The government and housing market is obsessed with first time buyers but that is misguided, older people play an important role in the housing market too, influencing demand and sales
The grey pound carries much weight, and taken in tandem with the cost of care and support, is an important fiscal barometer.
Whilst local authorities and housing providers are responding to this market, much greater choice of housing and tenure is needed. An individual’s last home should be the pinnacle of their housing journey, and not one of compromise. Later life housing should focus less on care and more on hospitality and lifestyle.
A first step would be to recognise that later life housing cannot be categorised as one demographic. The housing needs of a fit and able-bodied 65-year old will be greatly different from a frailer 85-year old, much in the same way a home for a 25-year old will be very different from one aimed at a 45-year old. One size does not fit all just as age does not dictate need.
The current market is fragmented, catering well for the wealthy and for those at the very bottom of the financial spectrum, who together account for just 20 per cent of the market. It is middle income individuals, representing a massive 80 per cent of the market, that are not particularly well catered for.
And therein lies the first of many challenges for providers and developers.
The buying decision, and indeed whether to buy or to rent, is far from straight forward. All too often, the decision is made by well-meaning family members with little input from the person actually making the move. And the decision to make the move is often triggered by a crisis – an event that leaves their current, and often long-term, home unsuitable and with little time to find an alternative.
Another challenge is finance. For the older person, the fear of selling the “family silver” coupled with the loss of control over costs and charges when moving into a scheme where care and support offerings are levied at the apparent whim of the provider, holds back any decision to move.
Finance for those looking to develop housing is often tainted by the value and cost of providing services matched to the “extras” offered. Event and exit fees and uncontrolled service charges are seen as risks for those looking to fund them, as well as the provider looking to rely on them.
And then there is the cost of the care package itself. The much heralded cap on care costs is slowly being eaten away with local authorities are under increasing financial pressures.
If we as a community focus on the provision of later life housing on the individual – and view older people as individuals where no one size fits all - then we can start making headway on in delivering the homes individuals want at all stages of life and in locations where they are needed.
Charlotte Cook, partner at Winckworth Sherwood