Wealth of choice

Many of us want to downsize in later life, and fortunately there are options to suit everyone, says Jo Knowsley
We all have to make many important decisions when we are young: what career should I pursue? Should I get married? Do I want to have children? In later life the decisions are different, but no less important.

Where do you want to live as your needs change? Do you want to spend time by the sea or would you rather be in a city where everything you need is on your doorstep? Then there's the question of what help and support you or your partner might need. The options can seem overwhelming.

Thankfully, we are now spoiled for choice. There are many different options available for people who want to live independently, but they fall into two broad categories.

The first is independent living communities. These developments are designed for older people, and they range from those where there are few or no additional services to luxury retirement villages that might have wellness centres, hairdressing salons and restaurants.

For those requiring a greater level of support there are assisted living communities. These will have a manager on-site to provide a higher level of safety and security. They will usually also offer domestic help and personal care if required, as well as amenities like cafés and gardens.

Anchor is a not-for-profit company that is England's largest provider of specialist housing and care for those in later life. It manages 54,000 homes for rent and sale to people aged 55 and over across 1,700 sites, and operates in more than 85% of local council areas in England.

'We develop homes that are a positive choice for people in later life, creating communities that bring people together, encouraging neighbourliness and reducing isolation,' says an Anchor spokesman.

'We are building 5,700 new homes over the next ten years to meet varied needs across a range of tenures. We develop energy-efficient homes that help reduce energy use and carbon emissions, while protecting our green spaces to support the environment and benefit residents' wellbeing.

'Helping people enjoy later life is our passion, as it has been for more than 60 years. We are committed to creating options and opportunities for everyone.' Anchor offers choices from independent living to 24-hour care, with a variety of tenure options - leasehold sale, rental, shared ownership and residential care homes - and has luxurious retirement villages in Buckinghamshire and Hampshire.

Assisted Living magazine recently listed its top retirement villages in the UK. These include Hollins Hall in Harrogate, which lies within 14 acres of landscaped grounds and features a variety of beautiful houses, apartments and cottages for sale. Each home has safety alarms linked to a central monitoring system.

Other locations include Corsham in Wiltshire; Charters Village in East Grinstead, Sussex; Gittisham Hill Park in Honiton, Devon; Audley Nightingale Place in Clapham, London and Durrants Village in Faygate, near Horsham in Sussex. Each has its own distinct character but all are set in leafy grounds with a number of award-winning features.

If you want to guarantee a later life of luxury you might also want to consider one of seven residential villages run by Elysian Residences. Its crème de la crème property is Wildernesse House, in Sevenoaks, Kent, which exudes the air of a majestic country residence. Set in 24 landscaped acres, the Grade IIlisted historic residence dates to 1327.

Today, this grand mansion has been reinvented with a new and very contemporary purpose: as a unique retirement community. The 23 luxurious one and two-bedroom apartments and eight newly built contemporary mews houses all have access to on-site five-star hotel-style facilities, including a coffee and cocktail bar, the Pavilion restaurant, and a health spa with swimming pool and treatment rooms. In the grounds there are leafy walking paths, lush gardens and even a croquet lawn. It has the ambience of a luxury boutique hotel.

The apartments in the main house all have individual layouts and are beautifully spacious and light, with large, open-plan living rooms, dining and kitchen areas.

Close to the main house, where a mews may once have stood, is a terrace of new two-bedroom contemporary houses, designed in Scandinavian style with balconies and covered terraces - all in stunning contrast to the Jacobean mansion. Some have vaulted ceilings and beautiful gardens.

The health spa - for residents and guests - offers a sauna, steam room, treatment rooms, gym and a swimming pool.

'What makes Wildernesse House so special is that it is staffed by a superbly well-trained team whose purpose is to attend to the needs and requirements of the homeowners,' says Elysian Residences chief executive Gavin Stein.

'This is a stately home that has been transformed into the most luxurious and exceptional retirement community in the Home Counties. It sets a new benchmark for quality and lifestyle, but with a rich heritage and the amenities of a five-star hotel.'

Of course, you can still decide to go it alone when downsizing from a family home to a house or apartment that would better meet your needs in your later years. A top tip is to think of what you enjoy about your current location and to explore properties that offer similar amenities. If you are a townie you will probably be more at home in a similarly buzzy environment, for example.

Popular retirement locations in the UK include Suffolk (ideal for those looking for a place that is quiet without being dull) and Essex, with charming villages such as Tillingham and Castle Hedingham, which are only 30 minutes from central London.Sussex is also close to the capital and boasts great swathes of open landscape - the South Downs are right on your doorstep.

If you're more of an urbanite, consider Brighton, where there are beaches for brisk walks and a trendy dynamism for those who still feel young in spirit.

Dorset, Devon and Pembrokeshire remain popular, as does the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales, North York Moors, the Peak District, York and pictureperfect Bath.

Oxfordshire and Lincolnshire are fast favourites, together with Cardiff, Glasgow, Fife, Durham and Lancaster. Jane Slade, the founder of the retirement property website Retiremove, says there has been a real shift in people's priorities when it comes to choosing a place to retire. 'The covid pandemic, coupled with soaring energy costs, has focused people's sights on seeking out new, well-insulated homes in luxury retirement developments in the heart of vibrant communities,' she says.

'The far-flung rural landscapes and coastal hotspots are no longer among people's first choices. People want to be near buzzing market towns with cultural attractions and good restaurants. Cities are emerging as the new retirement hotspots.

'Wildernesse House has the ambience of a luxury boutique hotel'

'London is a top destination for many retirees. If you have worked most of your life in the capital, love going to the theatre and have friends nearby, why would you want to move to Bournemouth?'

Another surprising hotspot is Royal Tunbridge Wells in East Sussex. With regular trains to London and to the coast, the town offers the best of both worlds to residents.

So what are the main financial considerations when buying a retirement property? Most of them are leasehold, which means there may be restrictions on how you use the property and there will be additional service charges.

Retirement properties can be more difficult to re-sell as there is a smaller pool of potential buyers. Restrictions on the use of the property might also mean it will not achieve such a high price on the open market.

But moving to a retirement property has a host of benefits. You can choose a place that is more appropriate for your needs, where you can feel safe and secure and enjoy the company of like-minded people of your age in a supportive community.

This feature first appeared in the June 2024 issue of The Lady magazine.