Rightsizing: The ins and outs of moving to a new and more manageable home in older age

Lower energy and heating costs, less maintenance and a better, safer layout – there are many reasons to change house in later life

Does it make sense to move into a new-build home in older age? There’s no doubt that a brand-new dwelling has a lot going for it. A great energy rating alone won’t be enough to tempt everyone though. Layout, maintenance, running costs and location are all important too. If you are considering swapping something old for something new, here are some things to consider.


About 10 per cent of older adults are unable to keep their home adequately warm. This is according to 2020 research from Age Friendly Ireland, a programme involving national and local government in age-related planning and service provision. Building methods, specifically insulation and heating technology, have made huge leaps forward in the past decade. If you find your home hard to heat or it’s costly to keep it warm, then it’s worth considering a new-build.

Some 99 per cent of homes built between 2020 and 2022 have an A building energy rating (Ber), according to Central Statistics Office figures. This compares with just 2 per cent of dwellings built as recently as between 2005 and 2009. A-rated homes are the most energy efficient and tend to have the lowest energy bills. G-rated homes, at the other end of the scale, tend to be older, colder and are the most expensive to heat.

A home doesn’t need to be A-rated for you to be warm enough, some might argue. You’ll probably be comparatively toasty in a B3-rated home. If you’d prefer to stay put, it’s worth investigating the fully funded energy upgrades scheme from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI). If your home has a C rating or lower and you are in receipt of the fuel allowance or the carer’s allowance, for example, you will qualify for free attic and wall insulation and draught proofing under the scheme. New central-heating systems and replacement window s are also occasionally covered. The works are free and the SEAI will arrange for a registered contractor to complete them.


If you sell your home within five years of getting the work done, however, you will need to tell the SEAI. They may ask you to repay some or all of the grant. Those who don’t qualify for the scheme but still want to retrofit could spend up to €60,000 on works. Just be sure you are not wasting money on insulating space you’re not really using.

It’s worth noting, too, that eligibility for the fuel allowance expanded in Budget 2023. Under the new means test, a single person over 70 can have an income of €500 per week while a couple can have an income of €1,000 per week. The amount of savings disregarded has been increased to €50,000. The weekly means threshold for those aged under 70 has also increased to €200 above the weekly rate of State pension.


There are approximately 234,000 homes with two bedrooms not in use, according to Age Friendly Ireland research. Moving can free you from maintaining rooms you just aren’t using. Some 25 per cent of older adults find their homes difficult to maintain, according to the same research. Chimney cleaning, lighting and clearing out from an open fire and fuel deliveries are all part of maintaining an older home – these tasks just don’t exist with new-builds.

Older houses, even those built up to the 1980s, were built on larger plots with big gardens. That space, privacy and mature planting is definitely a bonus in older homes. If lower maintenance appeals, the smaller gardens of new-build homes are nothing if not manageable.


Does your home have an easily accessible front door? Is there the option to create a roomy downstairs bathroom and shower room or a downstairs bedroom? Householders of all ages would be wise to consider their future mobility needs.

Planning rules now require that a number of apartments in new schemes be universally designed. This means more floor space so that the layouts are suitable for people with decreased mobility. If you are buying a new-build home, ask the developer or estate agent whether there are universally designed houses or apartments in the scheme. If there aren’t, have a surveyor assess the home for ease of conversion should you need a roomier downstairs bathroom and wetroom, or a downstairs bedroom.

Whether you choose to move to a new-build or to stay where you are, a local-authority housing adaptation grant can provide up to €30,000 for things like ramps, adding a downstairs bedroom, an accessible bathroom, shower facilities, a stair lift and grab rails. The grant is open to those with gross annual household income of €60,000 or less.

If your household income is less than €30,000, you may get 95 per cent of the cost of the works. As household income increases, the percentage of the costs paid gradually reduces to 30 per cent. If your house is less than 12 months old, the grant will not be more than €14,500.


If you’d like to live in a home that is purpose-built for your stage of life, it can be hard to find one, says Cork-based estate agent and SCSI member, TJ Cronin.

“There is empty nesting: the house is of an age, it’s colder, they are heating the house, but it’s costing them and the heat is flying out the windows and doors. Their needs are not being met by their current properties,” says Cronin.

“The problem is a lack of supply of alternatives. The home they want to move to isn’t being supplied and that is a huge anxiety for those wishing to downsize,” he says.

One part of the solution could be private rightsizing. This is where older people in some local-authority areas who own homes they find too big for their needs can request their council buy them out in return for a spot in an age-friendly housing scheme.

Those participating in Limerick City Council and Limerick County Council’s most recent private rightsizing scheme sell their homes to the council in return for tenancy in a brand new one- or two-bed apartment in the Newtown Meadows development in Castletroy. The scheme is run in partnership with Clann – a division of Clúid Housing – which provides dedicated age-friendly homes.

In the case of the Limerick scheme, private rightsizers must pay 25 per cent of the net proceeds of the sale of their home for the tenancy. Whether you are aged 55 and have an average of 30 years’ life expectancy remaining or you are over 80, it’s one flat band of contribution. Younger rightsizers are arguably more likely to get their money’s worth from the transaction. Sellers should note, they may receive less money by selling it to the council than the house would achieve on the open market.

Dublin City Council offers private right sizing to those aged 60 and over. The council and approved housing bodies currently have new older people’s housing developments in the pipeline at 11 sites, with the delivery of 430 units planned for 2027, it says.

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council provides rightsizing options for council tenants only, although private rightsizing is being considered.


New-build houses and apartments are often located in estates on the outskirts of towns. Anyone moving there may need a car to get around. It’s worth checking to ensure that there are decent transport links to shops and social activities.

Security is also a consideration for older homeowners, says Cronin.

“What they are looking for is a more economical property, an easier-to-manage property with less grounds. A lot of the time they are looking for a more secure property with more secure parking,” he says.

“I have plenty of people saying they would like to move to a gated complex. People want to be secure and safe and that’s why some move from a standalone house to an apartment block,” he says.

A new development with gated access, an apartment on the middle floor of a complex with lift access and a development with well-lit walkways, parking and common areas can provide a greater sense of personal security.

Joanne Hunt

Joanne Hunt

Joanne Hunt, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about homes and property, lifestyle, and personal finance