We are an aging population and one of the greatest challenges we face as a society is providing health and social care for the baby boomer generation as they become elderly. The conversation on housing for the older generations is often discussed in terms of what housing professionals think this older generation needs; somewhere smaller and more manageable, somewhere that they are supported and cared for as they get older and less able. What is less discussed is what this older generation, those say 55, actually want. We often talk about what young people aspire to we rarely ask what people over 55 aspire to.
The first and perhaps obvious thing is that people over 55 have a range of different needs and aspirations. Recent research from the NHBC foundation shows that a third of over 55 movers went to a property of the same size, just over a third downsized and just under a third actually moved to a home with more rooms. This research also showed that people move for a variety of reasons. The most common was to move to a property that was easier to maintain and in better condition, usually a new build property. Moving to be able to look after the grandchildren is also a common reason and moving to the same size of property was often driven by the desire to allow family and friends to stay over. Other people, however, were moving into easier to manage smaller accommodation either because they already had health issues or because they wanted to move to a place they felt secure before it was too late.
Co-Ownership has recently carried out consumer research into the over 55 market, primarily to test whether an over 55 shared ownership product was viable in Northern Ireland. Shared ownership for over 55s is maybe best conceived as shared ownership without a mortgage. It is for people who own their own home outright but where the existing property value insufficient to allow them to move without assistance. So, for example, someone living in a house valued at £100,000 wanting to move to a new apartment selling for £130,000 could take a 75% share with Co-Ownership. This type of scheme is popular in England with many housing association older person schemes being around 50% shared ownership.
Our consumer research showed that people have many different circumstances and aspirations. They do not see themselves as elderly, as one person on a focus group said: “that’s when you are in your 80’s”. The triggers for moving were events such as children leaving home, friends moving home, the neighbourhood changing and the onset of health issues. The barriers were a mixture of practical and emotional, fear of the unknown, the costs of moving, leaving the family home and a lacks of funds to make the move.
What they are looking for is a property with less upkeep, somewhere without stairs and somewhere they feel secure. They need a reasonable level of space to host family events and somewhere to store the stuff they have accumulated over the years. Bungalows were what most people wanted, although they recognised that there were very few available and no new ones are being built. Location was also very important with people preferring to stay in their local community and to be near to their families and friends.
Unsurprisingly shared ownership for this age group wasn’t something they had ever considered, but once they understood the concept and how it could allow them to move to a smaller but perhaps a more expensive property and that they could free up some cash they were attracted to the idea.
As we look to develop a new over 55 shared ownership product with the Department for Communities, this research will be invaluable to allow us to design a product that meets the needs and aspirations of this age group. The biggest challenge to making it a reality is lack of suitable properties. New bungalows are not being built and current elderly provision is often considered too small and too institutional for people in this age bracket. What we hope is that the availably of a shared ownership product for over 55s will encourage developers, both social and private, to develop new schemes to meet this growing need.