Until recently, there were few options for retirees in the UK. But this is changing as we embrace ideas from overseas, although not every concept translates neatly into British lifestyle, believes Andrew Surgenor, Savills’ head of valuation in the healthcare division.

He finds it hard to imagine us living in communities with names such as Shady Pines, offering gung-ho dawn-to-dusk pursuits, but admits improvements such as larger homes and more social activities are welcome. There are two basic forms of retirement home on the market in the UK. The first is rentals through companies such as Signature and Sunrise, where residents pay a signing on or ‘community fee’ and a weekly rent of between £500 and £1,000.

The second is ownership, normally on a 125-year lease with service charges (£2,000-£6,000 a year) and an administration fee on leaving. Faced with hefty management charges, downsizers and pensioners living in retirement homes around the country are fighting back and lobbying Parliament to challenge the costs levied by management companies.

Some are even thinking of taking advantage of the Commonhold and Leasehold Act that gives leaseholders the right to manage their own blocks as a way of keeping costs under control. Although companies such as Beechcroft Developments, which produces high-end homes for the over-55s, run the service side of the business as a non-profit-making entity, other firms do levy service charges. Mr Surgenor believes some of these charges can be high, ‘but are valid if there are plenty of amenities on site’.

One scheme likely to meet Mr Surgenor’s approval is Grove Place near Romsey in Hampshire (023-8073 1844; www. renaissancelifecare.com), based on the New Zealand model, where a flexible menu of services is offered to residents. Although service charges might appear high-about £5,000 to £6,000 a year-life there is based around a sympathetically restored Grade-I listed Elizabethan mansion, with a smart dining room, well-stocked bar and billiards room, and a gym, pool and in-house team of beauticians and therapists at an on-site spa.

At establishments such as Grove Place, where 115 homes cost from £175,000, you buy a leasehold property, typically for 150 years. When it comes time to sell to someone on their waiting list or on the open market, you have to pay the developer 20% of the sale price, or 10% of the original purchase price and any sales gain. If there’s no gain, the fee is limited to 10% of the purchase price.

Flexible service options include paying for meals when you want them-in the restaurant, delivered to your home, or you can get someone in to cook for you-and medical care when you need it. Knight Frank’s Jane Summers (01392 848846), who is selling one- and two-bedroom apartments from £175,000 at renovated

Grade-II listed Lincombe Manor Village in Torquay, Devon, also favours homeowner choice from a menu of care. ‘Service charges are estimated at £2,174 to £3,087 and cover building insurance and facilities, such as the dining room, bar and three reception rooms used for Pilates, bridge parties and wine-society tastings.’

For those alarmed about steep charges for a pool they’re unlikely to wade into or a bar they don’t fancy propping up, an apartment or cottage from £250,000 to £500,000 from Archstone Lifestyle Homes in the centre of small market towns such as Wilton or Sherborne is a sound option. Charges are only £1,400 a year, and they include a part-time estate manager who looks after communal gardens and helps with window cleaning, insurance and external maintenance. Archstone’s logic is that you’re only a five-minute walk from a delicatessen, restaurant or sports facilities, so why saddle yourself with huge management bills? ‘Keeping service charges to a minimum is a big selling point,’ explains Tim McEvoy from Archstone. ‘We break down exactly what people are charged, which buyers find reassuring.’

A word of caution comes from property consultant Bob Barlow, who is struggling to sell his deceased mother’s £249,995 two bedroom retirement flat in Essex through Frost and Partners (01473 823456) and Cognatum Property (01491 615961). ‘It’s a wonderful apartment, but it isn’t selling, and I’m stuck paying service charges until I find a buyer.’

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