David Alexander: Rental market for the elderly is still in its infancy

What will HM the Queen do when, as many of us hope, she reaches her 100th birthday? Send a telegram to herself, perhaps?
The value of the private senior living market, currently £39.6bn, will increase to £55.2bn in four years. Picture: Laurence WinramThe value of the private senior living market, currently £39.6bn, will increase to £55.2bn in four years. Picture: Laurence Winram
The value of the private senior living market, currently £39.6bn, will increase to £55.2bn in four years. Picture: Laurence Winram

In the six years and six months until the monarch reaches her centenary, more and more of her subjects will be receiving that telegram. According to recently updated figures by Age UK, there are nearly 12 million (11,989,322) people aged 65 and above in the UK, of which 5.4 million are aged 75 and above, 1.6 million are aged 85-plus and 579,776 are 90-years-old or over, with 14,430 centenarians. The latter has increased by 85 per cent in the last 15 years.

Consequently housing professionals are beginning to sit up and consider what increased longevity means for their particular market. Downsizing – leading to smaller, more manageable accommodation and releasing equity at the same time – remains popular with older homeowners but it seems they are becoming increasingly fussy about the choice it offers. This means the sector has to provide a wider range of options to older people whether they are in good health or even living with a medical condition as long as they can manage to do so independently.

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A recent Knight Frank survey gives a clear perspective of the challenges (and opportunities) that people’s increasing longevity offers to the housing sector. Like the market as a whole, location and access plays a major part in home-moving decisions made by older people. Of the 65s and over surveyed, 60 per cent had moved to a new location within ten miles of their own home. Living within comfortable travelling distance of a town or city centre was either “very important” or “fairly important” to 70 per cent of respondents.

One-fifth of the respondents were renting privately, due to life events or changes in household composition. One reason was that renting enabled them to live in a location that they could not possibly afford as owner-occupiers – mirroring a trend that is increasing among younger homeowners who are choosing their main home for “lifestyle” reasons rather than building up a capital asset.

Typical of the “new thinking” to meet changing demands from older residents is Royal Wharf, a block of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments specifically-targeted at those aged 55 and over, which is part of the multi-million pound Edinburgh Marina development on the banks of the Firth of Forth. The individual homes will be complemented by 24-hour porterage and a wide range of concierge services. Additional services at extra cost include housekeeping and cleaning, care-support registered nurse, medication administration, manicure/pedicure, physiotherapy and exercise classes. Communal facilities will include a private cinema, private dining room, business centre, dining room and hobby craft and art room.

Developments like this are a market reaction to the fact that the value of the private senior living market, currently £39.6 billion, will increase to £55.2bn just four years from now.

Increasingly that market will become service-based, according to Knight Frank. Originally designed for young professionals, co-living will provide a template for older-living residents. It points out that later living “isn’t stagnant” but is defined by change: from work to leisure, in mobility and in cognition. Living spaces should have a universal and inclusive design. Technology – until recently thought to be exclusive to the young – will be increasingly desired by older residents, not just to enhance their personal comfort but because it can extend the possibilities of independent living if linked to a seamless and sophisticated support system. Developers will also consider the fact that sight and sound alters as individuals grow older when designing interiors.

The over-65s are not only living longer but staying active for longer as well. Therefore I see no reason why should their home lives not be just as “cool” as that of their younger counterparts.

- David Alexander is MD of DJ Alexander.