Why are empty-nesters staying put – despite the lure of a substantial windfall?

If developers are to attract equity-rich over-60s, they need to make down-sizing or moving into age-exclusive properties more attractive, says Mark Davis, co-founder and creative director of property branding agency me&dave

The fact that so many UK empty-nesters are choosing to sit tight rather than down-size or move into age-exclusive developments, has thrown into sharp focus one of the biggest problems that exists with appealing to this consumer group.

According to a recent report by Lloyds Banking Group, more than half of this lucrative demographic are going nowhere, and that’s despite the fact that there’s an opportunity to free up life-changing amounts of money (an average £273,446 in the South East, for example). If developers are to open up the lines of communication and make a meaningful connection, they need to ask themselves why this is.

Of course, people have strong ties to their existing family homes – they set the scene for some of life’s most important moments – so to encourage migration, new, equally compelling emotional connections need to be forged.

This life stage should be seen as empowering and inspirational. Selling the over-sized family home is a chance to generate revenue to enjoy all the things in life that aren’t possible when you’re part of the workforce or raising a family. Yet many developers – and their marketing and branding partners – persist in projecting an image of the future that is at best stale and un-aspirational and at worst patronising and rooted in knitted-cardigan territory.

When we worked with Helical on its Renaissance Villages developments (just before it sold up to Legal & General a few months ago), we realised there was a need to completely rethink all the marketing collateral. We got rid of imagery depicting sedentary people wearing frumpy clothes in staged scenarios and adopted a vibrant, fashion-led approach.

Why would anyone over 60 sign up to what you’re offering if the message is: welcome to the start of your slow decline? Don’t forget, UK life expectancy has increased by a decade since the Sixties, so retirement can last a long time. And it can be exciting and liberating – so developers’ messaging should reflect that.

Our celebratory approach at Helical had a dramatic impact. There was a 460 per cent uplift in weekly average reservations and a 247 per cent increase in exchanges at Renaissance Village’s Millbrook development, as well as a boost of 150 per cent in average weekly completions at Durrants in West Sussex.

It’s worth noting that down-sizing is an important part of the whole property cycle, freeing up larger homes for growing families and cutting back on the number of bedrooms lying empty (save for an occasional visit from the grandkids). Movement at this end of the ladder is important to keep the housing market healthy.

If we’re going to set the wheels in motion, people need to be as excited about the options available to them at this stage of life as they were when they put a deposit down on their first-ever one-bedroomed flat.