The move to the country is a well-trodden path for young London families fed up with living in small spaces, sharing overused parks and fighting for school places. It is then that they turn to commuting and, for some years at least, they are convinced that rural life holds all the cards.
But within a flash, the sports days are over, the graduation photos have been framed and the “children” have left for the city — often with their parents hot on their heels.
These days empty nesters, it seems, just want to have fun. Statistics from Savills reveal over-65s hold £1.5 trillion in housing equity, some 43 per cent of the total housing wealth in Britain.
“Today’s downsizing parents are increasingly moving into London,” explains Savills’ Nick Vaughan. “The London they left in the Seventies and Eighties was a very different city than it is today. Not only have the shops and restaurants vastly improved, but with better place-making schemes, new- build flats in well-connected areas that were once no-go zones, such as King’s Cross, are now very desirable.”
MORE TIME AND DISPOSABLE INCOME
Even if this vibrant lifestyle had been on offer when “Generation Boomerang” first lived in London, most agree that, with young families to feed and fledgling careers to focus on, it wasn’t possible to enjoy all the city had to give. Now retired or having taken the foot off the work pedal a bit, there is time and disposable income to embrace the West End shows, restaurants and galleries.
“We’ve got prospective downsizer buyers at Chelsea Island, SW10, who want to move to London to do precisely that,” says James Taylor of Hadley Property Group. “They also like the idea of not being car-dependent. From here they can catch the Thames Clipper which offers easy access to Covent Garden.”
Another aspect luring downsizers back to London is proximity to children and grandchildren. A common mistake many make when downsizing from a house in the commuter belt is to move too far away.
“Decamp to Devon and you may see the grandchildren for just a couple of weeks in the summer,” warns Guy Meacock of Prime Purchase. “Grandparents are realising that moving back into London will give them the twin benefits of access to culture and opportunities to see their grandchildren on a regular basis. They are the Boomerang Generation.”
UPGRADING LIVING ARRANGEMENTS
London downsizers with equity-filled pockets are taking the chance to upgrade their living arrangements by buying large, lateral flats in new-build developments that come with five-star amenities. The “swallows” among them who typically fly south during the winter months to warmer climes, relish the ability to lock up and leave their home safe in the hands of on-site concierge and security, as they can at Buxmead, a development in The Bishops Avenue, Hampstead’s Billionaires Row.
“Among our first buyers was a couple who’d sold their large family house and wanted somewhere to live for nine months of the year, spending the rest of their time in Spain,” says Anil Varma of developers Harrison Varma. “They particularly wanted somewhere welcoming for their children and grandchildren. With the 25-metre pool, cinema room, games room and large garden, Buxmead ticked all the boxes.”
But it’s not a trend exclusive to those downsizers who can afford flats with seriously hefty price tags. Recognising an appetite among this older generation for easy-maintenance flats with lift access in areas outside prime central London, developers are responding with designs offering fewer bedrooms and more generous living space. “The important aspect for downsizers is still to have a feeling of space in their new home — that, and access to storage, are key considerations,” adds Savills’ Nick Vaughan.
NO MORE STAIRS. NOW IT’S LATERAL LIVING AND MORE FAMILY TIME
Robert Francis, 77, a retired businessman and entrepreneur from Notting Hill, and his wife, Anne, have bought a three-bedroom flat at Queen’s Wharf in Hammersmith.
“We had lived in our large, five-storey townhouse on a garden square in Notting Hill for over 30 years. However, with 40 steps from the ground floor up to our bedroom, it had occurred to us that perhaps a more manageable, lateral-style property might provide a more optimum living environment,” says Mr Francis.
“We took the opportunity to secure a garage, so will have on-site parking. Plus the lift travels straight from the car park to our apartment, so should my mobility change, my lifestyle won’t be impacted. The on-site facilities and infrastructure at Queen’s Wharf were a real attraction for us and my son lives nearby in Barnes, so being that much closer means we’ll be able to spend more time with our grandchild. We also travel regularly, so will be able to lock up the flat easily and be safe in the knowledge that it is secure. Locking up a big house is an exhaustive process and we won’t miss that responsibility.”