How to retire gracefully

Safety, care and company are vital for the elderly. Retirement homes offer them all, says Nick Lloyd Jones
Click to follow
The Independent Online

More people now live to a ripe old age, with no need for the round-the-clock medical supervision supplied in nursing homes. However, many may still find it difficult to cope entirely on their own.

For such people, retirement homes are often the best solution. Retirement homes for the over-55s or over-60s are typically one- or two-bedroom leasehold flats or houses within residential developments that have been designed with the needs of the elderly in mind.

Design features often include wider-than-average doors and corridors and electric sockets positioned at waist level. On-site managers or wardens oversee security and look after communal areas, and can be summoned 24 hours a day by alarm bells fitted in all apartments. They also maintain close contact with local medical centres and social services, help residents with heavy chores and may even provide minibus services to nearby shops.

Such attention to detail does not come cheap, and retirement homes typically levy substantial service charges on residents. Anyone considering moving into a retirement home would be well advised to investigate these charges before signing on the dotted line.

Other factors to look into before making a commitment include checking the credentials of the developer, establishing the proximity of local shops and services, and reading the details about terms and conditions applying to the eventual resale of the property.

Then, of course, there is the matter of choosing the right retirement home for you. Apart from the actual cost - one- or two-bedroom apartments can range in price from about £115,000 to £500,000 or more - there are several other factors to be considered. Different developments will have different things to recommend them. Some may place greater emphasis on communal facilities, while others may pay more attention to security. Making the right choice will ultimately boil down to ensuring that their priorities match yours.

By far the biggest provider of UK retirement homes is McCarthy & Stone (0800 919 132), whose portfolio of almost 30,000 apartments accounts for about two-thirds of the market. The company specialises in affordable housing and offers prospective purchasers mainly one- and two-bedroom apartments, often in converted schools or hotels, from £120,000 up to about £200,000. One such scheme is Imperial Court in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, where 81 apartments have been created in a Victorian seaside hotel.

Gladys Parsons, 85, recently moved into one of McCarthy & Stone's developments in Braintree, Essex. She is impressed by its friendliness. "You don't have to stay in your flat on your own," she says. "If you do get fed up, you can always go down to the lounge to chat with other residents."

Another well-established retirement home developer is English Courtyard (0800 220 858), which has specialised in the luxury end of the market for 25 years. Most of its 33 developments are set in beautiful semi-rural locations in the southern counties.

The company tends to offer a wider selection of accommodation than most of its competitors, with many of its developments incorporating a mixture of apartments, cottages and houses. They are not cheap, though, and for a two-bedroom unit you can expect to pay somewhere in the region of £500,000.

The emphasis in English Courtyard's developments is more on privacy and less on communal living. "The majority of our buyers want to stay in charge of their own lives without too much interference," says marketing director Kevin Holland.

Also worth checking out, especially for those considering retirement options in the South-east of England, are properties from the portfolio of Fairview New Homes (0800 731 4477).

The company has 25 years' experience in new-build residential housing, with a specialist wing dedicated to retirement developments in London and the Home Counties. One of its most recent projects is the Orchard Court development for the over-55s in Potters Bar in Hertfordshire, just north of London, comprising 42 one- and two-bedroom apartments. Prices start from £235,000.

Pegasus Retirement Homes (0800 583 8844) offers a wide variety of developments for the over-60s across the Midlands, and in the South-east and South-west of the country. Pat Campbell-Kease and her husband Jack live in a Pegasus development in Yeovil, Somerset. They are keen gardeners. "It was the beautiful landscaped garden that really sold it to us," says Pat. "We also have a small patio of our own with pots, plants and flowers."

Pegasus is now marketing one- and two-bedroom apartments at its new Winchmore Hill development in north London (prices from £234,950) and at Jubilee Court in the Montpellier district of Cheltenham (from £226,450).

Those looking for a retirement home by the sea, meanwhile, might be tempted by the new Sheringham House development on the north Norfolk coast. This has a total of 53 apartments set amid 20 acres of mature parkland. Luxury on-site facilities include a heated indoor swimming pool. Two- and three-bedroom apartments in the development are for sale at prices from £325,000 through the Norwich branch of Savills (01603 229 229).

Fact sheets on retirement housing are available from Age Concern by telephoning 0800 009 966.

Age Concern also offers specialist advice on all aspects of sheltered housing through its Advice, Information and Mediation Service on 0845 600 2001.

Advice about buying retirement homes can also be obtained from the Elderly Accommodation Counsel on 020-7820 1343.