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LucyGransnet (GNHQ) Thu 21-Apr-16 12:03:35

Forget downsizing... What we really want is 'rightsizing'

Does the word 'downsizing' put you off moving to a smaller house? Tony Watts argues that the nation needs to rethink its approach when it comes to freeing up houses for younger generations.

Tony Watts OBE

Forget downsizing... What we really want is 'rightsizing'

Posted on: Thu 21-Apr-16 12:03:35


Lead photo

Does 'rightsizing' sound more appealing?

If you missed last autumn's screaming headlines in the Daily Mail let me remind you: "Anger as watchdog tells OAPs to downsize to tackle housing shortage". Not surprisingly, the headlines don't tell half the story. But when have facts ever got in the way of a good headline?

What was actually said by Lynda Blackwell, Mortgage Sector Manager of the Financial Conduct Authority was this: "Does there need to be thought given to how we build more appropriate housing for retired people in the right places."

Most of us would agree: the housing market in this country is broken, with too few new starts, rents soaring and a large chunk of the younger generation priced out of ownership.

So how can the nation's older generation help? After all, they are regularly portrayed as the golden generation, sitting on over a trillion pounds worth of assets, blocking the hopes and dreams of younger people.

Not surprisingly, in a recent survey of subscribers to a retirement site, one third listed downsizing as one of their planned future options in order to release an average of 33% of its value: a sizeable amount. So, the will is there.

The problem is that not only are precious few new 'retirement housing' units being built for the private sector (less than 2,000 in 2014, expected to top 4,000 in 2015), but not everyone wants to live in a retirement complex anyway.

So how can the nation's older generation help? After all, they are regularly portrayed as the golden generation, sitting on over a trillion pounds worth of assets, blocking the hopes and dreams of younger people.

Last year, I ran a housing workshop with older people in Yorkshire; here are just a few of the top line observations from a very knowledgeable group of people.

- Many of us want to remain local to our existing communities and support network

- All homes should be built to lifetime standards that allows them to continue to be used by everyone when their mobility reduces and so age in place

- Housing isn't just about bricks and mortar – but communities. We need to design communities, places, not just new houses

- We don't want to live in shoeboxes… We need two bedrooms, we may want access to a garden and we often want to keep our pets

- We need more choice to rent privately as well as part own

-Our homes are our key capital asset, but we need more choice on how we tap into that asset to enjoy a more comfortable retirement.

Against this backdrop, downsizing sounds so negative: couldn't we describe it as 'rightsizing' and make it aspirational?

If we are going to live for much longer than ever before, we need to prepare. Not only do we need age friendly housing, that we can stay in and remain independent, but communities should be age friendly too…places where we can get about easily and safely: surely we have allowed cars to reign for too long in our towns, villages and cities.

One of the main points made by the Yorkshire discussion was the need for a greater choice of financial options – not least to those wanting to remain in their own home and repair/refurbish it, or to move to a part ownership property and release funds.

Disinterested expert guidance on an individual's finances after any move is also essential: how much you can afford to spend and/or release – and still have a comfortable retirement and/or put aside capital to pay for any care in years to come.

For most of us, our home is our key capital asset, locking away vast sums of money. Arguably, the British preoccupation with home ownership does not necessarily benefit the economy – tellingly, Germany and Switzerland have far lower rates of home ownership than us.

But that's the subject for another day…

Tony Watts, OBE is Chairman of the South West Forum on Ageing, one of nine English Forums on Ageing that help share the views, knowledge and experience of older people with Government departments (local and national), public service providers and some private sector organisations too.

By Tony Watts OBE

Twitter: @Gransnet

obieone Thu 21-Apr-16 12:07:36

It has all got too complicated for me. And I dont think many people are listening anyway.
Sorry to be negative. I need the sunshine

PRINTMISS Thu 21-Apr-16 15:58:56

Anyone who has moved from their family home and downsized will tell you that it is a real wrench and not something which should be undertaken lightly. From experience, I know that we would no longer be able to cope with the stairs and the garden, apart from the re-decorating. We were part of a some very close communities, and enjoyed lots of activities within those communities, but those activities are beyond us now. The only real reason for anyone to move, is because they WANT to feel more able to cope with their own life and the responsibilities which come with that. If it is possible to do that and remain in your old home, then that is the answer for you. In the same way that small flats/houses are not being built for the younger generation wanting to buy, there are few and far between facilities for the ageing population who would like to live in small accommodation - and can probably afford to move, but not in the "close community" environment. I think the whole business of house/home building needs to be looked at again - I am fed up with seeing 4/5 bedroom houses being built on ground where smaller homes/flats could be built to help first time buyers, who probably do not want a 4/5 bedroom house as their first step to home-ownership.

rubylady Thu 21-Apr-16 19:02:55

Maybe bungalows need to be kept as one floor instead of being converted into "houses" with loft additions and stairs. This doesn't help the infirm or elderly much when one level living is what is needed. So many of these tele programmes have developers saying that they are converting the loft into bedrooms - go and buy a house then!

Jalima Thu 21-Apr-16 19:55:43

I agree rubylady

Although sometimes I think that a chalet bungalow could be the answer - enough room downstairs for our needs and a couple of bedrooms and shower room upstairs for when family come to visit (ignore it for the rest of the time).
But that would cost the same as our present house, so we may as well stay!

M0nica Thu 21-Apr-16 20:05:02

My main complaint about the properties being built for elderly people is that they are just too small and fail to take on board that older people often have hobbies and interests that require extra space or a shed or otherwise.

I have only once seen a retirement development that actually considered what older people want from retirement housing and then built it and that is the first one ever built in this country, which was built by the Rowntree Trust, a charity, in York.

I have a friend living there. Her bungalow has two large bedrooms, both en-suite. Corridors and doors are designed with wheelchairs in mind. It has a large living room and a kitchen big enough to comfortable get a table and chairs into it and then in a corner of the living room is a long straight staircase leading up to the loft area, fully plastered up and insulated with roof lights providing a large extra room that can be used for anything the resident wishes. My friend uses hers as a music room and holds rehearsals there for the chamber music groups she is involved with. Other residents have turned them into workshops, studies, studios and craft rooms. Her backyard includes a shed, built by a previous resident.

I have been in quite a number of commercial and public sector retirement flats, they were all poky, with tiny kitchens and no storage space. How anyone needing a walking frame or wheel chair could possibly move about them if their furniture consisted of more than a bed, one armchair and a television, I do not know.

M0nica Thu 21-Apr-16 20:06:41

ruby, with stair lifts and, now, domestic lifts, the need for single storey accommodation for older people is less important than it was.

Willow500 Fri 22-Apr-16 07:18:36

As I've documented on here previously we've been trying to find somewhere to move to from after living in our family home for the last 30 years. We're now in the process of putting it up for sale and moving from the area but the last thing either of us want's to do is 'downsize'. At 62 we may not yet be at the age of being infirm and I appreciate that stairs can be an issue for those of us who have mobility issues but the idea of moving into a retirement home the size of a shoebox is just not appealing at all. We also have a small apartment which we are also going to sell as there is no way we could live in it permanently. What we really need is a better insulated house, easily maintained interior/exterior and smaller garden for us to enjoy rather than be a constant chore. Rightsizing sounds a much better description!

Gracesgran Fri 22-Apr-16 07:38:06

The blog is very thoughtful and thought provoking. I have been contemplating moving - not particularly to downsize but to be on a single level. I have seen how being in a -fairly small - bungalow has made it so much easier to keep my mother in her own home. But I do not want to be shut up in a box and I do not understand why builders don't understand that we need a spare room! My biggest bugbear is that so many "over 55s" properties are leasehold and the annual fee s a so expensive.

Gagagran Fri 22-Apr-16 07:47:31

I so agree with the views expressed on this post but as I see it builders are only interested in throwing up estates of "ticky tacky and they all look just the same". They are missing a trick as there would be a ready market for "rightsize" properties in the right location. The large building companies would need some incentives to deviate from their present focus given the pressure central government have put them under to build more and more houses as quickly as possible.

It may have to be smaller, local builders who start a trend and reap the rewards from the grey market.

janeainsworth Fri 22-Apr-16 07:54:15

To me the blog makes the mistake of assuming that all retired people are a homogeneous group with the same aims, needs and aspirations.
We're not.
Some of us are active, some not.
Some have disabilities, some don't.
Some have partners, some don't.
Some have families living far away and want to be able to accommodate them, others don't need to because they live round the corner.
Just changing the terminology is an Orwellian solution and isn't going to make the problem, whether it's a shortage of houses for young people or old people, go away.

Teetime Fri 22-Apr-16 08:24:08

I have cautioned on here before about the temptation to move to a smaller property when you retire from paid work. We did it and felt very cramped and claustrophobic especially in winter and had several 'domestics'. We thought a courtyard garden would be enough and it wasn't so we moved again to a new modern 4 bed detached with a modest garden as we wanted minimal maintenance and upkeep and a low maintenance but nice garden to relax in. To do this we moved to a less expensive housing area and got more house for our money than in a National Park where we lived before. DH now has a study and so do I (smaller than his) and when the family come we can accommodate them without anyone sleeping on the sofa which we hate. Should we become ill we can have a bedroom each and the doors are already wheelchair width and the stairs could take a stairlift comfortably but really we hope we would see the signs before then and perhaps move to an apartment block.

Anya Fri 22-Apr-16 08:44:14

No need to anything-size if you don't want to. As others have said put in a stairlift, a walk in shower, grab rails and adapt your home.

As for the garden an elderly widow down the road had a gated fence put across the bottom two-thirds of her garden and let it grow wild. In the two years since she's had it fenced it's turned into a haven for local birds and a hegdehog family are in residence.

Gracesgran Fri 22-Apr-16 09:04:58

If you can afford to Anya ... and if you can't you are probably going to have to move.

Anya Fri 22-Apr-16 09:32:32

Do you mean bills GG such as affording to heat, pay rates, etc?

Gracesgran Fri 22-Apr-16 09:56:43

Not really Anya. smile I think quite a few older people have a reasonable investment in their home but a small income (the majority of people on Pension Credit are single women). They may not be able to change the house to meet needs.

yogagran Fri 22-Apr-16 10:30:43

Adapting the house to meet your needs has to be a cheaper option than moving though Gracesgran

Juggernaut Fri 22-Apr-16 10:46:59

We fully intend to move into my FiL's bungalow when he is no longer with us. It's fairly small, but has a good sized kitchen, a large living room and two bedrooms, both doubles. We'd probably put a conservatory on the back, just to give us a bit more living space. We've also talked of putting a summerhouse in the back garden, somewhere to escape from one another for a while! The temptation would be to make the second bedroom into a dining room, perhaps with a sofa/bed for occasional visitors. We're lucky in as much as our DS and DDiL live very close by, so it would be unlikely that we'd need a spare bedroom very often. Of course, we'd be in the lucky position of having sold our present house, giving us funds to do whatever we wanted to the bungalow to make it perfect for us.

Gracesgran Fri 22-Apr-16 10:50:02

Not if they don't have any capital other than their house yogogran I am convinced this is why so many people move - into pokey flats quite often - because they need to buy not only something smaller - they may not even want to do that - but something cheaper.

I agree that the cost of the move will actually deplete the capital and the capital growth for them but, as they say, people don't become poor by making bad decisions, they make bad decisions because they are poor sad

mcculloch29 Fri 22-Apr-16 13:44:26

My arthritis means I struggle with the steep stairs in my 3 bed house.

What stops me from moving to a ground floor flat are the astronomical service charges (for sweet FA) that my friend pays.

Her charges on her paid up shared ownership apartment amount to half of what I pay for my mortgage on a much more valuable property, and means she really struggles on a reduced income. No wonder that so many of these properties seem to be up for sale when you visit 'retirement towns' like Southport.

M0nica Fri 22-Apr-16 15:18:41

... and what's more the companies running these developments take a cut, often quite substantial, from the sale price when they are sold.

janeainsworth is absolutly right when she says that older people have such diverse lives, requirements and resources that there can be no one size fits all solution to suitable housing. The problem is that the builders of retirement housing think there is and that is small and poky, with outrageous charges.

annsixty Fri 22-Apr-16 15:46:46

Our house is a decent size, 4 beds two receps a conservatory and we intend to stay as long as we can.
We need a bedroom each,family live away so we need room for them to sleep and frankly we need space to get away from each other. Whilst we can afford it and can pay for domestic help it is surely our right to please ourselves.
A neighbour has to move for financial reasons and she is negotiating for a shoe box of a bungalow. I know she will not like it ,she guesses she will not like it but she doesn't have the choice.
I did read somewhere that we should actually be letting families have our property cheap to help them out. No way,we went without in the early days to get a decent home, I don't see much of that in a large proportion of younger people including my own family.

Anya Fri 22-Apr-16 15:51:04

I think, if you have a disability, you can get help to have your house modified. At least that used to be the case. I know one family where they had a lift installed - a proper lift not just a stair lift, free of change. But that might have been because they were in benefits.

But I also know of a case where people have had stair lifts installed free of change. This was quite a while ago but perhaps some of our GN Social Workers can comment if this is still possible.

Anya Fri 22-Apr-16 15:52:05

And then there's equity release....???

annsixty Fri 22-Apr-16 16:24:55

I understand that is a nono for most people.