Many people feel apprehensive about selling their family home, says Rachel Halliwell. Yet McCarthy & Stone managers see the worry and weight being lifted from the shoulders of homeowners once they move in. It’s like being on a permanent luxury holiday, said one
No one expects leaving the place where they raised their family and enjoyed many happy life experiences to be easy. A home is made up of far more than bricks and mortar; its walls hold countless memories, often collected over many decades.
But there comes a point when a large, rambling property with a garden to match requires so much effort to maintain that it becomes a burden. Looking after a sizeable house can eat into time that could be invested in an enjoyable retirement. Many find that once their children have flown the nest they end up using just a small proportion of the space anyway.
Moving to a McCarthy & Stone apartment, where headaches such as property maintenance are taken care of, is a way of freeing up time and money, allowing retirees to enjoy a more fulfilling lifestyle in their later years.
Katrina Andrews is house manager at the company’s Coppice Gate development, situated on the edge of Hampshire’s picturesque New Forest National Park. It is her job to look after the development and make sure that the wants and needs of its homeowners are met.
People routinely tell Katrina that their McCarthy & Stone apartment, and the lifestyle it affords them, has given them a new lease of life. "They tell me they feel as though an enormous burden has been lifted from their shoulders," Katrina explains. "And actually, I already know that’s the case because it’s clear to see in their happy and relaxed faces."
"You see a change in people so quickly – usually within a couple of weeks of arriving, when they realise their new life is as lovely and straightforward as we’ve been assuring them it can be."
She believes that leaving behind the stresses of looking after a big property, no longer needing to worry about keeping on top of things like hedge cutting and window cleaning, plays a big part.
"They don’t have to struggle on with these time-consuming tasks themselves, or worry about how much they must pay out to various handymen, cleaners and gardeners," she explains.
"We take care of all that, and the cost is included in their service charges, so they can budget and feel so much more in control of their finances."
Peace of Mind
Feeling safe at home can be a worry in later life. At McCarthy & Stone developments all visitors must get through two layers of security. Katrina says: "Visitors have to be let in to the main entrance, which has video monitoring, before they get near a homeowner’s front door. And there’s a security spyhole for added reassurance. Homeowners feel very safe, because I’m around through the week; the rest of the time, if there’s an emergency, help is just an alarm call away. There are call points throughout the apartments.
"And they have the added peace of mind when they go on holiday or away to visit family or friends, that they can simply lock up and leave, confident that their property is secure."
Katrina, who was recently named house manager of the year, has been a member of the Coppice Gate team since it was built. "I know everything to do with the build was spot-on because I watched it go up. Welcoming the first homeowners to start their new lives here was such a privilege and that buzz remains when new people move in."
A great deal of thought goes into where the company builds. Developments are in areas where local amenities are a short walk away – and mostly on the flat, with a bus stop nearby.
"Older people still living in their old family home often feel isolated," says Katrina. "They might well be surrounded by neighbours, but those people are often busy with their own families and hectic working lives, which can mean they go several days without seeing anyone.
"Here, there are lots of local amenities that are easy to get to, and their neighbours are people at the same stage of life, who have got the time and inclination to stop for a chat and enjoy a bit of company. "The social life here is fantastic, and many of our homeowners relish that side of living in this development. We have keep-fit classes, regular coffee mornings and afternoons where people get together to play board games. Then there are weekly film nights, we have a bridge club and there are all sorts of impromptu get-togethers."
For Katrina, one of the most rewarding aspects of her job is seeing someone who had been unsure about the move blossom in their new environment. She says: "It’ll start out that their family make calls asking me, ‘Is Mum okay?’ or ‘how does Dad seem?’ "Then they’ll be ringing to tell me how much happier their loved one is now, and how this move has changed their lives so much for the better."
Coppice Gate is a Retirement Living development, where the focus is on making life easier for the over-65s. This means providing safe and secure environments in convenient locations, where homeowners are able to lead fully independent lives.
For people aged over 70 who might need extra support, McCarthy & Stone Retirement Living PLUS is another option. Here an estate manager and on-site team provide 24/7 assistance, with flexible support packages that mean homeowners only pay for the care they actually use. The developments also have lounge-style communal spaces as well as an on-site restaurant or bistro.
Richard Wilson, recently named estate manager of the year, is based at one such development, Ellisfields Court in Taunton. He says: "When a new homeowner first moves in I ask them to write down a list of all the domestic chores they don’t like doing, or that they struggle with – anything from cleaning the skirting boards and polishing mirrors to vacuuming under the bed. Then, once each week, we go into their apartment and spend an hour taking care of all that.
"I tell them that I see my homeowners as members of my own extended family, and that I will always treat them with the dignity and respect they deserve. As an estate manager it’s my responsibility to ensure they are happy, content and thoroughly enjoying their life here."
Just as is the case in all McCarthy & Stone Retirement Living PLUS developments, Richard tailors each care package for the homeowner. "Nothing’s cast in stone,” he says. “Needs can change over time – it’s not a case of one size fits all. I always say that everyone here is reading from the same book; but some of us are reading different chapters.
"We tend to find that because of the strong relationships we build here we can spot where extra support might be required - sometimes only for a short while - and get that in place before a crisis occurs. Equally, there’s no point paying for care that you don’t need – here you pay only for what you use.
"Sometimes, you find the care packages people arrive with soon cease to be needed because the support they get as standard makes them redundant. Often, health improves because they feel so much happier and are enjoying much better social stimulation.
"Many people arrive having started to feel isolated because they’ve been living alone in large houses where they don’t see much of others. Here, they’re part of a community that they can spend as much or as little time with as they choose."
Richard says that one group of neighbours became so close they went on holiday together – only to come home and conclude life at the development was more relaxing. "They came back insisting that living here is like being on a permanent luxury holiday, with all your home comforts, so what’s the point in leaving?"
Richard says he and his team are intuitive when it comes to people’s needs. "There’s so much going on, no one ever need feel lonely, but we can arrange visits where we sit and chat with a homeowner.
"If someone has memory problems then we can help with medication and even give them a call to say, ‘it’s time for lunch now’.
"We would never infringe on their privacy. But we’re here, quietly working away in the background, helping people to maintain their independence.
"During illness, we can escalate the support we provide; and if someone is hospitalised, we can help get them discharged and back home quicker than many other patients might manage.
"We’re here for their families too. Sometimes a child of a new homeowner will tell us mum calls five times a day just to hear a friendly voice. Six months later it’s us having to call the family to reassure them mum’s fine – she’s become so busy enjoying her retirement here she doesn’t always get round to giving them a call. That’s when I know we really are getting it right."