Meet the part-time city slickers

A glut of stylish new-build apartments in urban hot spots is attracting older buyers in search of urban thrills, says Ginetta Vedrickas
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We've had the dinkys, even the nimbys, but are we ready for the latest acronym to hit the property market? Magpies – "mature adults go partying in excess and style" – represent the growing numbers of over-40s who are looking to escape suburbia, but, instead of sports cars, they're indulging in city-centre crash pads where they can party after a tough week at work.

Social-trends psychologist Professor Cary Cooper of Lancaster University says that many over-40s can identify with the magpies trend. "Many over-40s are living stressful lives these days and are looking to find escape by retreating to the carefree days of their youth. The pressures on middle-aged working couples living in the hothouses of suburbia, particularly with young children, can be enormous." Professor Cooper says that the recent downturn in property prices, especially of new-builds in city locations, is fuelling this growing trend, which he believes is partly a reaction against what he calls "presenteeism". "It's stimulated by the recession. Many of us now have to work longer hours, we get in early and must be seen to stay late, as so many people are losing their jobs. Magpies are rejecting this kind of lifestyle and are looking for somewhere to have fun instead."

Company director David Stephen certainly experienced stress in the recent bad weather when his company, British Salt, went into overdrive after stocks of gritting salt ran low. He and his wife, Ann, live in rural Lancashire but recently treated themselves to a two-bedroom bolthole at new development One Park West, Liverpool, where, pensioners have bought 10 per cent of homes and every weekend, the pair escape the pressures of the daily grind: "Our main home is in the countryside, miles from any great restaurants or bars. We still want to enjoy ourselves and escape the day-to-day routine of life," says David. Liverpool agents King Sturge have spotted a 10 per cent increase in buyers investing in city-centre crash pads in order to escape suburbia: "We've found that a magpie's city crash pad or bolthole is not so much a status symbol but a serious investment in their health and sanity, as well as a wise property choice," says Martyn Green, a partner at the agents.

On telling his friends about their city investment, David was, however, surprised by their reactions: "They asked why we hadn't bought abroad or in the Lake District but that's the last thing we want. This is so easy, close to our main home, and we can do whatever we like when we get there."

The Stephens paid £185,000 cash for their two-bedroom apartment, which has stunning views across Albert Docks, but David admits to "feeling" for the many first-time buyers unable to obtain mortgages and therefore get a foot on the ladder. A glut of new-builds across many British cities has resulted in falling prices, attracting those able to release equity who prefer investing in property rather than suffer low interest rates. Research from Knight Frank shows the number of second homes in England rose generally by 2.6 per cent in 2009, pushing the total to an all-time record of 245,384. Not all second homes are in traditional spots such as the countryside, and coast and city bases are growing in popularity. Of all the London boroughs, top of the chart is the City, where a surprising 24 per cent of properties are now second homes. Knight Frank's head of residential research, Liam Bailey, believes that the trend is part of a wider movement: "People in their thirties and forties often take their families out of London and head to the sticks but then find themselves spending far too much time commuting. They buy a city bolthole which they use for a couple of days in the week, but this often turns into more of a fun pad that they and their kids can use at weekends."

Victoria Irish and her husband, Derek, both in their early sixties, have just bought themselves a "fun pad" at Fairview's The Mill at South Darenth, where one-bedroom apartments start from £149,995. They chose the location so that they can be in central London in 35 minutes and in Ebbsfleet within 10 minutes, giving them access to the whole of Europe. Having relocated to rural Suffolk when their children were young, the couple increasingly missed their birthplace – London. Victoria admits that a permanent home in the city wouldn't suit them but they look forward to their many breaks in the flat. "Our children can just pop in and see us, which never happens in Suffolk. It's really excited us and given us so many options that buying abroad could never do, plus we'd rather put our money into property than leave it in the bank with low interest rates."

Buying agent Tracey Kellett of BDI Home Finders helps growing numbers of magpies such as Victoria and Derek and believes that it's the perfect option for anyone growing older with concerns over transport and who wants amenities at hand: "Plenty of homeowners are downsizing so that they can keep a bolthole in the country but enjoy a city base too. It makes perfect sense."