Retirement homes on the coast

The tide is turning away from urban amenities and back towards houses by the shore. Graham Norwood reports

Until the 1980s it was a huge ambition of retirees to move to the coast, but then the tradition got a knock as many older buyers starting purchasing properties in the newly regenerated city centres, to make the most of improved shops, theatres and restaurants.

But now it appears to be business as usual again, because new research by the over-fifties magazine Yours shows most of Britain's 10 favourite retirement locations are by the sea.

Skegness, complete with its bracing North Sea wind, comes a comfortable first, with the likes of Llandudno, the Shetland Isles, Exmouth, in Devon, and Poole, in Dorset, close behind.

Edith Fordham got her home through Economic Lifestyle (0800 043 3366), a firm that buys and then leases out properties built by retirement sector specialists such as McCarthy & Stone.

It reports a surge in demand for homes on the coast, a trend reflected also by house-builders who are piling in to construct large numbers of specialist retirement schemes in ports.

"The coast remains a really popular choice. A lot of people like to retire to where they have friends that they may have made on holiday, or where they have good memories of summer breaks earlier in their life. The attractions of Devon and Cornwall and the like remain strong," says Suzanne Revell, of Churchill Retirement Living (0800 783 7661).

Like many retirement builders, the firm is expanding its work on the coast - of its 12 schemes on sale across the UK, six are in ports, from Seaton, in Devon, through the south coast and on to Kent.

The very best retirement schemes from any developer will adopt a vernacular style to give the homes a still more coastal feel, and ramp up the luxury to show buyers that retiring does not have to mean sacrificing quality.

For example, between Dover and Deal sits a courtyard development of 10 retirement homes called Knoll Court, in the small town of Cliffe.

Designed by the Canterbury architect Clague and built by the local firm Bourne Developments, they include flint-faced cottages and a weatherboard Kentish coach house (prices £242,500 to £320,000, through Browns, 01303 840422).

Meanwhile, in a 20-acre park overlooking the north Norfolk coast, Sheringham House is an example of how sophisticated retirement housing can be today.

Each property has two, three or four bedrooms, and has secure underground car parking, and access to a snooker room and an indoor heated swimming pool, plus the communal parkland (from £325,000, Savills, 01603 229257). Now some volume builders are joining the retirement road to the coast.

Firms such as Banner Homes, which usually builds flats and houses in the mainstream market, has The Terrace, in Southampton, where 25 apartments are designed exclusively for the over-55 age group (from £245,000 to £360,000, 02380 769436).

But buyers have to pay handsome premiums for the good location, build-quality and practical convenience of specialist retirement housing.

For example, in the year to July, retirement apartments' prices rose by 11.53 per cent, according to the retirement estate agency Retirement Homesearch, (0845 880 5560).

Figures from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister show that mainstream house prices increased by only 4 per cent in the same period.

"For many years, we've seen retirement property increase significantly, often at a faster rate than the general market, due to the increasing demographic demand. This is excellent news for existing retirement property owners and represents a good investment opportunity for potential purchasers," says Martin James, of Retirement Homesearch.

Certainly, the retirement sector is growing faster than any other in the housing market, despite the high costs of buying.

Remember, too, that estate agents say any retirement property that enjoys a genuine sea view will have an additional premium - 40 to 50 per cent in the South-west and areas of southern England around Brighton, for example, and 20 to 25 per cent around less fashionable areas such as Scarborough and Colwyn Bay.

"We and all retirement developers will look at any plots, on the coast or inland, if they suit our list of needs for the demographics of our buyers. The average age of our purchasers is 74, so all of our homes must be within half a mile of a doctor, a chemist, a supermarket and the like," says Suzanne Revell.

"The trick is that if we can get all of those factors in a coastal location too, then we know that the development will be popular. These developments do sell very well - the coast is still a favourite for retirement."

The demographics

The UK has an ageing population, making the creation of specialist retirement housing more important than ever.

National Statistics says that the UK population has grown by 7 per cent in the past 30 years, increasing from 55.9 million people in 1971 to 59.8 million in mid-2004.

But growth is not even across all age groups: the proportion of those under 16 has fallen from 25 to 19 per cent; the proportion of people aged 65 and up has risen from 13 to 16 per cent. And older people are older; of those aged 65-plus, the proportion living to 85 and over has risen from 7 per cent in 1971 to 12 per cent in 2004.

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