How to retire in style

The latest retirement complexes offer high standards to discerning buyers. With restaurants and hair salons, some are more like hotels, says Cheryl Markosky
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The Independent Online

With the retirement market set to triple by 2010, a recent opinion poll says that 33 per cent of people now aged over 55 eventually want to buy a home that has been created as part of an "age exclusive" development.

With the retirement market set to triple by 2010, a recent opinion poll says that 33 per cent of people now aged over 55 eventually want to buy a home that has been created as part of an "age exclusive" development.

Contrary to the current government planning policy of avoiding such "elderly ghettos", a large number of Britain's senior population want to live somewhere that caters for their needs - and as retirees become more sophisticated, those needs are growing rapidly.

Christopher Thornhill from upmarket retirement builder English Countryside agrees with the findings. He says his buyers "do not want children running round all over the place. They like their grandchildren to visit once in a while, but then want to be left in peace."

A bit like buying a car with more than the radio as part of the standard package - these days you expect a CD player, air conditioning and other add-ons - purchasers at the mid to top end of the retirement sector want the kind of services they would get in a decent hotel.

Andrew Surgenor from property consultant FPDSavills advises developers and investors on the whole spectrum of healthcare accommodation, which he says is still in its infancy in this country. "Some have tried to bring in the American communal living concept, but it doesn't work over here. There isn't the weather or space, and the stiff-upper-lip English like to close their doors and be private."

However, Surgenor believes the industry is moving towards more "high quality cottages or apartments round central core facilities" - a sort of posh holiday resort for those clutching their bus passes. The problem has been coming up with "a hybrid combining the best from care home operators and housebuilders. Only a few entrepreneurs have been able to mix the two successfully."

But if you get it right, people are prepared to pay anything from £150,000 to well over half a million for a retirement home - and more for all the extra services provided. Surgenor believes the Care Village Group is one of only a few developers that has come up with a hard-to-beat formula, with purpose-built "retirement villages" that allow independence, but also give residents access to a wide range of on-site and leisure facilities and support services in six schemes in the south west and Kent.

Care Village's latest collection of 61 cottages and apartments at Crystal Fountain Village near Nailsworth in the Cotswolds is set in 25 acres of private grounds. First-class hotel-style amenities include a restaurant and bar, living room with oak dance floor and piano, hairdressing salon, guest suite, small shop and library. Back-up services include laundry, cleaning, a visiting GP's surgery and deliveries. They can even ring on the "hotel type" telephone system, linking them to reception.

"The properties can be purchased outright or rented, for short or long periods, and there is the option of our 'try before you buy' scheme," says Hudson Cooper, chief executive of Care Village. Homes are sold on a 999-year lease, with prices starting at £230,000.

Another "hotel meets community" scheme is Retirement Villages' Lime Tree Village in Dunchurch, Warwickshire. Old manor Cawston House will be the hub of village life with a restaurant, bar, meeting room, library, snooker room, shop, laundry room and medical centre for residents of the 150 bungalows, apartments and cottages, where prices start from £160,000.

"I was speaking to one resident the other day who said that every morning she wakes up, she feels as if she's on holiday - which reinforces what the concept of our retirement village is all about," says Cliff Meyler from Retirement Villages.

In the North-west, developer Classic has gone one step further and turned a former hotel at Blundellsands into 53 retirement apartments with a restaurant, conservatory, hobbies room and guest suite. Akin to info-entertainment on cruise ships, there are cookery demonstrations, antiques roadshows and themed Italian evenings. They have a similar scheme in Chester as well. Prices are from £164,500.

English Courtyard believes the key is to provide oodles of space. Top-end buyers, who have left their six-bedroom country piles, do not want to huddle in a small flat, with all their large pieces of furniture auctioned off on e-bay. Such space luxury does not come cheap, however, with prices at one of their latest schemes, Wyke Mark in Winchester, starting at £420,000.

"Moving to an English Courtyard property is not so much about downsizing, as making better use of living space," says Kevin Holland, the company's sales and marketing director. "Our apartments are extremely spacious with two double bedrooms, an airy and welcoming entrance and living areas, plus an en suite bathroom and separate shower room." They also get round the space issue by supplying a guest "hotel" suite for the use of friends and family for a nominal sum.

The good news, according to Surgenor at FPDSavills, is that high-end boutique hotel goodies are trickling down to the middle and lower end of the retirement sector. It is no longer good enough to plunk older folk in institutions painted in putrid NHS green with nothing much on offer.

McCarthy & Stone, dominant in the market with 65 per cent of the residential retirement business, is offering a house manager, central living area for social visits, laundry room and a guest suite at Bridgewater Court in Selly Oak in the West Midlands. Seventy-five one and two-bed apartments are in the scheme, starting at £108,950.

Other schemes that include "hotel extras" such as 24-hour house managers, courtesy vehicles, video entry phones and emergency service systems are Fairview's Tabor Place in Braintree, Essex; Laing Homes' The Willows at Milford, Surrey; Court Royal, Tunbridge Wells, Kent; and Elmbridge Retirement Village in Cranleigh, Surrey.

FPDSavills Healthcare 01732 789774; Care Village Group 01225 865555; Retirement Villages 01788 812846; Classic Blundellsands through FPDSavills 0161 236 8644;

English Courtyard 0800 454 627;

McCarthy & Stone 0121 472 1569;

Fairview's Tabor Place 01376 328091;

Laing Homes' The Willows 01483 422337;

Court Royal, Tunbridge Wells 0870 777 8726; Elmbridge Retirement Village through Roger N Coupe 01483 268555