Yesterday a large card addressed to 'Ms Lucy Melford' came through my front door. It had been posted to me, implying a background selection process that knew my age as well as my address. So I had been targeted.
The card was an invitation to consider buying a retirement apartment on the west side of Haywards Heath, Mid-Sussex's largest town. 'Before you see the rest, visit the best!' it said. And 'The biggest apartments for over-60s living in Haywards Heath'. And 'The no.1 location in Haywards Heath - quality independent living for today's over-60s'. The company behind this (Renaissance Retirement) had built '34 one & two bedroom luxury apartments in Haywards Heath, only a ten minute walk from the high street'.
'Rethink your expectations' said the card. 'We offer...' Well, this is what they highlighted, in their own words:
# A choice of one or two bedrooms
# Mezzanine galleries in some apartments
# High specification throughout
# Generous gated car parking
# Owners' Drawing Room with Wi-Fi
# Villeroy & Boch bedroom ceramics
# 24 hour emergency call system
# Lift to all floors
# Concierge to manage the development
# Caesarstone work surfaces & Neff appliances
# Guest Suite
# FREE SmoothMove moving service!
# Fully maintained external areas
# CCTV door entry system connected to living rooms
# Double glazed throughout and highly insulated
And there was room on the card for several alluring photos of one of the larger apartments. Those could be 'up to 1,875 sq ft'.
The current price? 'From £310,000 - £675,000'. And a warning that the development was already '60% sold'.
I was curious enough to take a look at Renaissance Retirement's website. See http://www.renaissancegroup.co.uk/. The development at Haywards Heath was just one of 27 scattered around the South, South East, and South West of England, mainly in Hampshire and Dorset. The locations were indeed highly-regarded ones. Here is a full list:
The web pages for Haywards Heath were at http://www.renaissancegroup.co.uk/haywards-heath-west-sussex. These contained details of apartment layouts and so forth, and indicated which were still available. It's worth clicking on the link to see what £675,000 would buy you in 2017, if you were in the market for a spacious retirement apartment. Curiously though, no prices were mentioned on the website itself. You couldn't see what any of the 'still available' apartments might cost. You were simply urged to contact the company and discuss your requirements/dreams/financial position with them. Perhaps a certain amount of negotiation was possible - but obviously they wanted an opportunity to hook you in before getting down to any of that.
So I didn't phone, email, nor click for a brochure. I went onto Rightmove instead, to see whether any of the apartments were on offer there. The best one was. Click on any of the following to enlarge it:
If you have waded through all this, you are likely to have formed a favourable impression of what Renaissance Retirement offer. No wonder the still-sprightly owners in the pictures are clinking glasses of champagne. Or is it prosecco?
But of course there are several snags:
# Would one wish to live in a colony of oldies, no matter how sprightly?
# Apartments may have nice communal areas, but nobody has their own private garden.
# All apartments tend to look the same externally. You can't stamp much individuality onto the outside.
# All apartments need some form of management, and that doesn't come cheap.
# It'll be leasehold, with a rising ground rent.
# Life in an apartment tends to lack the neighbour-contact that an ordinary house enjoys. There's no chatting over a garden fence, or as neighbours pass by the front driveway. It's all so very private - too much so.
# Life in an apartment is inward-looking, and can be very lonely and isolating.
# Life in an apartment is sedentary. You don't get much exercise. If it's a faff to go out, you don't. Lifts, stairs, fire doors, long corridors, unhandy entrances, security systems, not having the car parked conveniently - all of these things get in the way of seeing something of the world outside.
# Life in an apartment is unlikely to be completely tranquil. It's amazing how doors bang, keys jingle, and footsteps on stairways echo. Contractors doing cleaning and gardening work will disturb the peace. Older people with hearing difficulties may have their TVs blaring. The Haywards Heath development is in fact very close to the police station, which means sirens at any time of the day or night. (This isn't mentioned)
And there's the price. £675,000 is an awful lot. One of the small apartments might however be a better financial proposition. The Haywards Heath development has a ground floor and three upper floors. Here's the ground floor plan:
Apartment 8 on the south west side is available. It's definitely one of the smaller ones, and presumably is currently being marketed at £310,000. Here's the plan for it:
It looks as if £310,000 buys you a living space with only two windows in it, albeit windows that look out onto a rear courtyard, no doubt well-planted. There is quite convenient access to the car park, without of course having to climb stairs or wait for the lift. The south west side would be sheltered from local main road noise, though not the police sirens. I dare say it's a bijou, attractive modern little living space, beautifully designed; but without much natural light, no view of the countryside, no spare room, and you get in all only 624 square feet to call your own.
My detached freehold bungalow has 940 square feet of living space, plus an attic that offers some 200 square feet of storage, and a single garage outside for yet further storage. It also has front and rear gardens, and a driveway on which I can park my caravan and car. I can't think of any good reason to make a swap, because a small ground-floor apartment can't compare with a detached bungalow. I'll grant that I could sell up for maybe £375,000 and have £65,000 in the bank after my SmoothMove. But the caravan would have to go - or be stored inconveniently and expensively on some farm.
I wouldn't in any case want to detach myself from my local village friends and neighbours. Or if I had to, and were prepared to build a completely new life elsewhere, I'd seriously consider somewhere far away in the South West of England - or even northern Scotland. Why not be radical? £310,000 would buy a marvellous place on Orkney, for example.
Even £310,000 is a shocking price for a small apartment, however luxurious. And as Rightmove point out, it's not easy to get a mortgage on a retirement flat. These developments are for people who own large multi-bedroomed family homes and want to downsize. That's not me.
There is no way that the proceeds from my modest little home would fund a spacious Haywards Heath retirement apartment with its airy open plan and natty mezzanine. Only a small poky one. Which makes me wonder why I was targeted. They ought to have looked up the Council Tax band for my home, as well as my age! They'd have seen then that they were wasting their time. I'm already downsized. And in a retirement-friendly property to boot. I've no need to move, not now nor in the future.
So no thanks. I'm not tempted in the slightest.