve seen, really help. 

5. The Financial Side 

And, finally, we come to the financial side of things! 

To be frank, selling the house can help your finances, or harm them. The difference boils down to the gap between what you sell it for, and how much you spend on the next house.  

If you sold your house for $1m, but spent $950,000 on the next house, then all you’ve really done is move house – there’s no material improvement to your finances there.  

But if you sell for $1m and spend $700,000 on your new house (or less), then that leaves some money to put towards funding your retirement.  

You’ve got options then – you can invest the money, pop some/all of it into your superannuation, or live off it until it runs out (not something we recommend very often, you should know).  

Maximising this differential is the key. Which can be tough when you’re buying and selling in the same market, so some compromises will normally be required.  

Maybe it’s moving to a much smaller house, or to another suburb. Decisions which I can understand can be very difficult to accept when you’ve lived in the same house for a long time.  

But if it means that you can have an extra holiday every two years in retirement, or retire early – and retire better – then maybe it’s worth it? 


Sometimes we’re guilty, in the financial world, of only seeing big decisions through the prism of money. Selling the family home often makes a lot of sense when we’re looking through that prism. Sell for this, buy for that, bank the rest, happy days.  

But this simplistic view ignores the layers of complexity that accompany such a momentous decision. There are good, strong reasons not to sell the family home as you’re preparing for retirement.  

Hopefully this post has helped prepare you for exploring those issues, finding the pros and cons of each path and making the right decision for you.  

 As always, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out. 


As always, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out. 

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