The future of retirement living

We are living longer than ever before, and expecting more from our retirements. In this Insight piece, written in 2017, Michael Swiszczowski, Director and residential specialist at Chapman Taylor, discusses the challenges and opportunities which these demographic changes present for policy-makers, developers and designers.

"Politicians seem reluctant to face up to the impact this significant demographic change will have."

Developments in healthcare, culture, travel and communication mean that we are living longer and expecting more from our retirements.

The number of over 65s in the UK is forecast to rise by 22% by 2025, from 11.7 million to 14.3 million. This equates to approximately one in five of the total population, and is estimated to become one in four by 2050¹.

The number of homes built specifically for older people each year has fallen from 30,000 in the 1980s to fewer than 8,000 in recent years². Consequently, it is estimated that there is a requirement for an additional 725,000 Housing-with-Care units by 2025³.

Politicians seem reluctant to face up to the impact this significant demographic change will have, preferring policies for new house building to focus on support for first-time buyers. Yet providing new homes for older people could meet their needs and improve the housing prospects for the younger generation as well.

Last year, the paper “Housing our Ageing Population: Panel for Innovation (HAPPI) 3” highlighted that older people are sitting on over £820 billion of housing equity², and over half are living in homes larger than they necessarily require. The report recommended ways in which government policy, as well as action by house builders, could ease these concerns. However, unlocking this equity and these homes will depend on our ability to build homes which older people want and can afford to move into.


Today’s retirement housing market is broadly split into two subsectors - the aspirational downsizer market, offering a premium product for those proactively looking to move, and the needs-based market, where demand is driven by a requirement for increased levels of care, support and security.

Advances in medicine, treatment and support systems such as telecare mean that many care issues are now more manageable in individuals’ residential settings and do not require the full support of a traditional care home. As a result, those entering care homes tend to have more acute needs.

Filling the gap between these two subsectors by delivering an aspirational product which encourages people to downsize, but at a price which works for someone living in an average-priced home, provides a massive opportunity for developers.


The National Audit Office (NAO) found that the care needs of older people have risen by 30% since 2005, and will continue to do so⁴, but that the numbers of older people receiving support from the Government has fallen at the same rate. This means that more people will need to fund any care needs themselves.

Many third-agers are asset rich but cash poor. Recent changes to pensions allow individuals to access thousands of pounds more cash from their retirement funds, potentially making it easier to fund specialist accommodation or lifestyles.

It is also likely that equity release products such as lifetime mortgages, home reversion schemes, shared ownership and long-term rentals will become more widely available.

Fundamentally, housing, health and care are interdependent. Nearly 6,000 people were stranded in hospital on one single day in April last year because of a lack of social care. This suggests that a careful rebalance of government resources between in-hospital and community-based care is required to enable individuals to return home in a timely way with the appropriate support.

"The ‘Baby Boomer’ generation has different expectations from its predecessors."


In 2009, the HAPPI report identified that the UK was falling behind other European countries in the provision of well-designed, innovative housing solutions and proposed ten key design principles which should underpin ‘age-ready’ housing. These principles are now quoted in local planning policy and project briefs, and are commonly incorporated in scheme designs.

The occupier of retirement housing is changing. Generally speaking, the ‘Baby Boomer’ generation has different expectations from its predecessors. Retiring used to be about winding down, possibly moving to a traditional country idyll. This increasingly healthy sector is just as likely to require homes which provide security and comfort, together with sociability and easy access to the stimulation of modern city life.

That said, it is important to recognise that the retirement sector is as diverse as any other, and one size certainly does not fit all. As the population requiring retirement housing expands, so does the need for a broader range of provision to accommodate that diversity of needs and aspirations, including small specialist care homes, large retirement villages, deluxe apartments for last-time buyers and Intergenerational Living.

People need choices of space for themselves and their visitors, and facilities good enough to attract the local community. Good-quality shops, restaurants, hairdressers, beauticians and even gyms and art rooms have been inserted into senior-living communities to draw people in from the wider neighbourhood. However, the cost of providing these facilities has become a major issue with the impact of reduced personal care budgets, though they might still be viable if combined with other housing or with other care provision such as doctors’ surgeries, dental practices and pharmacies - forming community ‘hubs’.

Mobility, sensory and cognitive impairments, including dementia, become more prevalent in older people. Therefore, accommodation has to be flexible to adapt to residents’ changing personal and support needs. For example, sliding doors can allow apartments to be configured with either a guest bedroom or an extension to the living room. Designs should also address tonal contrast and lighting and acoustics, while appropriate fittings and furniture need to be specified.

Recent data from the Office for National Statistics suggests that there are 3.5 million over-65s living alone¹. In order to reduce isolation, it is important that design solutions encourage interaction. The introduction of informal seating areas in circulation spaces, and defined apartment entrances which allow residents to personalise their own space, can create an environment which looks and feels like a home.

Healthy lifestyles and wellbeing can also counter the rising cost of public healthcare, including issues of obesity, social isolation and mental health. Access and proximity to barrier-free external space, designed to allow gardening and walking, can enable an older person to maintain an active and potentially more sociable lifestyle.

Housing for older people is inherently demanding in terms of its energy requirements as, typically, residents spend a large amount of time in their homes and might be more susceptible to feeling the cold. In order to reduce fuel poverty, schemes need high levels of energy efficiency, with good ventilation to avoid overheating.

"Chapman Taylor is investigating new delivery models which might help our clients exploit this business opportunity. We are also developing prototypes for intergenerational housing."


This very diverse sector presents an increased user base but much-reduced housing provision, a lack of government focus and serious financial constraints, but, potentially, a rich source of housing equity. Drawing on our expertise in the Build-to-Rent and mixed-use sector, Chapman Taylor is investigating new delivery models which might help our clients exploit this business opportunity.

Typical developments contain around 60 one or two-bed apartments, but recent developments are growing in size. With a construction skills shortage and a need for a high-quality product delivered at speed and scale, the opportunities for off-site construction are huge. Configuration and integration of the modules is key to ensuring that resultant schemes appear bespoke with a high kerb appeal.

We are also developing prototypes for intergenerational housing. With the increasing expense of childcare, many grandparents now provide home-based childcare during the working day. With home ownership for young adults increasingly unaffordable, there is significant economic pressure on families to live together in larger or linked properties.


¹According to Office for National Statistics figures
³Jones Lang Lascelle,
⁴ National Audit Office

About the Author

Michael Swiszczowski (BA(Hons), MArch, ADPPA, ARB, RIBA)

Director, UK

Michael joined Chapman Taylor in 2016 to strengthen the practice’s residential expertise. He joined the UK Board in 2022 and continues to take an active role in developing the practice’s residential and hospitality sectors across the UK business.

He has experience working on award-winning residential projects, with a particular focus on Build-to-Rent, student accommodation, hotels, serviced apartments and modular construction.

Michael is a regular speaker at residential and property conferences where he articulates Chapman Taylor’s design approach and skill sets. He is also a RIBA-elected member of the Regional Council for RIBA North West.

Areas of expertise:

Residential / Build-to-Rent / Student Accommodation / Hotels

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