How it feels to be a ‘last-time buyer’

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Front Page -

Ev­ery now and again a re­port comes along that tries to make a case for turn­ing us oldies out of our much-loved homes and into grim bun­ga­lows or re­tire­ment flats. In the past, we were ac­cused of clog­ging up the hous­ing mar­ket by self­ishly stay­ing put when we’ve got – whis­per it qui­etly – spare bed­rooms.

But now, from the in­surer Legal & Gen­eral, there’s a new twist. It has given us a name – “last-time buy­ers” – and although it still says we are clog­ging up the hous­ing mar­ket, this time it is con­ced­ing that it’s not our fault that we are stuck in vast houses – worth a to­tal of £820bn – we poor old dears.

The re­port tells us that we would love noth­ing bet­ter than to down­size, but we sim­ply can’t find any­where suit­able. All the bun­ga­lows – pre­vi­ously the re­tirees’ friend – have been razed to the ground so that luxury townhouses can be built in their place, and as for two-bed­room re­tire­ment flats, well, there aren’t any. So we stay put, de­priv­ing younger peo­ple of a de­cent home.

If we could only find ap­pro­pri­ate homes to down­size to, we would free up 2.6mil­lion fam­ily houses and 7.7mil­lion un­used bed­rooms, ac­cord­ing to L&G.

Whether by ac­ci­dent or de­sign, we oldies are al­ways the prob­lem when it comes to solv­ing the hous­ing cri­sis. If we didn’t ex­ist, so the popular wis­dom goes, every­body else would be prop­erly housed.

As it is, we are now told that far too many of us re­main in the fam­ily man­sion un­til it’s too late to move and we end up be­ing carted out feet first. All I can say is that I have done my duty in this re­spect. About 10 years ago, I de­cided to sell my ter­raced house with its three spare bed­rooms. I was living in it by my­self and it no longer seemed the right kind of home for me. A nice fam­ily with two young chil­dren bought it and, as far as I know, are still there. So I have un­clogged the fam­ily hous­ing mar­ket by at least one prop­erty.

But in­stead of down­siz­ing, I up­sized, quite lit­er­ally. I moved to a rather grand fourth-floor flat which has two spare bed­rooms and which will prob­a­bly see me out, as long as I can keep climb­ing the stairs – there is no lift. The spare bed­rooms mean I can have guests – ei­ther pay­ing or free – to stay but by no means is it a fam­ily home. It is quite un­suit­able for chil­dren, there is no gar­den and you could not keep a pet in it.

So if you are con­sid­er­ing sell­ing the fam­ily home and mov­ing to some­where smaller, my ad­vice is to for­get about a coun­try cottage in a pretty vil­lage – a popular if rose-tinted choice for down­siz­ers – and in­stead go for a smart flat in the mid­dle of town. Don’t even think about a bun­ga­low – even if you can find one, they still tend to be in iso­lated places or along busy main roads.

I am per­fectly happy in my flat yet many peo­ple of my age shud­der and vow they will never live in an apart­ment. They see them as sec­ond-rate hous­ing – per­haps re­mem­ber­ing the grotty flat­shares of their youth, or Six­ties high-rise mon­strosi­ties.

But mov­ing to a flat of the right type can make a lot of sense, es­pe­cially if you are wid­owed, di­vorced or sin­gle. Even if you are a cosy cou­ple, it can still be a good idea to spend your later years to­gether in an easy-tomain­tain, lockup-and-leave apart­ment, and it doesn’t have to be a des­ig­nated re­tire­ment flat. Mine isn’t.

For one thing, flats are far safer and more se­cure than houses. When I says: “The big­gest dis­ad­van­tage is the ser­vice charge. This an­nual levy is in­creas­ing all the time and is now about £1,500 a year on av­er­age.

“Some­body near­ing re­tire­ment has to be sure they can af­ford this com­pul­sory sum. If you live in a house, you can let it go to rack and ruin if you can’t af­ford the up­keep but this can’t hap­pen with a flat. In one Ox­ford block, the mainly el­derly oc­cu­pants were each sud­denly hit with a £10,000 bill for their share of a new roof.”

For older buy­ers, a flat can con­fer a vastly bet­ter life­style than a house. This is par­tic­u­larly the case if you want to travel a lot in re­tire­ment. “For th­ese peo­ple, a flat works so much bet­ter than a house,” adds Rob Hill. “You won’t go away to find three weeks of leaflets hang­ing out of the door or an un­mown lawn on your re­turn. In ad­di­tion, with a flat you are on one floor, which gives a greater feel­ing of space, and means there are no [in­ter­nal] stairs to climb. You don’t get that poky feel that can hap­pen in a small house.

‘I of­ten tell my older clients that flats are ba­si­cally bun­ga­lows stacked on top of each other, but with­out the iso­la­tion you get in a bun­ga­low. Many peo­ple com­ing up to re­tire­ment be­lieve that apart­ment build­ings will be noisy and full of peo­ple hav­ing rowdy par­ties. But that is only a dan­ger with cheap flats, and most down­siz­ers are not go­ing to be buy­ing a cheap flat.”

Es­tate agent Martin Bikhit of Lon­don agents Kay & Co ad­vises empty-nesters to move right into the cen­tre of town. He says: “The more cen­tral the bet­ter, and if you love the theatre, why not look for a flat in Lon­don’s West End? Older peo­ple of­ten think about mov­ing into the coun­try, but a smart flat in a cen­tral lo­ca­tion can be a much bet­ter bet.”

In fact, we could coin a new mantra: houses are for fam­i­lies; flats are the an­swer for older cou­ples and sin­gles, and con­trary to what Legal & Gen­eral might say, there are plenty to be found. They are not nec­es­sar­ily aimed at re­tirees – but they make sen­si­ble choices for re­tired peo­ple who don’t want to be shunted away into a re­tire­ment com­plex. Brunel Cres­cent

Apart­ments in this over-55s devel­op­ment near Bath, Wilt­shire, cost from £399,000, with park­ing and lifts (01225 325 999; knight­

Con­naught Square

Su­per-smart new­build two-bed­room apart­ment with views over the Royal Winch­ester Golf Course, £750,000 (01962 844299; jack­sons­ Bramshott Place

A two bed­room in this devel­op­ment near Liphook, Hamp­shire, com­plete with pool and club­house, costs £305,000 (01483 796810; bramshottp­ Binswood

Vic­to­rian Binswood Hall has been re­stored as the cen­tre­piece of a new re­tire­ment vil­lage. Prices from £310,000 to £540,000 (au­d­leyre­tire­

Mov­ing on: Liz Hodgkni­son (be­low) says re­tirees are bet­ter off living in flats. Brunel Cres­cent, Box, Wilt­shire, has apart­ments for the over-55s

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