Friday, 30 March 2012

Building for the future

No longer the poor relation of the property market, retirement housing is an increasingly attractive investment opportunity

Written by Vanessa Berridge
Flick through the property pages in any weekend broadsheet, and you'll notice a distinct change. Yes, there are habitual features on loft conversions for youthful bankers, but you'll also see a fair sprinkling of smart looking developments for older people. This is an area of growth with demand outstripping available property at present.

The grey pound is powerful, and major builders are beginning to dip their toes in the retirement market. Octagon, for example, has recently built a mews development within the long-established Whiteley's retirement village in Surrey. The properties there have been quickly snapped up by people, mostly in their early 70s, who like their style.

And that's the key. Retirement housing is no longer the poor relation of the property market, but a buoyant sector offering different but equally appealing options. In fact, planning constraints require builders specifically in places to build for people over 55.

This is true of Countryside Properties' glamorous new sustainable development, Cliveden Village, Berkshire. Built in collaboration with the National Trust, it includes a number of eco-designed, spacious houses, apartment and penthouses costing from £350,000 upwards. With a concierge, it's ideal for down-sizing professionals who want somewhere they can lock up and leave.

But it's not a retirement community. For people a decade or so older, there's a choice of retirement villages, small developments and care communities. The uninitiated may find it confusing, admits James Cobb, of consultants Retirement Property Options.

'People may have trawled the net for information, but they often remain confused, and don't understand the difference between independent and assisted living. You can now get a high level of care in an independent house within a retirement village.'

Retirement Villages

There are now over 80 retirement villages across the UK. Most provide both independent and assisted living accommodation, the latter suitable for those requiring help with cooking and personal care. Some also have a nursing home, enabling couples with different care needs to live within the site. Stream-lined, modern accommodation, attractive to people in their 60s, is built with reinforced ceilings for hoists, wide doorways and staircases adaptable for stairlifts, and with alarm systems. Larger villages have country-club facilities, including restaurant, bar, leisure centre, library and lounge areas.

With 327 properties, award-winning Denham Garden Village in Buckinghamshire offers a mixture of rental and lifetime lease, provides 24-hour care and support and has a customer services team for that extra peace of mind. 'We are creating a worry-free lifestyle,' says marketing manager Janine Warnes. Among its facilities are a health spa with pool and gym, village shop, GP surgery and cafe bar and restaurant, set in 30 acres of peaceful woodland. 'Our residents are able to continue leading an active life and enjoy their independence among likeminded people,' she says.

David Reaves, MD of Richmond Villages, agrees. The company's two-year-old flagship retirement village is built in the local vernacular of Letcombe Regis, a pretty Oxfordshire village of redbrick and thatched cottages. The development's entrance lodge is now the shop for both communities – to the delight of locals, who have not had a village shop in Letcombe for some 20 years.

'We want to be part of the village, not a gated community,' says Reaves. The setting is glorious, with a lake and nature reserve. There are 74 independent living apartments in blocks, 66 assisted living apartments in the main building and 51 care beds in the nursing home, split between dementia and frail elderly care.

Chantry Court in Wiltshire is more like a boutique hotel,mset within walking distance of Westbury. Its 68 properties include 40 independent living apartments, with the rest being assisted living apartments, mainly rented, within the main building of the village. A package of care, assessed for individual needs, is available separate from the rental.

Bramshott Chase in Surrey has a Spanish holiday development feel and consists of 151 chic two- and three-bedroom cottages and apartments. Deliberately, there is no nursing home on site, and care is bought in by individuals as and when they need it.

Properties in retirement villages cost from about £240,000 for a onebedroom apartment to over £500,000 for two-bedroom houses, with fully equipped kitchens. There's a weekly service charge, from about £80 to £150, plus care packages, which may be costed hourly or weekly. Most villages charge an assignment fee on resale, generally about 10 per cent of the sale price, usually discounted if the property is sold within two years.

Retirement Housing

Providers of retirement housing include Churchill Retirement Living, the English Courtyard Association, McCarthy & Stone and Pegasus Homes, with prices ranging from about £150,000. They do not offer the same range of facilities as the villages, but tend to consist of similar accommodation, split between apartments, cottages and bungalows. Most have wardens (sometimes live-in) and a 24-hour response system within each property.

Newlands, a Cotswold stone house near Stow-on-the Wold in Gloucestershire, has been converted into 15 self-contained one and twobedroom assisted living apartments, while nearby are independent threebedroom cottages, each with its own garden.

Churchill has just opened a new development in Worthing, with selfcontained one and twobedroom apartments. Security features include a video-entry system, a 24- hour careline and on-site lodge manager. Jim and Rene Burnham moved there from Ipswich to be near their son in Brighton. Like all Churchill developments, Catherine Lodge is near the town centre, so the couple don't feel isolated, and they enjoy meeting other residents in the Owner's Lounge. 'It's got the best of everything put together.'

Not everyone wants the commitment of buying property in later life, though. A number of companies specialise in retirement rentals, such as familyowned Girlings. They have over 2,500 properties on their books at any one time in over 500 developments in the UK, with rent in the region of £700 per month.

Apartments to rent are available in Signature's care communities in Sheffield, Leicester, Kent, and at their latest location, Moorlands Lodge at Hindhead in Surrey. Moorlands, which opened in February, has the style of a grand hotel, with an elegant lounge and a restaurant run by an internationally renowned chef. Its 97 apartments include studios, one and two-bedroom apartments and 20 in a designated dementia wing. The apartments cost from £720 per week, including three meals a day, lighting, heating, council tax, laundry and housekeeping. Bespoke care packages are available.

'We can take people regardless of their medical conditions,' says home manager Creenagh Williamson. 'They don't need to be reassessed after hospitalisation, because we have the medical resources here to care for them. Anyone coming here doesn't need to move again.'

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