The stylish homes for savvy seniors

As the baby boomers downsize, a new breed of retirement village is targeting older buyers. Sophie Morris reports
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The Independent Online

In 1951 there were just 300 centenarians in Britain. At the last count there were more than 9,000, and that figure is forecast to rise to 36,000 by 2031. But if they are to reach such a fine age, Britain’s growing number of pensioners – the country’s fastest-growing demographic, boosted by a generation of ageing baby boomers – need adequate accommodation to see them through their retirement and later life.

Until recently, downsizing was fairly straightforward. Retired people simply moved to a smaller and more manageable property before moving on to somewhere offering assisted living or round-the-clock care. But according to new research from the estate agent Knight Frank, the property needs of pensioners are changing now they can look forward to two or three decades of able, active life.

The Knight Frank Retirement Housing Report 2010, released last month, shows that the top requirements for retired homeowners are proximity to family and to recreational facilities such as a gym, shops, theatres and cinemas. Broadband connections and spacious homes with fewer bedrooms but room for guests and entertaining and perhaps a study are also in demand.

The concept of the traditional retirement home is being expanded to create a new trend for “retirement villages”, where residents can enjoy the freedoms of independent living, the benefits of on-site amenities and the option of extra care or even a move into assisted living accommodation, should that become necessary.

Pauline Andrews, 70, and her husband Roger, 63, were the first to move into Richmond Letcombe Regis “village” in Oxfordshire last month, after putting in an offer for their two-bedroom ground-floor property 18 months ago, as soon as they saw the plans.

They can use the spa and restaurant while maintaining their independence, but the real draw, explains Pauline, was the “three-tier living” idea presented by operator Richmond Villages. “We liked the concept of being looked after in luxury, should we be able to afford it, until we die. You have to plan for your final 25 years and here we can stay together even if one of us falls ill. We are also within easy reach of our children and grandchildren. I had elderly parents myself and it was not always easy to spend time with them. I didn’t want the same for my children.”

The three-tier aspect means that residents can move into one of Richmond Villages’ five sites and live independently, with the option to move later into assisted living or a full-time care home. Although the Knight Frank report suggests that pensioners do not want to consider moving into care homes, Pauline’s attitude shows that some are willing to plan for the future without compromising their lifestyle.

Of 34 independent properties at Letcombe Regis, where one-bed apartments start at £240,000, 21 have already been sold. Of the 23 assisted living properties, 15 have gone; there are waiting lists at Richmond Villages’ Northampton and Painswick developments, and a few resales are available in Nantwich.

Bramshott Place Village near Liphook in Hampshire has a very similar approach: independent living of a high standard in a new-build “village”. The 147 cottages, from £430,000, with apartments from £295,000, are in a gated development with grounds, a pool and a restaurant, within walking distance of Liphook.

Freddie Spink moved in when Bramshott Place opened last summer. “It’s near the station and the shops and I’ll use the clubhouse,” she says. “I like the idea that you can use the facilities if you want to, but you don’t have to.”

In Scotland, Rosemount Care Cottages in the market town of Blairgowrie, Perthshire, is a similar scheme under construction. A care home was recently finished and five cottages will be completed by the end of the summer.

“The people interested in moving in are independent and able-bodied but looking to the future,” says Sharon Zaremski of Strutt and Parker, who are handling the sales. “They don’t want to move again later on, and here there is the option of moving from the cottages into the care home.

Although the retirement village concept may sound straightforward, developers and operators face some hurdles. Most over-65s live in mainstream houses and people in their 40s, 50s and 60s make up the highest proportion of homeowners, but most of these own their homes freehold and changing to a leasehold property, with high service charges given all the facilities, requires some imagination.

“It is difficult to persuade people to buy off plan,” admits Zaremski. But the benefits of living in a retirement village mean residents are not burdened with any of the maintenance or structural upkeep of their properties.

Retirement villages are so popular that an association now exists to regulate the quality of the developments. ARVOUK, the Association of Retirement Village Operators UK, states there are three core components of any proper retirement village: housing, community and access to care. David Reaves of Richmond Villages says: “It isn’t about building and then moving on.”