OPINION: A new lease of life

Finding a suitable property for your retirement years can be a positive move, says Trevor Cooper

I WAS heartened by the overwhelmingly positive response to my recent comments about providing new, low-impact developments for an aspiring older generation. It’s a strategy that makes better use of Guernsey’s already vast and varied housing stock by releasing large family homes for younger generations and, consequently, smaller properties for entry-level buyers with a job and prospects but no house.

Today I focus on so-called last-time buyers, which is a dreadful expression, although not necessarily as final as it sounds. I remember selling a bungalow at Val au Bourg near Les Douvres Hotel in St Martin’s for a sprightly couple who had purchased the property 19 years earlier, upon the husband’s retirement. At the respective ages of 84 and 78, they decided to sell up and relocate to Australia, where their children and grandchildren were already living.

Finding somewhere suitable for your retirement years can be a positive move, looking forward to what should be an enjoyable and fulfilling time. Either as an individual or couple, considering your personal wants and desires might be a welcome change, especially for those for whom family requirements always came first in the past, and possibly with a lump sum to put in the bank into the bargain.

Not everyone is in the fortunate position of having a choice, however that’s no excuse for shunning the needs of those who do when there are wider benefits for society at large.

Not that it’s an easy process. The lack of suitable properties for downsizers at any given time is not the only obstacle, there are also psychological barriers to face. Prepare for a personal and even emotional battle if deciding to sell what has been a happy home. And if you have adult children don’t always expect them to approve. More about that later.

Another hurdle for some is coming to terms with living in a smaller property. Attitude is key to sitting in a smaller lounge, working in a smaller kitchen and negotiating wardrobe space in a smaller bedroom. Likewise the furniture and possessions collected over the years. Be resolute and look upon this as a new start, even an adventure, like the sprightly couple moving to Australia. Someone once told me that most of his possessions were in fact a burden and how liberated he felt having off-loaded much of what he’d spent his working life striving to attain.

Finances, of course, play a big part when house hunting during retirement. Mortgages are now available for retirees if it means having to reach for your dream property or location but independent advice is essential, especially with the direction interest rates are heading.

The same applies to service charges at some apartment buildings. These vary and can be substantially higher in some developments. On the positive side, service charges cover buildings insurance, regular painting and maintenance of the building and cleaning, lighting and tending to shared hallways and gardens. In other words, handling many of the responsibilities normally associated with owning a property.

Bungalows have long been the favourite choice, but not all bungalows are easy to maintain and excellent insulation qualities are essential. Don’t just accept that the roof space is insulated, let someone check that it’s more than merely adequate. And don’t be afraid to ask what the typical heating costs are – you should be pleasantly surprised, having previously heated a large house.

If you prefer to keep your money in the bank and rent a property, make sure you know how long or short the tenancy is and what your responsibilities are over and above paying the rent. Most landlords will keep a property wind and watertight and expect the tenants to look after the interior. But find out who looks after the garden, if there is one, and who pays the service charge if the property is an apartment or forms part of a private development. What happens if the oven breaks down? Understanding details like this at the beginning can save a lot of worry later.

A hybrid type of tenure designed for lifetime use is sheltered accommodation, combining freehold and lifelong leasehold units that allow a high degree of independence with minimal responsibility. These developments particularly suit those who find comfort in knowing other people are nearby.

Let’s not overlook those who prefer to stay where they are or for whom the benefits of moving are negligible. Equity release is increasingly popular in the UK but for legislative reasons not yet available in Guernsey. The process allows house owners to sell an interest in their property and remain in residence for the rest of their lives. The amount varies, not least according to the life expectancy of the owners, and the prudence of the concept relies on many factors. Basically, it’s perfect for some and disastrous for others. Once again, independent advice is essential.

If finances allow, through sensible borrowing or savings, another means of staying put is by adapting your property, if necessary to provide a ground floor bedroom and shower room. In any event, invest in an efficient heating system and additional insulation no matter what style of property it is. Part of your large garden could be sold to a neighbour, or the neighbour given a licence to maintain and make use of it free of charge whilst you remain living next door. Moreover, if you are of a mind to move but your family favour you staying where you are, suggest that they commit personally or financially to helping with the regular maintenance of the house and garden.

The alternative of swapping your large house with a family member who has out-grown theirs might make perfect sense for them, but not necessarily for you. Apply the same suitability rules as above and do not be bulldozed into something. There is always the option of selling the family member’s property to fund what you would like to buy for yourself.

The best advice is to think it through well in advance. Do not act impulsively, but neither should you wait until circumstances overtake you. Let ideas mull in your mind and, above all, do not agonise about it. Take a positive approach, because even changing nothing could mean you looking forward to a new lease of life entirely of your own choosing.

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