What do I look for?



The first thing to decide is what is important to you and why you are considering a move to retirement housing. Do you want a smaller more manageable home? Close to shops? Nearer to family? What sort of services are you after? Is it just estate management services - gardens and buildings maintenance and little things like refuse removal, cleaning windows or are you really after more personal care or would you like dining facilities? Perhaps Assisted Living – possibly within the grounds of a residential home, where additional services can be bought as and when required. Alternatively you may just be looking for a lock up and leave - somewhere you know is going to be looked after in your absence, where insurance is not a problem, where you can return knowing everything is safe and sound.

Good retirement housing offers continued independence for the young and not so young and the vast majority of people quite happily enjoy their final years in such a secure environment. They only have recourse to a nursing home or hospital when something goes seriously wrong.



Is there flexibility ?



Is there flexibility in the level of services offered and do the properties themselves allow for flexibility in advancing years? Many retirement developments offer in effect a "menu" of services which allows owners and residents to select the level of services they require. For example at Audley’s independent retirement development at Harrogate in Yorkshire, one of its first retirement villages; whilst you have automatic access to the standard services covered by the monthly service charge which includes 24 hour access to experienced staff, use of the club house, health suite, security systems, maintenance and so forth you; you can also "buy in" additional services such as shopping, cleaning, home help and more personal care and support. You only pay for the additional services you actually use.

With regard to retirement properties generally most are on one floor but many cottages, such as those at Cognatum Estates Limited, are designed with flexibility in mind so that dining rooms for example can be turned into bedrooms should living on one floor become necessary. Also straight stairs are usually easier to manage when you are elderly but some people do prefer the half landing in a return staircase. The best accommodation is always flexible enough to take into account advancing years. Remember 90% of the retirement housing market ‘for sale’ are flats.



What Levels of care do I get ?



Within the all embracing term of retirement housing - usually purpose built accommodation, there are various levels of care: Care levels range from Very Sheltered Housing (24 hour duty housekeeper) and Sheltered Housing and Supported Independent Living (House Manager) through to Retirement Housing (Scheme Manager/ Estate Manager), Assisted Living Developments (Estate Manager), Retirement Villages (Estate Manager), Extra Care or Close Care (House Manager) to Senior Care and Care Homes (House Keeper).

The services provided in Sheltered Housing usually include access to communal grounds, communal lounge, laundry, guest suite, a resident manager and alarm service. Size is always an important consideration and these days one bedroom accommodation is not so popular and some people prefer not to have a resident manager. Retirement Housing often has similar levels of service but increasingly with smaller schemes (less than 20 units) fewer ‘resident’ managers. What is usually common to both are the more general estate management services and access to the emergency alarm system.
Assisted Living Developments are often able to provide total care packages where you can "buy in" the level of care you want, to Close Care which operates on a similar basis by having the facilities of a nursing or residential home available to occupants of the close care properties.

The only really common features of retirement housing are that they have self-contained accommodation, normally purpose-built, in self contained schemes with estate management services and some communal facilities and alarm systems designed for their older residents who pay a service charge. The concept has spread and these days there is often little difference between bespoke new leisure developments providing similar services such as swimming pools and gyms and coffee bars for busy young professionals to some of the latest high end retirement developments. Retirement Housing can often have attractive communal grounds where responsibility for the upkeep is always that of the management company rather than individuals where responsibility for upkeep, especially in general housing, normally stops at the front gate.



Are there communal Gardens ?



Most developments have communal gardens and private gardens are usually rare. This is because it is much cheaper to maintain uninterrupted areas of lawn and communal gardens don't have unsightly fences splitting up otherwise open green spaces. Quite a few developments do have areas set aside for allotments. Normally the small area of garden in front of your house or next to your ground floor apartment is maintained by you or the estate gardener. To change the general landscaping though would probably require consent from the management company. Most schemes are developed with low maintenance in mind though sometimes poor landscaping leads to trees blocking out the sunlight sooner rather than later.






Do you want to be close to shops, in the country, with good communications, by the sea, what type of development, what type of property? Are you considering moving away from a long term commitment to a particular area?

The most important thing to start with is a clear idea of what your needs and wants are and what is the most important to you. What are your objectives? It’s really a joint decision if you’re married and this can be difficult if one of you wants to stay put and the other wishes to move to into a town with easy access to facilities and amenities, perhaps a golf course or trout river.



The Top ten considerations then could be the following:



1. Is the location therefore right for you both? Where are your family? Are you considering moving away from a long term commitment to a particular area. Many people move to a new area and then regret it. Try therefore to choose a retirement complex close to the area you know rather than moving into unknown territory.

2. Involve the whole family in the decision if you can but ultimately you decide what is best for you and where you want to live. Does the development have good communications? Is there easy access for friends and family to come and see you?

3. People nowadays have a far greater choice of where they want to live than ever before and in a sense the word ‘retirement’ hardly exists as so many people now work well over the age of 65. Do you want independent living or more serviced accommodation? Do you want or indeed need a resident Manager? Much will depend on your age and state of health. Resident managers will often provide a greater level of neighbourly service simply by being there even if not on duty. Don’t therefore choose a retirement development when you’re 90 which have no facilities to cope as you get even older. Remember retirement developments are not nursing homes.

4. Does the development suit you? Does it have the facilities you need or want? Does it have the ‘big five’ - a communal lounge, laundry, guest room, lift, gardens? Does it have like-minded people? If it’s an apartment you’re after and not on the ground floor, is the lift adequate? Choose a development therefore which has that something extra whether it’s a garden, mobility scooter store, lake to fish in, swimming pool, restaurant, personal care that satisfies a wish or answers a need.

5. In choosing a development consider your interests/hobbies. Do you want access to the theatre? Do you want a lock up and leave for holidays? Do you play golf, watch the cricket? All this should determine the type and style of development for you. Are there places of worship nearby with churches to suit your denomination? Consider therefore the local facilities as well as the facilities on-site.

6. The younger life style retirement market is closer to the general housing market where there is plenty of choice and the area between independent retirement living and Care Homes for the Elderly is now crowded. There are many options and at least ten different styles/categories of development from just ‘age covenanted’ developments with no services to Care Homes and Senior Living. Ask yourself if this is a lifestyle choice or is it based on need and this will help narrow down the ideal retirement complex for you.

7. Does the property suit you? You can’t make external alterations as easily as you can with a freehold property in the ordinary housing market and internal alterations might be difficult too. It’s not like buying your own individual property in isolation, you’re buying into a scheme as a whole and this comes with obligations and covenants. Does the development have an assortment of properties so that you can move within the same scheme at a later date? As far as possible choose the right sort of accommodation to suit your needs at the beginning. Is a study important to you, for example?

8. Does the property have flexible accommodation to suit your changing needs which are different over 25 years – say from 65 to 90. At Cognatum Estates, cottages always have a dining room next to the kitchen and this can be changed to a bedroom if required. If a nurse or companion needs to come and stay there is always the second bedroom. Not all properties are large enough to accommodate full time carers so does the development have facilities for residents ‘buy-in’ care as they need it.

9. Take your time, there’s no hurry. When you’re young you can afford to make a mistake in choosing where to live as you know you’ll be moving in three to four years as children come along and you go from a two-bedroom property to a three and then four. This is different as with luck you should be able to stay here for the rest of your life so getting the decision right is important. Visit as many prospective retirement complexes as you can before you choose one.

10. Does the retirement development sell long leases? Are the service charges for the services provided reasonable? Are there any ground rents? Are there any exit fees? How easy will it be for you to get a mortgage in the future? Does the development allow letting in case you wanted to consider renting in the future? Always seek independent financial advice.



Some retirement hotspots



Cognatum Estates has some wonderful developments in well-known retirement hotspots such as the Chilterns and the Cotswolds but both are fairly expensive areas. Wiltshire is a popular county as is Herefordshire as many people move west from the Warwickshire/Midlands areas to less expensive properties say in Tenbury Wells or closer to Hereford itself. There is an excellent estate in Upton-upon-Seven – Worcestershire, for example, where a two bedroom retirement cottage at Berrow Court might sell for £225,000 and the equivalent at Dunchurch Hall near Rugby in Warwickshire would be a £100,000 more.

Tunbridge Wells in Kent is a classic place to retire to and situated on the western outskirts is the village of Rusthall with good local shopping facilities. At Muskerry Court properties sell very quickly because for early retirees there are good communications and easy access to London (Charing Cross about 45 minutes and Gatwick Airport is easily accessible to the north of Crawley). Knight Frank noted in a recent report that ‘proximity to amenities and transport links remain key considerations for those considering a new home in retirement whether purpose built or within the general housing sector. The Muskerry Court development is set in a classical English parkland setting and there are excellent cultural and sporting facilities and several well-known golf courses nearby. There are museums, art galleries, theatres and many fine parks including Dunloran which was laid out by the renowned Victorian gardener, Robert Marrock, in the grounds of a mansion.



The attraction of cultural and sporting facilities



Culture and sports facilities play an important role in where people seek early retirement and other sporting facilities may come to the fore for early retirees such as good racing, cricket, as well as the importance of good theatre and vibrant communities with historic associations. Because many retirement developments are often to be found in historic ancient market towns and villages, they invariably have excellent cultural and sporting facilities nearby.

Northfield Court is in Aldeburgh on the Suffolk coast, not only a popular holiday destination but in an attractive area in which to retire. Northfield Court is a very attractive development built on glebe land behind the church and close to the sea and the Blue Flag shingle beach. The River Alde cuts in close behind the yacht club and separates the mainland from Orford Ness and the East Suffolk Heritage Coastline. The town‘s world famous music festival, founded by Benjamin Britten, is held every June. George Crabbe, Georgian poet and rector of the church, is commemorated in the north chapel. Further in land at Long Melford is Hasells Courtyard and here the village is famous for having one of the finest parish churches in the country. It is set on a ridge above the green overlooking The Hospital of the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Melford Hall is nearby.

Remenham Row is in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, perhaps the most iconic English town for early retirement. It is just a five minute walk away from the bustle of Henley-on-Thames and lies on the northeast bank of the River Thames, some 200 metres upstream of Henley Bridge. The cottages and apartments all have garages and a dovecote stands at the entrance to the main courtyard. The gardens unfold towards the private riverside frontage and the magnificent vista of the River Thames and Henley. Henley's name is synonymous with the Royal Regatta and the river and has a wide variety of shops, hotels, pubs and restaurants. Today it is as lively as in its Edwardian heyday.

Malthouse Court in Towcester, Northamptonshire is set on the east side of Watling Street close to the centre of Towcester and a short level walk to all the shops. Beyond the garden lies the magnificent park of Easton Neston, the ancestral seat of the Fermors‘, glimpsed through fine trees on the banks of the Mill Leat and often featured in Country Life. The racing at Towcester is very good.

Flacca Court at Tattenhall in Cheshire is built around a bowling green and opposite the cricket pitch. Tattenhall is an attractive village about eight miles from the historic city of Chester with its many attractions. The Shropshire Union Canal runs just north of the village.

Wyke Mark is set in a desirable residential area in Winchester, once the capital of Wessex, a ‘city of kings and priests‘, with the magnificent Cathedral and College at its centre. Rich in history and with the natural beauty of the river and the Hampshire Downs, Winchester offers lively culture and a convenient location.

Salisbury perhaps has one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the country in a majestic setting by the River Avon. Today the city is a vigorous community with sensitive new development bringing renewed vitality to the medieval streets where many historic buildings still survive. Winterbourne Earls just north of the city and Bemerton Farm just a mile to the east are two award winning retirement developments.



In search of active retirement - which areas are ideally suited for people looking for an active retirement?



A quick tour of the country might suggest that the south coast is one of the most popular places to retire due to easy access, climate and strong local economies employing lots of people (children of those about to retire). In fact in a recent Prudential survey their ‘Quality of Life Index’ says the best place to be is Dorset where provisions of ongoing unpaid care was one of the five key indicators. The West Country generally has always been popular for retirement and second homes and whilst the average retirement demographic for an English county is just under 19% retired areas in the West Country such as Dorset and Devon have in excess of 25%. Two good examples might be Bournemouth and Torquay.

Bournemouth is a famous seaside resort with wide avenues of elegant villas, gardens and parks set amongst the pine trees leading down to the sea. Well known for its mild climate the town offers the best of all worlds: an historic sea port in Poole to the west; a fine medieval priory in Christchurch to the east; seven miles of award winning, safe beaches; an internationally renowned orchestra plus superb shopping and leisure facilities.

Sandbourne Court is tucked among the evergreens in a favoured conservation area above Alum Chine in Bournemouth. The sea front and tropical gardens are a short stroll away as are the shops and amenities of Westbourne. Still graced by an air of Victorian elegance Westbourne enjoys the patronage of Bournemouth's most discerning residents and is valued for its highly individual shops, restaurants and friendly ‘village‘ atmosphere. Bournemouth itself offers the best of all worlds: an historic sea port in Poole to the west; a fine medieval priory in Christchurch to the east; seven miles of award winning, safe beaches; an internationally renowned orchestra plus superb shopping and leisure facilities.

Torquay is another seaside resort on the south coast well known for its panoramic setting overlooking Tor Bay. Sheltered by its famous red cliffs, Torquay‘s mild climate supports palm trees and sub-tropical flowers and as a prime health resort has attracted early retirees for over a century. The superb beach and harbour with its fine marina provide a centre for all summer sports. Although deep in the seclusion of South Devon, Torquay is easily accessible by road and rail. There are many interesting places to visit apart from the usual attractions and Dartmoor and the spectacular Devon coast offer endless opportunities for walks and views. Just outside the town is Kent's Cavern known to have been inhabited during the Ice Age. The Vinery in Torquay is a spectacular building in the classical style with generous retirement apartments.

The south coast of Cornwall might be ideal for a keen sailor and Lymington is popular because it is close to the New Forest and has relatively easy access to London. Cornwall and the Helford are not quite so good after early retirement as it tends not to be so convenient for children and you are away from too many cultural cities although many first class opera, ballet and theatre companies tour the country. The finest orchestras are still found in the major cities such as the Hallé in Manchester and the Royal Opera in London.