February 19, 2010

UK: The rise of the new townies

. LONDON, England / The Times / Life & Style / February 19, 2010 City pads are attracting the ‘Uggs’ — urban grannies and grandads with no plans to slow down Pensioner have bought ten per cent of the homes at One Park West developement in Liverpool By Ruth Bloomfield Seven years ago Margaret Boden decided that the time had come to sell the business that she had spent two decades building and throw herself into a new challenge: retirement. To most women old enough to qualify for a bus pass, that might have meant moving to a cottage in the countryside. However, Boden, pictured here, defied expectations and used the money from the sale of her café to buy a city centre crash pad in a landmark modern building. Boden, 67, and her husband Albert, 70, had been living in the genteel coastal village of Blundellsands, Merseyside. The couple’s five children had long since left home and the couple were, frankly, bored. “It is lovely there, but very, very quiet,” she says. “It is a bit cemetery-like, really. I felt like my next step was death.” Last summer, when she saw the super-modern One Park West development — a few minutes from the Albert Dock in Liverpool — she was smitten. “I knew that I had to have it,” she says. The couple paid £70,000 for a studio flat and kept their seaside property in an Art Deco mansion block as a weekend getaway. Now Boden’s days are a whirl of shopping, meeting friends, lunching and cinema trips. A £15-a-week service charge takes care of all the cleaning (“I’ve swept my last set of stairs”) but their independence is intact. Even though One Park West (oneparkwest.co.uk) is not marketed as a retirement development, about 10 per cent of its homes have been sold to pensioners. Specialist developers increasingly are seeking out central sites to appeal to this rising demographic, nicknamed Uggs (urban grannies and grandads). “I feel very safe in the city rather than being out in the country,” Boden says. “Since I have been here I feel as though I’ve really come alive again. Just because you are 67 does not mean that you should give up on life.” Miles Kevin, a partner at Knight Frank, the agent, says that a growing number of downsizing retirees are choosing urban locations. “I think they start to feel isolated in the countryside. They have to drive everywhere and would rather be at the centre of everything,” he says. “The hobbies they had, such as horse riding, might not be possible any more, and they want to be able to go to the theatre or restaurants.” Many older buyers embrace contemporary design. “They watch all the programmes about doing up your house,” Kevin says. “They really want clean lines and lots of space. They like the look and it is also very low-maintenance.” Renaissance Lifecare (renaissancelifecare.com) specialises in “retirement villages”, but its latest scheme, in Battersea, southwest London, is distinctly urban. Peter Cotterill, the general manager, says that the location was selected to entice pensioners who spent their teenage years sipping espressos on the swinging Kings Road, just over the river. Work has begun on the site, which will include 128 one and two-bedroom flats and a selection of penthouses. There will be on-site restaurants and bars, lounges, a cinema, library, a billiards room and — somewhat more prosaically — craft rooms, a wellbeing clinic and 24-hour emergency-response cover. A similar project is planned in Fulham. “These are people who have a lot of capital assets in a property. Even if they downsize they should still retain 30-35 per cent equity, which should last them over time,” Cotterill says. The pricing strategy for the Battersea village has not yet been announced, but — reflecting its equity-rich future residents — the penthouses could go for substantially more than £1,000 per square foot. “The whole idea is that these are people who have gone through all the hardships of life, their children are gone and now they can have a ball,” says Cotterill, who suspects that some flats may be bought by parents who want to be close to children who are building careers and raising families in the city. The strategy is being replicated all over the country. The Wesley Court development by McCarthy & Stone (mccarthyandstone.co.uk) is in central Plymouth, with the Theatre Royal, shops and harbour all within an easy walk. The development has 75 apartments and a two-bedroom flat is currently priced at £184,450. Lisa Hunt, of the Birmingham branch of Savills (savills.com), is marketing two developments by Signature Apartments, both aimed at the over-55s and located in the desirable suburbs of Harborne and Edgbaston. “The city centre is only three miles away, so they are close to all the amenities,” Hunt says. “These are people who no longer want or need their big houses and big gardens, but they are still very active and they want to be able to go shopping or to the theatre.” Flats start at £185,000 and residents have the use of a chauffeur service, a “drawing room”, sun terrace, gym and sauna. The Edgbaston development, which will be finished next month, also has a restaurant. For those considering moving to a retirement development, Age Concern publishes a factsheet, entitled Buying Retirement Housing, which gives advice on everything from service charges to reselling restrictions. Retirement developments may have special clauses in the lease, so check the small print. Go to ageconcern.org.uk. [rc] Copyright 2010 Times Newspapers Ltd.