Many of us will have thought about it, the family have grown up and left home and the house seems too big for two people. You have seen some retirement properties listed in the local paper, or while out and about, and the thought strikes you – “We could sell our existing home and buy a smaller place to retire to“.

This article concentrates on retirement properties in dedicated retirement developments or buildings, although many of the points below would also apply if you are thinking of buying a bungalow or smaller house on a normal estate.

Before you get too carried away with the idea of buying a retirement property there are several things you should consider.

1. Do we need a warden on site ?

Some retirement properties have wardens on-site (normally in “sheltered accommodation”) and these often provide that little bit of security for less active people. Wardens are not there to provide personal care or to help with cleaning nor do they normally undertake shopping for tenants. They will, however, keep an eye on you often calling regularly to check that everything is ok, and can alert emergency services if necessary, some may even get a bit of shopping for you if you are unwell (although this is probably not in their job description). If you feel that you need a warden you should check if there is cover 24 hours a day, some properties may have a warden only at night, or only during the day. One thing you should check is if there are any plans to reduce the current cover.

2. What kind of retirement property do we want ?

Retirement properties come in a wide range of types and have many different levels of support.

Usually, retirement or sheltered housing will consist of a number of self-contained units, these are often either flats or bungalows. Usually purpose built, or sometimes in adapted buildings, they will be specifically for use by older people, often with restrictions stating that only people over the age of 55 can live there for example (although often younger members of the family can buy the property for their parents).

There can be a large variation in both the size and quality of accommodation, ranging from single bed-sitting rooms with cooking facilities and bathroom, through bungalows and right up to luxurious 4 or 5-roomed apartments.

Depending on the development, the properties may have access to amenities such as gardens, swimming pools, tennis courts and so on. Many of the schemes will also have some communal facilities such as sitting rooms or a restaurant and some will have a guest’s room for residents’ visitors to stay overnight if necessary.

3. Where do we want to live ?

There is a temptation to feel that when you retire it’s time to sell up and move to the sun and escape the rain in the UK, maybe in Europe or further afield.

However this may not be the best solution, do you want to be near family and friends ? How about language problems, do you speak enough Spanish to get by if you move to Spain for example. Are you aware of the different laws regarding property ownership in France?

You may decide that even moving to another area of the country would mean that you would have to leave friends and family behind – this then means making a new set of friends in a new area and this does not suit everybody.

4. Is the location suitable for our health and other needs ?

Are there any hills to climb, you may be fit now but what about the future ?

Is it far enough away from noisy factories or busy main roads that they will not cause you any problems ?

Is the property within easy reach of shops, post offices, banks, chemist, medical services, parks, libraries, a church (if you want one) and other key facilities?

Is the property you plan on retiring to on a good public transport route, you may drive now but what happens if you have to stop driving ?

5. Have we thought about what furniture we will take with us ?

Many retirement properties are smaller than family homes and this means that you will probably have to reduce the amount of furniture in your new home. There may be some special pieces that you can not do without and these you will obviously want to keep, other pieces may have to be disposed of, either to other family members, a charity (some charities such as the Salvation Army and charities for the homeless may take pieces of furniture) or even to a second hand shop.

6. Are light switches and sockets accessible ?

There are rules in the UK about how high electrical sockets have to be (in England sockets mush be at least 450mm from the floor and switches no higher than 1.2m from the floor), but you may want to make sure that switches and sockets can be reached without having to bend or stretch. Don’t forget that there are other sockets as well (TV points, telephone sockets etc) that although you will not use so often you will still have to reach.

7. How will we fund the cost of the new property, and what are the ongoing charges ?

If you already own your own home you may be thinking of selling your existing home to fund the retirement property. Many of the developers of retirement properties (such as Bovis Homes) will offer a part exchange whereby they buy your home. You should consider this carefully as you may find that you get a better price for your home by selling it on the open market – talk to the developer and local estate agents before making any decision.

Often the retirement developments have a service charge, payable monthly or annually, this covers the cost of maintaining the communual areas such as gardens, entrances, hallways, stairs, lifts etc and the basic fabric of the building (roofs for example). The service charge will also cover any extra facilities such as that swimming pool in the basement that you use every day (or mean to use every day) and pay the wages for any staff such as wardens. You should check what the service charge is and also what it could be increased to – after all you do not want to move in and have the charge doubling every year once you are living in your new home.