Retirement property: Plan your future wisely

When it comes to downsizing, with options limited it pays to do your research, says Elizabeth Atkinson
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The Independent Online

It's something few of us want to contemplate, yet it happens to us all. At some point in your life, the need to downsize your home and plan for your retirement will strike, yet what are your options?

Increasingly limited, according to research by Savills. Recent statistics reveal an ageing population, with some 9.7 million over the age of 65 in 2008, which will increase by 24 per cent in 2018 to 12 million and by 50 per cent in 2028, taking the total to 14.5 million.

Figures for the over-80s are similar, with a growth of 78 per cent by 2028 taking the figure to 4.8 million. Alongside an ageing population, the research also shows a shortfall in the number of care homes and sheltered accommodation, making the need to plan ahead even more urgent. The head of Savills' residential research team, Jim Ward, says: "This is definitely an expanding market, as the demography shows. Those with capital in their properties are opting to release it and buy somewhere which is appropriate for their age and where they won't have to move from if they become infirm."

Unlocking capital from a large family home seems the sensible route, yet defining what constitutes a "retirement property" isn't easy in an age when many over 55s are often travelling and still working. The move toward the "lock-up and leave" is a preferred option, yet these can now be found in developments where independent living is the norm, with the option to buy in further support if needed.

The Amesbury Abbey Group has been involved in retirement property for 40 years and is selling a range of smart homes in the UK and Portugal. Naomi Cornelius-Reid says buying a retirement home isn't the end of the line. "You may be downsizing, but this doesn't mean you have to compromise on space. You don't want to end up in a poky place, so look for somewhere which has lovely grounds so you can take advantage of beautiful surroundings and a strong package of support."

As developers respond to the needs of an ageing population, there is more choice than ever before, but buyers should research their options thoroughly and note that not all retirement schemes are restricted to new build. All Amesbury Group properties are Grade II-listed, with prices starting from around £140,000 for a one bedroom unit and ranging up to £350,000 for a detached house. Owners can live independently in their own homes, but all developments have medical staff and the option of an on-site nursing home in case of illness or infirmity.

The retirement-homes market is more established in the US. Often billed as "age-exclusive", schemes are typically gated and reserved for the over 55s. Bill Gair, chief executive of Urban Renaissance Villages, has worked in the business for many years, initially importing what he calls "the better aspects of the US model" to the UK. When he began, he admits his model wasn't entirely thought through. "We offered first time-buyer accommodation to what might be someone's last-time home, but quickly realised the impracticalities."

Today, all Urban Renaissance Villages properties are purposely designed for older buyers, who appreciate their ease of living and levels of service. Gair finds many buyers are often far from retired, with many still working and travelling: "They're often in their late sixties or early seventies, often owning property abroad, and typically want somewhere they can lock up and leave while they are away."

A lock-up and leave is ideal for the downsizer, and it's worth investing in a property which won't require further adaptations as you age. Features to look out for include electrical sockets sited at waist-high level – so you don't have to bend down – and bathrooms which are more like "wet rooms", which do away with cumbersome baths or showers and which can easily accommodate a stool. Knight Frank say new build or conversions prove popular thanks to their low maintenance and lower running costs, but that buyers also typically look for features such as storage, space for hobbies, a guest room for visiting family and wider doorways and stairs.

Staying in your own property and perhaps adapting it to suit your changing needs is another option, and it's one the Government has pursued with its "lifetime homes" initiative. Specifying that all properties should be built to adapt over the years to suit a range of needs, all public sector-funded housing in England will be constructed to the lifetime homes standard from 2011 – it's already a requirement in Wales and Northern Ireland – with a target of 2013 for all private sector dwellings.

Philip Spiers has been involved with retirement housing for 15 years, and is the co-author of Care Options in Retirement, published by Which? essential guides. Spiers says research is key to making the right decisions.

Following an OFT investigation which found a lack of support and information for those considering retirement housing, Spiers set up First Stop Advice, an independent, free service providing advice and information for older people, families and carers on care and housing options in later life. The service has information on options including privately bought retirement housing and is now government-funded.

Spiers advises planning for a retirement home before you need to do so and warns buyers to consider what happens if you decide to sell. "More developers are looking closely at providing this sort of property, so there is more choice, but buyers should look at the penalties if they decide to sell. The market is definitely changing and people now have much greater expectations."

The Amesbury Abbey Group ,

'I've never lived anywhere like this before'

Retired nursing and midwifery sister Freddie Spink recently moved into the retirement development Bramshott Place Village near Liphook in Hampshire.

Having spent long periods living abroad with her late husband as well as working as a district nurse and midwife in the Liphook area since 1975, Freddie wanted to stay in the area, and went to see the development after a friend sent her a brochure.

She immediately decided to buy a two-bedroom apartment. "It's very airy, light and full of sunshine," she says. "I wanted to try it because I've never lived anywhere like this before. It's near the station and the shops, and I'll use the clubhouse. I like that you can use the facilities if you want to, but you don't have to."

With daughters in Australia and the US, Freddie, pictured with Cliff Meyler, operations director for Urban Renaissance Villages, intends spending time abroad, and likes the idea that her home is secure while she is away. "It's brilliant. You can tell them you're going away and they'll keep an eye on the place."

With two bedrooms and bathrooms, the apartment has plenty of space for her daughters to stay when they visit. Created by Urban Renaissance Villages and Helical Bar, the village consists of 147 cottages and apartments centred around a country club in picturesque countryside, less than a mile from the village of Liphook.

Reserved for the over 55s, the facilities include a restaurant and bar, hydrotherapy pool, shop, fitness and games rooms, library, meeting hall and snooker room. There is also an on-site nurse and doctors' surgery. All homes have an integral call system directly linked to the manager's office. Prices start from £295,000.

Bramshott Place, or call 01428 722800