Stop Talking "Downsizing," Let's Talk "Rightsizing"

Rightsizing with McCarthy Stone

Like many commentators in the later life sector, I’ve been droning on about the potential benefits of downsizing for many years. “Generation Stuck” makes all those excellent points again – release of capital, allowing family homes back into the system, a chance to restructure one’s life…

So why aren't more older people moving?

Most of us would agree: the housing market in this country is broken, with rents soaring and a large chunk of the younger generation priced out of ownership.

Can the nation’s older generation help? After all, they are regularly portrayed as the golden generation, sitting on over a trillion pounds worth of assets, blocking the hopes and dreams of younger people.

The ILC UK survey backs one carried out among subscribers at the back end of last year, when one third listed downsizing as one of their planned future options in order to release an average of 33% of its value: a sizeable amount. So, the will is there. One part of the problem reflects the broader situation of too few housing starts: not enough appropriate housing is being built. Despite the very best efforts of market leaders like McCarthy Stone, we are still talking of a few thousands units to sell each year - a drop in the ocean.

But there are some other factors, not least a planning system driven by the traditional house builders who just love to bang up developments full of two and three bedroom houses, rather than listening to what is actually wanted, and where social housing is regularly prioritised over older people’s housing provision.

Last year, I ran a housing workshop with older people in Yorkshire; here are just a few of the top line observations from a very knowledgeable group of people.

  • Many of us want to remain local to our existing communities and support network.
  • Not all of us can rely on driving later in life, so housing needs to be close to public transport if we aren't to be cut off.
  • All homes should be built to lifetime standards that allows them to be still used by everyone when their mobility reduces and so age in place.
  • Housing isn't just about bricks and mortar - but communities. We need to design communities and places, not just new houses.
  • Some of us need two bedrooms, for guests and activities; we may want access to a garden (if not responsibility for it!) and we often want to keep our pets.

A main point made by the Yorkshire discussion was the need for a greater choice of financial options – not least to those wanting to remain in their own home and repair/refurbish it, or to move to a part ownership property and release funds.

Disinterested expert guidance on an individual’s finances after any move is also essential: how much you can afford to spend and/or release – and still have a comfortable retirement? Once you start drilling down to these sorts of mathematics, the free LifePlan calculator on can prove helpful – not least if we feel we need to put aside capital to pay for our care in years to come.

To me the solution is four fold.

Firstly, all new homes should be built to a lifetime standard, so in years to come more older people will be able to “age in place” in their communities.

Second, we need more – a great deal more– dedicated retirement housing, and sometimes in smaller unit sizes, so people don’t have to move from their neighbourhood or village to live there.

Third, we need more financial options – rented, part ownership, even staged release of their ownership share – so that people can fund their retirement and later life care more readily.

Finally, downsizing sounds so negative: couldn't we describe it as “rightsizing” and make it aspirational?

Dugdale Court in Coleshill

Dugdale Court in Coleshill - one of the many developments built by McCarthy Stone to address the growing housing demand.

Look around the better developments now available: warm, well designed, secure and sociable. Many of us spend our first 50 years or so moving up the housing ladder and can get a bit anxious about a perceived move “downwards”.

But if we’re choosing somewhere that meets our physical, financial and social needs more closely than our current family home, surely that too is a move in the right direction…

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