Why the nation needs more properties suitable for downsizers

Selling up to downsize to a smaller, more manageable property is something that comes under discussion in many households when children have flown the nest or a property is becoming difficult and expensive to manage in later life.However, historically, only a small percentage of people have moved down the property ladder.That situation is changing due, in part, to the cost of living crisis but there are barriers for those looking for smaller, age appropriate homes.

Here, estate agency boss Mark Manning discusses the issue of older people being less able or less inclined to downsize and the impact this is having on the housing market in Yorkshire.

He says: More housing stock is being locked out of the Yorkshire market as our ageing population is struggling to downsize from their too large family homes.

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Downsizers play a key role in the market and with more homeowners on different stages of the property ladder considering it a sensible option to save money at the moment, the need for more bungalows and bespoke homes for older people has never been more needed as competition increases for the small number of suitable smaller properties on sale.

More people would sell larger properties if they could find homes to downsize into, says Mark Manning.More people would sell larger properties if they could find homes to downsize into, says Mark Manning.
More people would sell larger properties if they could find homes to downsize into, says Mark Manning.

Empty nesters are stuck and this is having a bigger impact on the housing market than you might think.

Firstly, the pandemic created a boom in the property market at a time when there were health concerns. That restricted the desire of many older people to move house, so instead they found ways to stay in their homes through adaptations.

Rather than the upheaval of moving and the costs that come with it, some older age groups have been choosing to alter their larger family homes to suit their stage of life instead.

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For example, installing wet room style showers and stair lifts. Demand for the latter has grown tenfold over the last 20 years in the UK.

Making these relatively simple adaptations, which are easier than moving house, could mean the difference in prolonging independence in their own home for many, ensuring a quality of life that may be unavailable otherwise.

What it is not allowing, though, is the release of equity to spend on themselves and their families at a time when so many need an extra financial boost.

The lack of movement amongst this group of homeowners has inevitably restricted the volume of larger homes which come to market and this is contributing to stalling buyers in the chain below who are looking for their next move up or for a forever home.

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Downsizing enquiries from older age groups have reduced over the past few years, yet they have now increased from younger age groups looking to balance the rising cost of living with cheaper mortgage payments.

With a national rising life expectancy that is now at almost 81 years, along with government projections showing that over 70 per cent of UK population growth between 2014 and 2039 will be in the over-60 years old age group, it begs the question: where is everyone going to live?

Sadly, we are not building enough housing that is suitable for the majority of these people.

There are lots of retirement apartments and schemes but when was the last time we saw a large-scale development of bungalows suited to those looking to downsize to one level and who do not want to give up their garden or driveway?

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Retirement housing, including housing with care, accounts for only around 2.6 per cent of homes across the UK.

The limitations of specialist housing have made it a focus for provision, including increasing the number of retirement villages and housing with care.

What we really need to do is to encourage developers to invest into quality retirement accommodation to give better options to our “stuck” downsizers.

Take the examle of the Audley Group building in Leeds’ Scarcroft Park. This includes 172 luxury retirement properties set in a retirement village.

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This, of course, sits at the higher end of the market, but it would be great to see more developments like this.

I want the government to address the issue of downsizing in the Budget as we need more one-level, energy-efficient homes with driveways and gardens.

With Spring approaching, we expect to see more enquiries from owners who plan to list their homes for sale but it remains to be seen whether we find ourselves having more conversations with older homeowners who no longer want to pay to heat empty rooms and cannot maintain large homes with land.

The challenge will be, as ever, the lack of suitable properties for them.

*Mark Manning is MD of Manning Stainton, Ryder & Dutton and Mortimers.