Retirement property to lust after
- Credit: Archant
New developments for older people in north London are trying to convince over-55s that retirement housing needn’t be the choice of last resort. But will Londoners be convinced?
The thought of living in a gravy-scented apartment block with fire doors and municipal carpet, surrounded by people booming ‘dear’ at you, is enough to send anyone slumping towards a deep depression, especially when the prospect includes leaving a beloved family home.
Rather than seeing moving on from your current home as a defeat, however, it could be considered both an opportunity – the current trend to get more bang for your buck at a plush pied-a-terre in central areas like Marylebone and St John’s Wood suggests people are embracing an active urban retirement – and a good deed, given the congestion at the top of the property market.
For this to seem like a positive action, however, you need the place you’re moving into to be ultra appealing: well located, beautifully decorated, personalisable without too much work, and, crucially, with not a sniff of the word ‘old’ about it.
The absence of such properties in the UK market is one reason why this sector is regarded with a mixture of snobbery and horror by many homeowners, something not to touch with a bargepole, but there’s a new breed of niche developers who are working to challenge people’s perceptions and create desirable homes with a like-minded community and concierge benefits attached.
“We’re on a mission to transform a housing sector which has been under served for some time,” says Roger Black, creative director of Pegasus Life, who are currently developing a block of 29 two- and three-bedroom flats on Fitzjohn’s Avenue in Hampstead.
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“We think we’re designing some of the most desirable homes in the country in one of the most sought-after locations in the city. These are posh flats targeted to active, busy people who are downsizing to the centre of the village.”
The crucial difference between buying one of these flats and a property in a ‘regular’ block is the readymade community and tailored facilities that come as part of the package. Think spa, swimming pool, beautician, communal gardens and concierge, who will not only accept deliveries and deal with the management of the block, but can also facilitate the resident-led events programme. For events read wine tastings, book groups and walking clubs, rather than a nurse-led singalong and Coronation Street says Black.
The property management at Fitzjohn’s Avenue is run on a not-for-profit basis, with all residents part owning the management company to avoid sticky situations, at least in principle.
These luxury flats will come with a high price tag when they are released to the market in 2017 (Black won’t disclose exactly how high yet but says to think luxury flat prices).
For those interested in a slightly less urban lifestyle and the option to live in a more affordable property, Woodside Square in Muswell Hill will offer a mixture of tenures including shared ownership, rental and co-housing, on an expansive, leafy, relatively low-density site.
Unusually for “age exclusive housing” as developer Hanover prefer to describe it, the homes designated for over-55s on this site will sit alongside family housing, making up 30 per cent of the homes.
“It’s a blend and a mix of the two and we believe it will work well as such, because it’s a very spacious development. It’s not high density,” says Claire Anderson, deputy development director at Hanover, who are developing the site in partnership with private developer Hill.
“None of these properties will look like they’re designed for older people. No pull cords no emergency alarm system that badges them as older people. That will not be obvious in any way.”
Instead, Anderson promises “very high spec” accommodation with stone floors and underfloor heating, a tennis court, car club and extensive underground parking, making the site almost traffic-free.
The development is being built on the site of the old St Luke’s hospital and borders Highgate Woods, as well as being accessible for shopping and café culture on Muswell Hill Broadway and all the transport facilities of any London home. Anderson agrees that this is all part of an urban, busy retirement that will appeal especially to a demographic that don’t want to languish on the sidelines.
As such, Woodside Square aims for residents to be integrated in the community life on the development but also in Muswell Hill as a whole and in contrast to more rural developments, won’t have too many facilities on site.
“It’s all there on the doorstep, we’re not trying to reprovide it on Woodside Square,” says Anderson. “That means it’s sustainable, it’s not going to disappear overnight, which is always a danger if you’ve got residents paying for it through charges, it could be subject to cuts.”
A life less ordinary
What of the people who’ve spent a lifetime kicking against the pricks, pursuing a more alternative lifestyle, only to find that they are expected to decline into conformity in later years? For the socially minded, co-housing could be an option. There’s a group being set up as part of Woodside Square, led by social policy academic and cohousing advocate, Maria Brenton.
“Communities are made, they don’t just happen,” she says. “Cohousing is about making a community of friendly neighbours. It’s what the Dutch call ‘eyes on the street.’ If I fell down the stairs tomorrow, nobody in my street would notice.”
In order to foster this sense of community, one of the focal points of the development will be the common house, where residents can cook for each other if they wish, and hold parties and events.
Members of Cohousing Woodside will own homes centred around the common house, with the only visible accommodation to the resident demographic being the inclusion of a lift and bathrooms which can be adapted if necessary.
Other cohousing groups in north London include women-only group OWCH, who will be moving into their (also Hanover-backed) new homes next year.
This highlights a problem faced by a lot of older gay men – that many age exclusive homes are inhabited predominantly by women. They may not be able to change human biology but there are plans afoot to build the UK’s first LGBT retirement housing in the next few years.
James Greenshields, director of Tonic Housing, explains how he and his three collaborators came to start the organisation, which aims to provide housing for older LGBT people, despite none of them having property backgrounds.
“We were astonished not only to find that there was no LGBT provision in the UK at all, but also that what the research showed was there was a very high level of both experience of and fear of discrimination by older gay people when they went into institutional living, or when they employ people in their own homes.”
Their business case was made, and they teamed up with five foundations who have offered initial financial donations for intensive r and d. Greenshields hopes that they will have found a development partner and a site within the next six months and will have started building within a year.
“At the moment we’re looking both in London and in Brighton. We want it to be an urban site, we want it to be in the south east and London and Brighton both have disproportionately large gay populations.
“We want it to be somewhere that people look forward to living in, a broad community with an energy and dynamism. We’re planning a mixed tenure arrangement with a range of affordability, because we want it to be available to the most vulnerable people.
“We also want it to have a majority LGBT population, so that it retains its identity, but with straight people living there too – we aren’t into creating a gay ghetto.”
What all these new developments share is that they shouldn’t be seen as a destination of last resort but as a positive choice.
Roger Black says that Pegasus Life have had 300 serious enquiries already, confounding expectation. “We had this idea that people would be stepping down on the market to release equity. Half of our applicants are doing this, but the other half are stepping up. There may be some people who live in other parts of London who think ‘This is my last roll of the dice, I want to live somewhere really special.’”