THE NEW DOWNSIZER DREAM: WHY LONDONERS DON’T HAVE TO LOOK AS FAR AS THEY THINK

The lockdown has surfaced a new homebuyer wish-list, with many property firms and portals reporting a surge of enquiries for bigger gardens, rural locations, and idyllic views[1]. But, whilst the countryside may be seeing a resurgence, for some families and downsizers staying connected to the capital remains an important consideration.

Vibhaker Baxi [72] and his wife Hina [64] from Hendon, were able to find the best of both worlds at Barratt London’s Ridgeway Views development in leafy Mill Hill. They are one of the many London downsizers that want to stay close to friends, family and amenities, but knew staying where they were and maintaining a five-bedroom family house was out of the question.

“We just didn’t want to spend the money anymore – the cost of heating and upkeep of a big house for the two of us became arduous,” explains Vibhaker, a retired treasury operations manager who has lived in London for more than 40 years. “We also knew that if we left it any later, we wouldn’t have the energy to physically be able to move house. Decluttering a lifetime of memories is no easy task.”

He wanted a four-bedroom lateral apartment, but this proved incredibly hard to find. “After months of searching, we extended our area from Barnet right up to Slough and Uxbridge – the whole corridor, even as far as Stevenage. One option was a bungalow, but we didn’t want the garden and upkeep. The further away from Hendon we got, the less comfortable we felt,” he says.

Larger, single-storey homes are a market rarely catered to in London and the commuter belt. Whilst dedicated retirement homes for those aged over-55 are often one step too far for some couples, other new-builds that could be a suitable solution are often dominated by the first-time buyer market.

“We wanted a middle ground, somewhere to not feel put out to pasture, with a mix of age groups and facilities,” says Vibhaker. He turned his attention to a penthouse option – slightly smaller in square footage but with the hope of gaining incredible panoramic views. Barratt London’s Ridgeway Views development in nearby Mill Hill quickly rose to the top of their list.

Vibhaker says, “This was by far the best alternative; three generous bedrooms and staggering views overlooking the Totteridge Valley. We are just a couple of miles from our old house but by sitting in a conservation belt, there are no obstructions as far as the eye can see – you can’t believe that you are in London! We’re west facing allowing an extended period of sunshine in summer months. The huge terrace and balcony is a great compensation for giving up a private garden.”

Leafy Mill Hill village, which claims the shortest High Street in London, offers buyers a country feel in an accessible London location, complete with charming duck pond and country pub.

Vibhaker continues, “In terms of location, this has allowed me to keep the same GP, go to the same pubs and all my favourite restaurants. I can still use the bus and tubes if I want to – it’s incredibly flexible.”

“We could have gone to the countryside and perhaps paid 15% less, but it works out the same once you factor in that you are only likely to find a period property with higher maintenance costs, likely renovation costs and without the option of stamp duty paid. Our view was, if you want to see a play or concert, it’s much easier than being 30 miles out and waiting for often cancelled overground trains – we’re too old to be doing that now.”

“Ultimately, I knew I wasn’t giving up more than I was gaining. As with the nature of downsizing, the compromises were a smaller kitchen, less storage, fewer bedrooms, but the upsides were vast – we have two secure underground car parking spaces with electric charging points, a concierge, a gym, lifts, close neighbours, a sense of community, and being on one level is perfect for my 97 year-old live-in mother, keeping her safe and feeling closer to us. We don’t have to worry about security or maintenance, plus the building insurance was included in the management fee which saved on extra costs. And you couldn’t make the views up – they are really quite amazing.”

For sale at a guide price of £915,000, Vibhaker and his wife purchased the three-bedroom penthouse apartment at Ridgeway Views with the additional benefit of stamp duty paid and use of Barratt London’s Movemaker scheme. The unique arrangement is ideal for buyers who have a home they are trying to sell. It means estate agency fees are taken care of and your home will have a better chance of selling with the management and assistance of Barratt London throughout the sale.

“The Movemaker scheme meant we didn’t have to pay a huge reservation deposit up front for the new property either,” explains Vibhaker. “When you’re in a chain, from a cash flow point of view, it really helps. Barratt London worked with an estate agent and had a strategy in place with the Movemaker Scheme – to put our family home on the market for four weeks at the medium guide price from the three valuations they had arranged, then we had a choice of bringing the price down or we could pull out of the scheme. The house actually sold on the first viewing! It had previously been on the market for months and we thought we couldn’t sell it, so we were ecstatic. Luckily, the timing of all this was in our favour – managing to move before lockdown by mid-February.”

The couple have since enjoyed some of the freedoms of downsizing, taking in the amazing penthouse views. Vibhaker says, “The equity that we have been able to release gives us a buffer in old age and a chance to really enjoy our time. The apartment has that lock-up-and-leave flexibility too, so we’re much more mobile to visit our daughter and grandchildren once they move to Singapore.”

Pam Reardon, Sales Director from Barratt East London, comments, “There are many hurdles stopping people from moving into smaller properties in later life, but top of the list is the chronic shortage of suitable and desirable alternatives, and a lack of support to make a move. Our Ridgeway Views development has been designed to cater to a range of age groups with financial help for each type of homebuyer and large, flexible living spaces on offer. We want to create a close-knit community that offers convenience with a little bit of luxury. Our buyers so far have been local downsizers like Vibhaker and his wife, and families looking for more space.”

A report commissioned by the Centre for Ageing Better (CfAB) last year found that 72 per cent of UK adults thought that all new homes should be built to suit occupants of all ages and abilities.

Pam agrees, “Age-proof homes with diverse communities that keep people connected to each other are a much more fulfilling alternative to traditions of the past.”

“Take Ridgeway Views as an example; convenience is offered in spades set 30 minutes from central London, you have parking available for each and every home, whilst extra touches makes this a proper lifestyle setting, such as the proposed on-site café for your morning walk along a dedicated nature trail. The surrounding 4,000 trees won’t let you forget how close you are to nature – a real best of both worlds.”

Perched on a hilltop position, Barratt London’s Ridgeway Views offers a choice of luxurious two and three-bedroom apartments from £690,000. The new 448-home development opens up views across green fields and enjoys a residents’ gym and concierge. It is under a 20-minute walk from Mill Hill East, and just a short drive from Mill Hill Broadway.

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