A retirement property provider has said it has experienced a significant rise in enquiries from UK nationals currently based in Europe and their families who are based in the UK during the pandemic.
John Lavin, managing director of Cognatum Estates, says the vast majority are from UK residents who left the UK to retire to European countries.
“Historically, there are many reasons for a return to the UK. For some people, the life that they’ve looked forward to for years simply doesn’t live up to the expectation, or it runs out of appeal after a few years – holidaying somewhere is very different to living there full time,” Lavin explains.
“A significant concern for many of those returning is their physical wellbeing, which has been sharply brought into focus by the coronavirus pandemic; living overseas as a fit seventy-something is very different to remaining in a foreign country as your health deteriorates, especially for those who don’t speak the language.”
In the UK, he says, the welfare state steps in to pick up the slack if finances don’t run to full-time care, ‘but this isn’t the case in most European countries’.
“There are also those who are widowed, or concerned about becoming so. And, of course, on a more positive note, the lure of grandchildren shouldn’t be underestimated.”
Statistics show that around 30% of those retiring overseas return within three years, but Cognatum’s expectation is that, as a result of Brexit and coronavirus, this figure will rise considerably over the next year or two.
“Another Brexit concern, as yet unresolved, is that shared healthcare arrangements between the EU and UK won’t continue in their current form.
Out of 27 existing agreements, we currently know of only one that is due to survive beyond the transition period,” Lavin adds.
“We would advise those who are considering a move home not to panic, but equally not to delay. A move for those relocating country requires more complicated logistics than for those moving within the UK - organisation is the key.”
He says the move should be treated as a proper exercise, starting with the ‘what, where, why’. Each of these elements should be discussed and debated with relevant parties – for example partners, family and friends.
“Get professional advice early on issues such as CGT, transfer of assets, benefits and pensions, health insurance and property taxes, all of which may have changed since you last researched the matters,” Lavin advises.
“Prepare to be shocked, prices have gone up, and overseas property values may well have fallen. You may not be able to buy the financial equivalent of what you sold when you left. Familiarise yourself with the market.”
The ‘where’ question is always difficult for those retiring, Lavin says. But more so if you haven’t been living in the country for some time.
“Should you move near family? Back to where you moved from? Or pick a new area that meets other needs and aspirations?”
If you’re planning to move near family, Lavin says you should make sure that they don’t have their own plans to move in the short to medium-term, and ensure that the area has sufficient attraction that you can all continue to lead your own lives.
“While they will no doubt enjoy having you back, it’s unfair to expect family and friends to arrange their lives around you now you’ve chosen to return home,” Lavin says.
“If you moved abroad immediately after retiring, you may find it a new experience to have time on your hands. Make the most of it while also future proofing - selecting an area that is well-served by public transport, with good rail links, and uncomplicated access to airports should be a consideration."
Meanwhile, from a more day-to-day point of view, the ability to walk to facilities such as shops, pubs, church and local friends shouldn’t be underestimated.
“The property itself is of course all-important, but my advice would be to keep a very open mind. Don’t narrow down your choices too early - your needs and habits will have changed in the time you’ve been away,” Lavin continues.
“This is an opportunity to live in a different way; ergonomics that suit you, less requirement for ‘stuff’, and possibly less rooms but better proportions.”
Having narrowed down the options geographically, environment should be the next priority. If you have decided that a property with an element of support or care is required, ‘don’t compromise on that’.
“There are a lot of options available. And don’t ignore the resale potential,” Lavin argues.
Running costs are always a factor when choosing a property, but in retirement when many people are on a fixed income, the ability to make an accurate financial plan is vital.
“Be clear about ongoing costs. The concerns around unknown maintenance and day-to-day running costs can be offset by a leasehold property with an inclusive service charge.”
Lavin added: “Once you have a clear idea of what you’re looking for, what your priorities are, what’s negotiable and what isn’t, don’t just sit on the internet. It helps if you can recruit a family member, friend or professional to look at properties in your absence, but if you can’t, then book a trip back to the UK and go on a fact-finding exercise. Line up a schedule of properties to look at, compare different areas if you are still undecided.”
Lavin insists it’s important not to make a bad move at this time of life ‘as moving costs in the UK are high. It’s better to rent in the short-term than to choose badly due to time pressures'.
Cognatum is an independent not-for-profit company which has 60 retirement estates across central and southern England. All are in ‘prime locations within vibrant market towns or villages’, walking distance from shops and restaurants. Each estate benefits from ‘thoughtful architecture, landscaped grounds, and a dedicated estate manager’.