Retirement Living: the future

As the UK population gets older, retirement living should be gaining traction and becoming increasingly important. However, in order to attract new residents and convince councils and developers that it’s a sector worth prioritising, a more modern approach is needed. Developers themselves have an opportunity to revolutionise retirement living, and now is the ideal time to set the wheels in motion. Nevertheless, there are some considerations to be made before jumping into this important sector.


What is retirement living?

There are three main options when it comes to accommodation and care for older people:

  • Traditional homes: A privately-owned or rented home
  • Retirement living:  Homes and communities especially built for later living. These usually include on-site care and amenities, such as gyms and communal spaces, while giving residents their own independent space.
  • Nursing care: Specialist facilities, where care is the main focus.

What trends are we seeing in the sector?

To successfully tap into this evolving market, developers should be aware of trends that currently define the sector. These are:

  • Retirement living is growing – With more developers and investors looking to work in the sector, there will be greater diversification in terms of offering. Uniqueness will pay off.
  • Moving away from the property ladder – Although the older generations are often of the opinion that buying is best, when it comes to later living, renting may be the most sensible option, offering increased flexibility in a cost-effective manner.
  • Improving quality of life – Retirement living should focus on quality of life, as well as care. Desirable amenities and a sense of community raise retirement living above traditional housing or nursing care.
  • Flexibility in the golden years – More and more, highlighting the flexibility that retirement living offers to its target audience is key. Whether that’s showing the benefits of renting or offering a try before you buy approach, flexibility gives older people much-needed autonomy.
What about planning?

There are some important caveats that developers need to understand about the process of securing planning for retirement living communities, buildings and homes.

These include:

Brownfield and greenfield – Brownfield restoration won’t pose much of an obstacle. However, if developing in a greenfield area, there may be increased scrutiny from planning authorities. However, including plenty of detail around how the development will benefit the wider community, for example specific amenities, is likely to make the planning process smoother.

Design – The National Planning Policy Framework includes certain aspects that must be kept in mind when designing a retirement development, such as accessibility, light and space. The recent amendments to the NPPF now include a definition of ‘Older People’.

Affordability – Affordability is a major concern, so although great amenities will attract interest, it’s essential to keep the target audience in mind and find the right price range.

Communicate with councils – Working with councils to offer a development that will truly benefit the community will help when it comes to planning. Their priority is the local area, so the developer should show that they share the same priorities, where possible.


What is build to rent?

Simply speaking, a build to rent property is a private, residential property that has been built and designed specifically for the rental market. These homes are typically owned and managed by a company, rather than a private landlord, and are based in dedicated complexes that come with a variety of perks such as a concierge service and leisure facilities.

Finding common ground

Although aimed at different target audiences, both the build to rent and retirement living sectors have relatively similar goals and offerings. Aiming to provide high-quality housing that people aspire to live in, there may be lessons that each can learn from the other.

It is not uncommon for both build to rent and retirement living complexes to provide a range of facilities and leisure offerings to residents, from gyms and swimming pools to cinemas and games rooms. By providing access to onsite care and health facilities, as well as leisure facilities, build to rent complexes could open themselves up to a wider, multi-generational demographic of residents with inclusivity at the core.

Building a community

The benefits of a multi-generational approach are clear for residents. Older people often gain a new lease of life when interacting with those younger than them, and a mixed-generation complex will facilitate those interactions.

Fostering a sense of energy amongst residents, those that have retired will want to keep up rather than slow down. However, any healthcare needs can still be met, with the same high-quality care services they’d receive in a traditional retirement home setting provided, alongside other amenities such as security or concierge services which can make life more secure and easier.

By building a complex that caters to all generations, developers can foster a diverse community, ultimately benefiting residents of any age.

Commercial advantages

There are also a number of commercial benefits to the collaboration of the two sectors. These are:

  • Potential for growth – by catering to more people, there is a higher likelihood of financial growth and income security.
  • Streamlined planning – having a multi-generational community means developers don’t have to ask for two separate planning permissions (one for traditional renting and one for retirement housing).
  • More accessible design – by thinking beyond a specific target audience, developers can attract more people through improved inclusivity and, as a result, achieve longer-lasting desirability. Examples of accessible design include wider door frames, ramps and lifts.

With both sectors ultimately having the same goal, build to rent and retirement living developers should look at how they can more closely collaborate in future. From direct financial gains to building a thriving and inclusive community, the two sectors can create homes that everyone wants to live in if they work together.

Research developed by our later living specialists has uncovered a gap between public perception around the retirement housing sector and the reality of what service and provisions are provided. But what’s causing this disconnect?

Our report, Retirement Housing White Paper, highlights a lack of understanding about the services offered by retirement housing schemes, and in turn, a growing raft of misconceptions among the public. Although, later living schemes play an essential role in our society, our report notes that people are often unaware of their benefits. Until these are recognised, retirement housing will continue to be seen as a last resort made out of necessity, rather than something to aspire to.

In order to tackle these issues, we must first demystify the sector. Our research sets out to do this, putting a spotlight on the sector’s main pain points, as well as actionable solutions and next steps. So, where to start and what needs to be overcome for the sector to strive?


On a quest for clarity

After surveying 2,000 UK adults and 100 representatives from retirement housing providers, we found that one third of the public believe retirement housing schemes are synonymous with ‘old people’s homes’. Many also thought that only the ‘lonely, single older person with health issues’ would benefit from these schemes. These common misconceptions are something that the sector must overcome if it is to move forward successfully.

Through our research we discovered that the main hurdles include:

  • A lack of awareness – People were unaware of the benefits of retirement housing schemes, such as on-site fitness and leisure facilities and guest rooms, with 78% of the providers surveyed offering additional accommodation for visits.
  • Misconceptions about fees – Only 28% of people believed these schemes offered good value for money, naming hidden fees as the number one cause of their wariness.
  • Terms such as ‘care homes’ or ‘old people homes’ – These terms have negative connotations and are not representative of many retirement housing schemes, yet they are commonly used.
  • Ageism in the sector – Much of the sector has historically relied on ‘dependency models’ to attract new residents. By using labels such as ‘older people’, this perpetuates the misconception that these schemes are a last resort.
The power of positive communication

Fighting misconceptions head-on is a vital step for the sector. Educating the public and key stakeholders including local councils and planning teams by using real-life examples and case studies, positive and appropriate imagery, factual summaries focusing on NHS and Local Authority cost savings made from such specialist housing provision and reports such as ours that highlight the many benefits of this sector from an economic and social standpoint, will bring retirement housing into the public eye for all the right reasons.

Improving public understanding

To bridge the gap between perception and reality, the sector can:

  • Start ‘open door’ schemes – Retirement housing schemes shouldn’t be afraid to show off. Allowing people to view the space in person can instantly disprove any myths regarding old-fashioned facilities and décor.
  • Highlight the benefits – Instead of focusing on who the schemes are for, promote their benefits, making them an aspirational lifestyle choice, rather than one of necessity.
  • Be more cost-transparent – From service charges to upkeep costs, potential residents worry they won’t be able to afford the lifestyle they desire. Providing clear breakdowns of costs will put people’s minds at ease and show that these schemes are more affordable than many think.
  • Clarify services – People want to know what they’re signing up for. Providing detailed information on the services offered will help people who are looking at retirement housing to take the next step.
  • Pay attention to the language used – Move away from negative, potentially ageist terms and shift towards positive descriptions that reflect people’s wishes rather than worries.
  • Move to the digital realm – Digital literacy is rising and moving with the times will capture a wider audience. It will also make information more easily accessible.

Retirement housing schemes will always have an important role in UK society, providing safe and secure residence to those who need it, not to mention the benefits from a new, supportive community. However, our report has shown that to move away from unwanted stereotypes and to appeal to a new type of consumer, the sector must update its image. By improving the public’s understanding through marketing and education, later living schemes can be transformed into aspirational places to live.

Download a copy of our retirement housing white paper

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Louise is the Head of the Building Communities team, having a passion for delivering development that brings major benefit to residents in terms of health, wellbeing, education, employment and the environment.

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Published: 8th September 2021
Area: Real Estate & Planning

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