Strutt & Parker's ninth edition of their annual Housing Futures publication looks at what consumers really want from their next home and how they would like to live in the future. In this chapter, Samantha Rowland discusses downsizing and the appetite for integrated retirement communities in the UK.
Increasing demand for specialist retirement accommodation is an easy way to free up unused bedrooms.
One of the most persistent criticisms of the older generation is that they occupy large houses that could be better used by families, contributing to the shortage of supply that is the biggest problem in the current housing market, according to Guy Robinson, Head of Residential Agency at Strutt & Parker.
A survey last year showed that 60% of the UK’s 15 million surplus bedrooms were in homes owned by the over-65s5 and our survey bears this out. More than 60% of over-70s live in a property with three or more bedrooms, the vast majority on their own or with a partner. And 40% of over-65s said that a smaller plot would be an important or very important motivation for moving.
One of the main reasons so many stay put in the family home is a lack of desirable properties for downsizers to move into. Almost half the over-65s in our survey said their ideal next home would be a bungalow, however developers aren’t building bungalows, preferring instead integrated retirement communities to maximise the number of bedrooms. There's also a limited number of smaller homes with proportions to match those of these owners' larger homes.
“Just because you haven’t got children living at home doesn’t mean you are going to want to sacrifice high ceilings or a good-size sitting room,” says Guy.
One obvious solution is to increase the uptake of specialist housing for retirees among the financially fortunate downsizers who occupy the largest homes. According to the trade body ARCO, about 85,000 people currently live in (IRC). It hopes to get that figure up to 250,000 by 2030, saving £5.6bn on the UK’s health and social care budget and releasing 562,000 bedrooms onto the housing market in the process. Only 1.0% of those in the UK aged over 65 currently live in Integrated Retirement Communities (otherwise known as ‘housing with care’), compared to 6.5% in the USA and 5.5% in the US and Australia, respectively.
But our survey shows that appetite for this kind of accommodation is limited - only 13% of over-65s said that their ideal new home would be in a retirement community. What we’ve seen, to date, is that such a move more typically takes place in the mid-70s as the retirement age gets higher.
Samantha Rowland, Head of Healthcare & Senior Living at BNP Paribas Real Estate, says the main reason people are reluctant to consider the retirement sector is that they aren’t aware of what’s on offer.
She says it’s a problem that can be solved with education - which is where Richard Osman comes in. His all-conquering Thursday Murder Club novels have shown just how appealing life can be in a retirement community that combines self-contained homes with all kinds of facilities, from restaurants serving good food to swimming pools, gyms and classes of all kinds. The homes are built to a high standard, and while there might be help available with cleaning or shopping, the focus is on independent living.
“People don’t always appreciate what it involves. They expect it to be like a care home, or just a small flat with an alarm cord and a residents’ lounge, but the reality couldn’t be more different. It’s not institutional or depressing. People need to understand that it’s a step forward rather than a step backwards. The one thing you always hear from people who have made the move is that they wish they had done it sooner,” Samantha says.
She thinks that word of mouth will encourage greater uptake in future generations, but says that retirement developers do need to be clear about things like service charges, which can seem offputtingly expensive until it’s explained how much they cover. She says the growth of rental options is also likely to improve interest - whether on a long-term or a try-before you-buy basis.
That’s not to underestimate just how difficult and painful a process downsizing can be - the other reason older people can appear reluctant to leave the family home behind. “Downsizing is one of the most difficult moves for any homeowner. It can involve saying goodbye to treasured possessions and memories because there won’t be as much space in their new homes. From our perspective, it’s important for an agent to have the empathy and the people skills to help them through this potentially difficult time," says Guy.
Other people may need the extra bedrooms to welcome friends and family, or even have space for the growing number of “boomerang kids”. More than 20% of the 21-35-year-olds we surveyed still live rent free at home, often the only way they can afford to save for a mortgage deposit.
To download Strutt & Parker's Life Moves: Reimagining our Homes, click here.
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