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How to Adapt Your New Home:

by Tony Watts OBE

Choosing where to live later in life throws up a raft of issues that the average estate agent will invariably gloss over in their fulsome particulars. So here are some thoughts to ponder upon if you’re at the “thinking about moving” stage.

The property market is rather good at coming up with nifty euphemisms to describe the homes they are selling... and sometimes the people they are hoping to sell to.

Forget “first time buyers”. The market that many now target are “last time buyers”... people in their 60s and 70s and sometimes later. No. I’m not so keen either, being in that age bracket myself. It does sound, well, sort of final...

But they have a point. With luck, a house or apartment you move to at this stage will be somewhere that you can “age in place”, and remain living in independently for as long as possible. The secret to making that happen is to objectively look ahead when you do your house hunting and anticipate what your needs and aspirations might be 10, 20 or (with luck) even 30 years down the line.

Moving home is expensive, tiring and frequently frustrating at best, and it doesn't become any less so as time progresses; so, if you can make this the last home you’ll ever need, that has to worth the effort.

One key consideration is to focus on accessibility within the house and garden. Yes, you might well be fit and agile now, but why not plan for a time when your mobility perhaps becomes a tad more restricted?

Equally, if you have arrived at the point where you are already starting to struggle with some aspects of using your home, here are a few ideas to inform the decision you're about to make, or help you to compile a list of things you might need to change about a house you like...


Adapting your home to make it safer

If you're looking to cut climbing out of your daily life, either now or in the years ahead, bungalows are obviously an ideal choice.

However, they aren’t always an option. Yes, there are some 2.5 million in the UK, just under a tenth of the housing stock, but currently only around 2,000 or so are being built each year in the UK – not enough to meet the growing cohort of older people who’d like to live in one. Research in 2021 by McCarthy Stone found that 70% of over-65s would consider moving to a bungalow; and their popularity, combined with the shortage of supply does makes them relatively expensive for the space you get for your money.

Most retirement properties will also provide accommodation on one level. According to research by Inspired Villages, 4.6 million over-60s say they’d like to move into one. But retirement developments aren’t for everyone; and, anyway, they too are in short supply. Only 2.5% of the UK's 29 million dwellings are technically defined as “retirement housing” and just 7,000 more are being built each year too, it might be difficult to find one in the location you’re keen on; and, again, you will get less space for your money than in a conventional property.

That leaves you with finding an ideal match amongst the mainstream houses on offer. And if nothing comes up that ticks all the boxes, don't give up: perhaps some adaptations now or in the future might be the answer.

For instance, if you think a stairlift might be the answer, either now or in the future, do check that the house could readily be fitted with one. Most can, but beware of narrow curved staircases with limited headroom – as you can find in many older cottages for instances. The typical cost you might want to allocate to have one fitted going forward is between £3,500 and £4,500.

And if you aren't ready yet for a stair lift, at least make sure that any steps in the house have the reassuring presence of a handrail next to them.

How accessible is your new garden?

If you look at a garden and think it might not be suitable in the future, here are some possible remedies.

  • Flights of steps into the house or the garden that might become a problem in the future can be made more safely navigable by fitting a ramp or handrails.
  • Steep gardens may mean that you eventually lose access to parts ofit, but creating a series of levels might help.
  • Installing raised beds can keep you gardening well past the time when bending or kneeling for long periods becomes uncomfortable.

Adapting your home to make it more accessible

  • Bathrooms can also pose problems when it becomes trickier to get into or out of a conventional tub, as can showers with restricted access. Could the bathroom (or bathrooms) in the house you’ve taken a shine to be readily converted into the much safer option of awalk-in shower or wet room at some time in the future?
  • Alternatively, a walk-in bath to replace the existing one might be the answer.
  • Cupboards can present their own challenges: ones that require you to bend or even kneel down might make them difficult to use in the future, as can cupboards that rely on you using steps. Investing in storage equipment that can easily be used without bending or stretching might be a remedy.
  • Eye-level ovens not only make it easier to check how your dinner is progressing; they also avoid lifting up heavy dishes at an uncomfortable angle.
  • Good lighting is a safety essential: make sure that the lights in every room can be switched on or off at each entrance point; and that the lighting is particularly bright on the stairs, where the most serious accidents in the home occur.
  • And on the topic of falls, rugs and carpets might make a home feel warmer, but they too can present a health hazard going forward. Wooden or vinyl floors are a much safer option.

With all that in mind, your choices for a new home might be greater than you’d imagined...