Planning for your golden years? Make sure your next home is future-proof
Politicians and money advisers constantly urge us to save and take out the right pension so we're financially prepared for old age. And there's no end of dietary and medical advice to help us reach our later years in as healthy a condition as possible.
But what we don't often hear is clear advice on ensuring the homes we buy are also suitable for our golden years, or at least are readily convertible.
For empty-nesters, retirement suddenly doesn't seem that far off, and this is usually when people opt to downsize. But there is a lot to consider to ensure that what looks like a dream house to a trading-down couple today will be fit for purpose in 20 or 30 years' time, especially as they're unlikely to move again.
According to Gerard Scully of Age Action, fifty-somethings trading down ahead of retirement should plan carefully for challenges that may lie ahead, when the results of buying the wrong property could be disastrous.
"This is a time when you need to put measures in place to make your home accessible should your needs change," he says. "It's about future-proofing your home rather than waiting 'til there's a crisis."
Based on Age Action's experiences, Scully has six important tips for downsizers to consider:
1. Amenities - Choose somewhere within walking distance of shops, amenities and public transport. If moving to a new location, find out beforehand whether the local GP will take you on, as some are already at capacity with patient numbers.
2. Stairs and steps - Choose a bungalow or single level apartment that doesn't involve climbing stairs or steps. Avoid top floor apartments as lifts can break down. If the house has stairs, make sure it can accommodate a stairlift should you need one in later years.
3. Carer accommodation - Choose a property with a spare room which could be converted to accommodate a live-in carer in the future, or a granny flat if you want at some stage to live there while you rent out the main home.
4. Wide halls and doors - Look for wide halls and doors, or those that can be easily widened, should the property need to be wheelchair-friendly in future.
5. A ground floor bathroom - Install a downstairs bathroom or wet room with a sit-in shower. You don't need to install grab bars straight away, but put the supports in place that will allow them to be easily added in years to come.
6. Look into grants - Local authority grants and schemes may help fund home improvements such as upgrading heating and insulation. Contact your local authority to see what's available.
Ageing downsizers should also carefully consider the logistics of moving to an isolated location, despite the dream of getting away from it all in retirement. Remember, you'll need relatives nearby if you become incapacitated.
Kay Murphy, National President of Active Retirement Ireland, got a council grant of €10,000 to convert her bathroom to a wet room. "I had a bad knee and getting in and out of the bath to have a shower was a nightmare," says the 71-year-old from Shannon, Co. Clare.
"The new bathroom has a non-slip floor, a walk-in shower and a toilet at wheelchair level with grab bars. I don't need that now, but who knows if I will in the future?"
Planning for their old age was a priority for Dutch couple Bert and Corry van Embden who were well ahead of the posse when, in their late 50s, they downsized to a new home in Bray in the 1980s. With a strong tradition in their native Holland of owners future-proofing homes, the pair had what was then a showhouse tailored to create a flexible space to meet their changing needs.
Rosslyn Grove is a small development of bungalows by Kelly Builders in the Co Wicklow town. Number 6, later to become known as 'Corryville', ticked a lot of their boxes, being within walking distance of the town centre, with a south-facing back garden, no stairs to contend with, and an easy commute to Dublin.
But the couple wanted modifications before moving in. Could Kellys build a studio at the far end of the garden? No problem. This would become Bert's office/studio but also, with a nod to the future, it was built to be easily converted to a self-contained living space should there come a time when they'd need a live-in carer in later years (they didn't). The studio is currently used as a utility room and is also plumbed for an en suite at one end. A large window looks out on to a low-maintenance Indian sandstone courtyard with raised flowerbed. Next to the studio is a workshop and tool storage.
In the main house, floor-to-ceiling mirrored storage runs the length of the hallway, with sliding doors for easy access.
Two bedrooms were knocked together to create a bright main bedroom with an en suite wet room and a dressing area. The wall could be easily reinstated by a new owner to provide two rooms again.
There is a closed fireplace in the living room and electric storage heating throughout. New owners could apply for a range of local authority or Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland grants for energy saving measures.
Corryville would suit a young business person or family just as well as older people. Having served its purpose well, the property has been placed on the market, seeking €395,000, with agent Janet Carroll, (01) 288 2020. It's 35 minutes on the Dart from Bray to Grand Canal Dock.