Country houses for sale

Over 65s in Britain sitting on £2.7 trillion worth of property — yet many are struggling to downsize

Despite choppy economic waters in the housing market, their main motivation for upping sticks are lifestyle factors, according to Savills.

An elegant Highland castle and estate on the market for the first time in eight centuries’. OK, the enchanting 481-acre Scottish estate is an extreme example. But if you’ve pored over the fabulous piles for sale in Country Life — which, if you’re looking at this website, is almost certain to be the case — you may well have spotted that a number come to the market after a considerable spell of ownership.

Fresh research from Savills reveals that more than half — 51% — of downsizers have owned their homes for more than 20 years, and 75% for more than a decade.

And although leaving a home after many years can be a wrench to say the least, downsizers and empty nesters are among the most ‘committed’ buyers in the housing market right now.

It helps that they have considerable firepower. Homeowners aged 65 and over hold a record £2.587 trillion (yes: trillion) of net housing wealth in homes worth a total of £2.735 trillion, according to Savills.

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In short, many of these are cash-rich homeowners who have built up considerable housing equity over the years. What a nice position to be in.

‘Those looking to downsize or move on from long-term family homes are in a strong position in today’s market, many having benefitted from the strong house price growth of the past 20 years,’ explains Frances McDonald, director of research at Savills. It’s something that any frustrated would-be buyer under the age of 50 could have told you, but in the present market there’s another dimension: while younger buyers who are dependent on mortgages are feeling the pinch, many more elderly downsizers are completely insulated from the difficulty of borrowing.

‘Many in this cohort are likely to become cash buyers when they sell their family home, and are therefore less exposed to the concerns around rising interest rates,’ adds McDonald.

“The main stumbling block is a lack of suitable properties for sale”

Savills survey of almost 2,000 buyers and sellers explored how they feel about moving home. And the results were quite clear: their motivations for upping sticks are almost always lifestyle factors rather than financial considerations.

Almost half — 48% — hope to ‘rightsize’ and live in a more manageable-sized property, while 24% hanker for a change in lifestyle. A familiar scenario for many, children fly the nest leaving parents rattling around a home that’s larger than they need, want or can afford.

That’s not to say that financial considerations don’t come in to play, though considering how often we’ve been told that people are treating their properties as de facto pension plans and wealth stores, it’s surprisingly rare. Less that one in five — 18% — plan to release equity to fund retirement or to help relatives.

So what could possibly hold this cohort back? Well the main stumbling block, for 35% of those surveyed, is a lack of suitable properties for sale. And emotional ties and financial circumstances were cited by 28% and 14% of downsizers and empty nesters respectively.

As for what they’ll miss most when they do find a house, 39% cited their location, while a surprisingly low 16% said ‘the memories they made’ in their home. It seems when you’re ready to go, getting on with a new life is easy enough. Just over a quarter said they would simply need to unpack photos, plants and books to feel at home — and while 23% didn’t even need that, instead saying they’d be quite happy the moment they’ve unpacked the kettle and made a cuppa.

Property Talk: When is the right time to downsize?

Sometimes our homes can get too big for us, meaning it’s time to downsize. Here, we speak to those involved