Housing requirements change as people age, children grow up, and a large family home is no longer needed. Downsizing tends to be something which people consider around or after retirement. The DNP research highlighted two main types of downsizers:
Group 1: People looking to move from a family home to somewhere smaller which will allow them to continue the same or similar lifestyle while health allows. These people are used to living in a family home and want similar-sized living space, with room for guests and entertaining, but fewer bedrooms. The majority are keen on outdoor space of some sort, a small garden or balcony. For this group the move is likely to be desirable. They may feel that their large house is better suited to a family. They are thinking of the future, looking for somewhere which is easier to look after as they get older and allows them to pursue their retirement lifestyle, which might include travelling more. There may also be a financial incentive to downsize, to release equity.
Group 2: Others need to move because of failing health or reduced mobility, or because they are on their own, perhaps due to bereavement. They may be finding it hard to manage in the family home and want to find somewhere smaller and easier to maintain, more accessible, or possibly supported. There may also be a financial requirement to downsize. A small, manageable space such as a small flat or house may be all these people can cope with or afford. For this group the move is likely to be necessary. Their needs are different depending on personal situations, their level of disability, for example. Recently bereaved people may be comparatively young and healthy but may want the security that comes with a more community-based living, in a flat, for example, which can provide access to other people. It was acknowledged that some people might start in the first group but, due to ill health or bereavement may find themselves in the second. As moving is so expensive, one downsize move would be desirable, providing one can find space and flexibility together to allow for changing circumstances and need as one ages.
What do downsizers want?
Spacious living area/reception rooms, flexible space, storage Generally downsizers want fewer bedrooms but don’t want to downsize on living areas. For Group 1, a spacious living area was a key requirement. They wanted entertaining space for meals with grown-up children and grandchildren, or with friends. Also flexible, adaptable space for when the family descends or visitors come to stay, for example, a study or reception room which could double-up as a spare bedroom when required. One participant said ‘Even doing a jigsaw would be a major nuisance in many new builds; when you need the table for a meal there is no space to move it to.’ Plenty of storage space was a necessity. Light, airy living space and high ceilings were also desirable. Two bedrooms/flexible space Downsizers said they want fewer bedrooms. Most wanted two bedrooms so there’s a spare room for visitors. Flexibility was important. Ideally the spare room should be on the ground floor (if the property is spread over more than one floor) so it could have a dual use. Good-sized bathroom and en-suite Downsizers moving from larger houses have often had good-sized en-suites and family bathrooms. One respondent remarked that cramped bathrooms were not really suitable for older people who are faced with the prospect of bathing becoming more difficult with age and, potentially, the need to adapt a bathroom at some point in the future, perhaps to include rails or a special bath/shower unit. Generally a large en-suite bathroom to the main bedroom and an additional cloakroom/bathroom would be desirable. Step-free accommodation/lifts Accommodation on one level was important. While many of the respondents were still active and able-bodied, they recognised that, over time, stairs might become a problem. There are usually stairs to reach the different floors in purpose-built flats in Datchet and in older conversions such as large Victorian houses. Lifts are rare. Some participants were willing to consider a flat if it had a lift, or was on the ground floor while others would prefer a bungalow. It was acknowledged that building bungalows is expensive and less profitable for developers. Outdoor space Outdoor space was essential, perhaps a patio or small garden for a ground floor flat, or a large, sunny balcony/balconies on upper floors. The position and size of a balcony was thought to be crucial. Some participants who had previously lived in flats said there was no point having a balcony if it was north-facing and shady all the time. A balcony should be a place to be enjoyed. No-one wanted a tiny balcony overlooking a busy, noisy road or motorway. Some participants wanted a shed/workshop and/or some storage space for hobbies such as golf clubs, etc. Others were keen to continue gardening. A participant said ‘we do not want to give up the hobbies that our working life has enabled us to enjoy in retirement. A car parking space or garage was a requirement for many. Trees in the surrounding grounds were also desirable. Central location and access to transport Location was important. Most downsizers wanted to be near the centre of everything so they can meet people when they’re out and about, join meetings of groups and clubs, walk to the shops, the doctor’s, and other local facilities, visit local cafes and restaurants, buy a newspaper, etc. They also wanted good walking routes for exercise, which Datchet has. Connectivity was also important and the proximity of public transport. One participant said that McCarthy and Stone usually build retirement homes close to a town or village centre, unlike another builder who constructs retirement villages at out-of-town locations. It was agreed that public transport in Datchet is acceptable and it’s fairly easy to get a taxi into Slough, to the station or hospital, for example, if required. Affordability Participants agreed that moving is expensive because on top of the price of a new property you have removal fees, legal/estate agents’ fees, and refurnishing costs. The consensus was that generally a downsizing property should be at least fractionally cheaper to allow for costs associated with moving. There was a discussion about service charges, which were thought to be prohibitive in some developments. Some participants had viewed a purpose built, retirement-living development in Windsor which they found pleasantly spacious. It also had shared community spaces – which weren’t considered essential - but these and facilities such as lifts, parking, sheds, etc, all came at a cost. It was thought essential to consider future costs; maintenance and service charges might be fixed for five years, say, but they can then go up and might become unaffordable, forcing another move. In some purpose-built retirement living developments, specialist care can be purchased if you need it, but, a participant noted, you end up paying care charges on top of the charges for the pool, gym, garden, etc, and all those other facilities you can no longer use. It was thought that generally older people tend to be asset rich and cash poor. They end up staying in their large older houses because there’s nowhere they want to move to, but the cost of upkeep can be high resulting in some properties not being well maintained. Some people with equity in their properties use equity-release schemes to enable them to remain where they are, although this may not be suitable for everyone. Mind-set The focus group thought that it was important to consider the psychological aspects of downsizing. It’s quite a psychological change. The longer you leave it, the harder it is to adapt. Expectations are different when you’re downsizing. When you’re younger, you’re moving up the housing ladder. You start with a small place you can afford and only have a few things so you don’t need a lot of space. You move up the ladder as your family grows, you accumulate more possessions, and there’s a progression. Status may also play a role. You don’t want downsizing to feel like a backward step. You’ve got used to a particular lifestyle and have high expectations, you have a different outlook from when you were climbing the housing ladder. You may be considering downsizing but you still need space for your things and to continue your lifestyle and pursue hobbies, ‘or else you’re sitting in your flat, doing what?’. There was a resistance to giving up important things which people enjoyed, such as gardening. At the same time, it was acknowledged that one has to change one’s mind-set and accept that life will be different after downsizing. This might be positive, for example you can leave a flat securely in order to travel more, and don’t have the worries of maintaining a house and garden in the same way, but you may also need to give up some things. It was thought to be slightly different if deterioriating health causes the move (Group 2), you have to accept that things will change but at that time you have already accepted that you cannot manage in your existing accommodation.
Availability of downsizing properties in Datchet
The focus group participants expressed a wish to downsize in Datchet, if possible, but acknowledged that there are very few options here for people at this stage in life. This lack of choice means that either people tend to stay put, rattling around in big houses which could be enjoyed by a family, or they are forced to move out of the village, leaving friends and the community they have come to know over many years.
One- and two-bed flats. There are a number of flats in Datchet which offer accommodation on one level but many are designed as starter homes, for people getting onto the housing ladder. Their size, lack of storage space, and lack of outdoor space makes them undesirable for group 1 and the lack of lifts makes anything above the ground floor unsuitable for group 2.
Large flats. There is a lack of larger, spacious, purpose-built flats. Very occasionally, larger flats in converted older houses come onto the market, which would suit group 1. They also benefit from big rooms with high ceilings and often have outdoor space however stairs and no lift, or accommodation spread over a split level, may be a problem.
Bungalows. These are often thought of as housing for older people because they offer accommodation mainly on one level. They also generally offer garden and garage space, with living space similar to a house but fewer bedrooms. Datchet has very few bungalows and, over time, those it does have are being extended upwards into family homes.
Multi-generational households. Sometimes parents downsize by moving in with their grown-up children. This creates a demand for very large houses or building extra bedrooms and bathrooms onto existing houses. There are several examples of this in Datchet. This type of property is available in Datchet.
Purpose-built maisonettes. There is a development of purpose-built maisonettes at Hall Court, right in the village centre. These are well placed, within easy walking distance of the centre and transport, with attractive open frontages and outdoor space. They were thought to be suitable for a person living on their own. (A participant in the focus group said someone had bought two of these maisonettes and knocked them together which seemed to work well.) There is a service charge.
New-build houses. Some focus group participants had viewed the new houses at Mead Close, off Slough Road. They thought that the rooms were fairly small with very little storage; no space for a vacuum cleaner, hardly any space in the kitchen (lower cupboards all filled with white goods, higher cupboards too high), no airing cupboard or linen cupboard for towels and bedding, nowhere in the cloakroom to hang coats. They understood that service charges were also high because it’s a gated community. (Datchet’s only gated community.)
New-build flats. There are also flats in the same Slough Road development. Participants who had viewed them thought there was insufficient storage or space for furniture, they would have to sell theirs and buy new. Also, the aspect, with small balconies overlooking the busy Slough Road, lack of alternative outdoor space, and distance from the village centre was considered a deterrent. Participants had also viewed other flats in the area and found similar problems – small rooms, little storage, and very little outdoor space
Brownfield sites. There have been planning applications to build flats on brownfield sites in the village which have been turned down mainly for flooding reasons. These include an office building, Sopwith Court, on Slough Road above the drycleaners and Franco’s wine bar, which has not been used for more than 20 years; and a large plot known as ‘Captain Seddon’s’ near Tesco (corner of Holmlea Road).
During the pandemic, residents were invited to join DNP focus groups on Zoom to discuss matters affecting Datchet. The invitation was published in The Link, on a Google Forms survey, and also on social media. Eight people attended a focus group on 23 November 2021. We also received emails from residents on the subject. In the ‘What’s Important to you?’ survey in December 2020/January 2021 (62 respondents) residents were asked which key things they would look for in a property if they were intending to downsize. Comments from these three sources are summarised in this document.