Forever homes for last-time buyers

Waterton Green, Walton
Waterton Green, Walton
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A development near Wakefield aims to bring a fresh approach to over 55s housing. Sharon Dale reports.

According to Legal & General, more ag- appropriate homes for last-time buyers would be the most efficient way of helping to solve the UK’s housing crisis, while also cutting NHS costs linked to our ageing population. But tempting members of the older generation to flit and free up family-sized homes is a challenge.

Legal & General’s research found that while 28 per cent of older owners did not want to give up their home, almost half were keen to move but couldn’t downsize due to a lack of suitable properties.

When asked what the optimal age was to downsize, most of those surveyed said it was 70, which means that under-occupation is likely to be an issue for about 20 years before homeowners consider moving smaller.

Phil Bayliss, Head of Later Living at Legal & General, says: “A large section of our housing stock is under-occupied and owned by people over the age of 55. It is vital that the over-55s are able to make and act on the choices that are right for them.”

Older age housing has long been the domain of a small number of retirement property specialists but that is changing as investors and mainstream developers realise the potential of the grey pound and are increasingly keen to tap into a market where demand outweighs supply.

One of them is Engie, an energy specialist that has diversified into healthcare, education and, most recently, property development. It bought Keepmoat Regeneration last year and one of its main aims is to take a fresh approach to over 55s housing.

Its first retirement development is at Waterton Green in the village of Walton, near Wakefield. Building in or next to an existing community is part of the ethos so that Engie’s residents are not isolated. Work has just started on 129 homes in a mix of two-bedroom bungalows, houses and apartments. Prices start at £165,950 for a flat; £207,950 for a bungalow £208,950 for a house.

Paula Broadbent, Retirement Solutions Director for Engie, said: “Seventy six per cent of people over the age 55 own their home so we knew there was a huge market of potential downsizers. We did a lot of research and it showed that there is very little choice out there. Most of the properties are apartments and not everyone wants that, which is why we have done a mix of apartments, bungalows and houses at Waterton Green.

“People also wanted to downsize into a property that would help them age well and they didn’t want hefty service charges. That’s why we concentrated on building something different that was more affordable.”

The Engie homes are designed so the layout can be altered and adaptations can be made to suit those with mobility problems. All the two-storey homes have walls that can be removed easily to create an open-plan space and accommodate a through-floor lift. If an owner chooses to have a bathroom, a wet room floor will be concealed beneath, making it easy to convert into a shower room suitable for those with disabilities. Buyers with mobility issues can also opt for electrically operated kitchens.

To keep the service charges down, Engie has shunned amenity-rich schemes with shared lounges, shops, cafes and leisure suites and have pared down the offering.

Waterton Green will have a clubhouse so residents can socialise and which can also be used by the wider community for exercise and crafts groups or health care. Engie is already looking at accommodating Walton library, which is run by volunteers.

The clubhouse will be managed by a lifestyle co-ordinator/concierge who will organise pay-as-you-go services such as cleaning, home maintenance and dog walking.

Along with a peppercorn ground rent of between £5 and £10 per year on a 999-year lease, there will be a service charge of about £100 per month, which funds buildings insurance, window cleaning, CCTV, communal areas, the concierge salary and the clubhouse.

The approach seems to be paying off. Engie has already taken several off-plan reservations for the Waterton Green properties. The majority of buyers are from the Wakefield area and 90 per cent have a large family home to sell, which is no longer appropriate for their needs.

“We hope to start on another four over-55s developments in the next 12 months, including schemes in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.

“We also have planning applications in for one in Scarborough and one in Harrogate,” says Paula, who adds that while a mix of bungalows, houses and flats are a main aim, Harrogate will be an exception.

“Land there is very expensive, so viability is an issue. We are planning five different types of apartments in three small blocks,” she says.

*A show home is due to open at Waterton Green, Walton, near Wakefield, in July. It will feature a through-floor lift. For details visit www.engie.co.uk