The thought of “downsizing” is not one that many people relish, especially when it involves saying goodbye to a beloved family home. To many, the problem is what it represents: that you don’t need so much and you are entering your twilight years.
Add a global pandemic – and the attendant health and financial worries – to the mix and you can understand why many people at, or approaching retirement, stayed put. But recently things have shifted: research by Hamptons estate agency showed that 181,100 people moved to a smaller or cheaper property in 2021, the highest number since 2016.
In particular, people with large family homes in the suburban or rural areas that have become increasingly sought-after have found it a good time to sell, said Andrew Perratt, of Savills estate agency.
“In previous years, people feared they would put their pride and joy on the market and it wouldn’t sell,” he said. “Now, some owners know it will sell reasonably quickly, plus they’re going to get a good price.”
Increasingly, a property for later life doesn’t mean a flat. Hamptons found that the number of downsizer buyers moving from a house to a flat has fallen steadily over the past decade, from 43.5pc in 2012 to 30.4pc last year.
The experience of Covid has made having sufficient space even more important, said Jennie Hancock of buying agency Property Acquisitions. “The various lockdowns have frightened downsizers at the thought of being trapped within four walls for an extended period of time.”
Older generations collectively own staggering amounts of housing wealth – the over-50s hold 75.5pc of all homeowner equity in the housing market, according to Savills. So instead of downsizing, many are so-called “clever-sizing”: buying a property with enough room for hobbies and part-time jobs.
Lynne Thomas, 52, took advantage of the strong market in the seaside town of Whitstable, in Kent, to sell her four-bedroom house there – it went under offer in a day – and buy a four-bedroom semi-detached house in Perry Court by David Wilson Homes in nearby Faversham, mortgage-free.
Having space was crucial to Ms Thomas as she needed a study for her work as a tutor and a bedroom each for her two sons, Sam, 21, and William, 19.
Some wealthy downsizers are even going against the grain and taking on properties with much larger gardens, said James Davies, of purchasing agency The Buying Solution. “One client searching in West Sussex wants three acres at least, so she can put up cricket nets and a tennis court for her grandsons.”
Memories of travel restrictions, lengthy separations and childcare issues during lockdowns means a huge driver for downsizing in the past year has been to move close to loved ones, according to Alexis Northam at Myddelton & Major estate agency. “Just as powerful as the race for space has been the race to be near grandchildren,” she said.
Joanna Saelensminde moved from a three-bedroom detached townhouse in Bognor Regis, West Sussex, to a one-bedroom flat in the market town of Midhurst where her son, daughter-in-law and grandsons live.
Ms Saelensminde, 79, can now walk from her flat in the Dundee House development by Lilyford to Sainsbury’s, coffee shops, antique stores and to see her family whenever she wants.
Families are even relocating en masse to be together. The Patels moved last summer from Cumbria to Warfield, Berkshire. Jeff and Lata Patel, both 68, bought a four-bedroom home in the Orchids Place development by Redrow one street down from their daughter Hazleen, 36, and her daughter, Siya.