Downsizing is crucial to tackling skewed housing market

Ryan Fowler

June 3, 2020

The key to unlocking the housing crisis lies in tackling the under-occupation of family homes where there are more than 15 million ‘surplus’ bedrooms, according to a report from the Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation (CSFI).

‘Too Little, Too Late? Housing for an ageing population’, authored by Professor Les Mayhew, Professor of Statistics at Cass Business School, shows that under-occupation is concentrated among the elderly population where people tend to live in couples or alone.

The report shows that elderly people should be encouraged to downsize, but the lack of age-friendly housing limits the options for millions who are open to moving but decide to stay.

Mayhew’s analysis shows that if the situation does not improve, the overall bedroom surplus – where there is more than one bedroom per person – is projected to exceed 20 million in 2040, with nearly 13 million people above the age of 65 living in largely unsuitable households.

Jim Boyd, CEO of the Equity Release Council, said: “We welcome the CSFI’s report and have long called for ways for Government to better support downsizing. This will give people in later life more choice when they consider how best to plan their lives in retirement.

“This choice is important as the report recognises that many wish to downsize when they reach retirement but have limited options. It also recognises that over-65s often choose to continue living in their existing homes.

“Our research suggests many homeowners want to live in their property for as long as they can in later life, and often share that home with multiple generations.

“Many want to keep on living in the communities which are so important to them, and where they have strong associations and memories.

“Our research found that almost three in four (72%) of homeowners aged 45+ want to live in their property for as long as they can, and this ‘home for life’ mentality grows stronger with age: rising to 77% among those aged 65-74 and 89% beyond 75.

“While policy-makers consider ways to encourage ‘downsizing’ it is important to recognise this is not a binary decision. For people who have already raised capital by downsizing earlier in life, equity release provides an important way to supplement their retirement income in later years and pass on a living inheritance to family members.

“Rapidly expanding product choice in the equity release market has provided more repayment flexibilities for customers who want to downsize in the future, instead of taking the loan with them when they move.

“Looking ahead, flexible home finance options that unlock property wealth have the potential to transform the UK’s existing housing stock to improve carbon efficiency levels by encouraging retrofitting and making green home improvements. Providing access to ‘green equity release’ products would help people unlock cash to fund energy efficient improvements and retrofit properties to meet environmental as well as care-related needs2.

“Finally, we support the call for a more joined-up approach between Government departments dealing with housing and health for older people. We believe there should be a Minister for the Elderly who can ensure broader social and financial issues are co-ordinated across all policy areas that impact our ageing population.

“While equity release is not suitable for every circumstance, it should be on all retirees’ checklist to consider as part of financial planning in later life, through a rigorous process of regulated financial advice and independent legal advice.”

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