Retirement properties: building for an aging population

Demand for retirement properties is increasing as the UK’s ageing population continues to rise. 

According to the Local Government Association’s ‘Housing the Elderly’ report, the number of people aged over 65 is forecast to rise by 22% in less than ten years, from 11.7 million in 2017 to 14.3 million by 2025. This means that one in five UK residents will be over 65 by 2025. This will increase to one in four by 2050. 

Senior man in his retirement property

Ageing Better reports that just 3.4% of people over 50 move home every year in the UK, which is half as many moves compared to the rest of the population. Their research indicates that most people who downsize only reduce the number of rooms in their property by one. Aging Better also identifies different motives for moving house among the older population. These motivations fall into two categories: Availability- and Accessibility-driven moves. Moving for availability is based mostly on want, for example, moving closer to family or retiring to a new location. Moving for accessibility is based on need, for example, when their current home no longer meets their medical needs.

There is a high need for new, accessible housing stock and time pressure to meet increased demand. Savills research shows that the over 65s hold £1 trillion worth of housing equity, with over half of this age group (3 million households) living in homes that are bigger than they need or unsuitable to meet their changing needs.

What are the key concerns when designing retirement properties?

Designing homes for the over-55s isn’t easy. Potential occupants can have an extremely broad range of needs. ‘Elderly’ is a diverse category, and people choose to move into these communities for a variety of reasons. As a result, adaptability is key.

However, it is clear that ‘rightsizing’ means something different to each buyer category. For example, first-time buyers are thinking towards the future, considering extra space for starting families or adding extensions. In contrast, older buyers are looking to manage property upkeep and often move as individuals or couples. Increasingly, first-time buyers are looking for properties that need few changes.  Meanwhile, elderly buyers are more likely to prioritise adaptability in case of changing needs. Housing units reserved for older buyers are often offered at lower prices, as most people looking to buy homes for retirement are living from pensions and savings rather than accumulating income. Therefore, it is worth factoring in a reduced budget when designing over 55s housing.

Accessibility

Only around 7% of existing UK stock currently recognised as meeting even minimum accessibility standards. Accessibility relates to size, location, type and quality of dwellings needed to meet specifically evidenced needs, in this case, retirement homes, sheltered homes or care homes. Over 55s accommodation needs to be suitable for individual adaptations to cater to the changing needs of the ageing population. This often means practical design considerations, such as widening doorways for wheelchair access, adding grab rails by the bath or bed and installing ramps or stairlifts. For homes specifically designed for wheelchair users, sideboards, kitchen tops and sinks should be installed at the correct height.

With the increased availability of assistive technology and Smart Home devices, it is now much simpler to adapt a property for individual needs. For example, mechanisms like front door locks, lighting, or thermostats that you can control with a smartphone can be easier to operate for people with limited mobility or vision. This can also include night lights, service alerts or motion sensors for safety.

Safety

Safety is a universal concern, but the risk of having an accident at home is greatly increased if the occupant is disabled or elderly. In assisted living facilities or retirement homes, there are often additional safety features. These might include emergency trigger cords in bathrooms and kitchens, as well as 24-hour support lines. 

The Aging in Place Guide has a list of safety recommendations when designing a home for older buyers, mainly concerning electrical and fire safety. For example, to reduce glare and shadows, which create trip hazards for people with poor depth perception, install indirect lighting. You can also use LED fixtures to reduce the frequency of changing light bulbs. Electricians should install electrical outlets 18-to-24 inches off the ground, to prevent bending down to access them. Additionally, door handles rather than doorknobs are a simple switch that reduces the risk of a fall.

Crucially, residential homes must feature accessible evacuation. Although escape-proof doors are standard practice on dementia wards, they create complications in domestic housing.  Fire safety for residential homes includes a spacious design, which reduces clutter and allows for heaters without becoming a fire hazard. Safety equipment such as fire extinguishers should be designed for a disabled user, not too heavy or hard to operate.

Transport links

Older homeowners are less likely to drive, so good transport connections are a significant factor in deciding where to move. Put simply, can the housing location be reached easily by public transport? In case of emergency, can first response services get to the patient easily? 

Loneliness and isolation are significant problems among the older population, so homes should have access to opportunities to stay active in the community, such as social groups and shops. Meeting health needs requires access to services such as the GP, pharmacy, or social services.

Given that very little of the UK housing stock is accessible, and the need for such housing is growing, it is important to respond quickly to the demand. By prioritising practical concerns, developers can make simple, accessible changes to housing designs. This will enable them to cater to a variety of occupants and needs.

How PlanRadar can help housebuilders retirement properties

Developers building retirement properties face several challenges. From careful budgeting to intelligent design choices, a lot of factors come together to make a development successful.

PlanRadar can help you to ensure that your construction projects finish on time and on budget. Our software solution helps you to oversee progress, no matter where you are. It also helps your site mangers to distribute tasks and communicate with subcontractors. As a result, you can react early to problems and ensure that all work is of high quality and complies with building regulations. Not only will your business benefit, but your customers will be able to move into their new homes with complete peace of mind.

If you’d like to learn more about PlanRadar and how we can help you, get in touch or start a 30-day free trial today.

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