Published in The Sunday Times, 14 August 2022

Young baby boomers — that’s those in their 60s— are getting more savvy about where they buy. And their choices are changing the market, says Ruth Bloomfield

Second-home hotspots may have boomed, but that’s not where you’ll find the new boomers. Younger members of the baby boom generation such as Nicola and Nigel Woodland, 60 and 63 respectively, are shunning traditional seaside favourites for more savvy spots.

Just over a year ago the Woodlands, from Bristol, moved to Aberystwyth, in Ceredigion, on the west coast of Wales. Many of their new friends are fellow incomers who “have always gone on holiday in Cornwall or Devon or even Pembrokeshire but have now been priced out of living there”, Nicola says.

“Ceredigion is more unknown, unspoilt, and I think the prices are a big factor.” It is the second most popular location for buyers aged 61 to 70, according to exclusive analysis of Experian data by Savills estate agency. The new baby boomer hotspots are not where you might expect. Lucian Cook, director of residential research at Savills, believes the choices of this financially powerful age group could indicate locations that will weather the storms ahead better than those reliant on discretionary or mortgage-funded younger buyers. “They tend to have quite a bit of equity behind them and that may mean these markets are more resilient to rises in interest rates.”

Younger baby boomers face different challenges from their predecessors. They are likely to work for longer, and the traditional seaside resorts they might once have aspired to are now overcrowded and too expensive. On the plus side, WFH means they often don’t need to wait for their gold watch before moving away from their working lives.

The Woodlands’ move to Ceredigion was inspired by family and driven by the pandemic. Six years ago they moved out of Bristol to a modern flat in Portishead, ten miles away, where they were enjoying their sea views and the town’s café culture until the pandemic. Meanwhile the couple’s youngest son and his wife, who have three children, had moved from Bristol to her native Aberystwyth. During the pandemic Nicola and Nigel’s regular visits had to be put on hold. “They might as well have been in New Zealand,” Nicola says. “Time goes so quickly and we wanted to be with the grandchildren.”

The couple began thinking — and talking to their bosses. Nigel, a civil servant, and Nicola, who works for an independent travel company, were able to negotiate to continue working part-time and from home. In April 2021 they sold their two-bedroom flat for about £330,000 and bought a three-bedroom 1960s semi-detached house in Aberystwyth for £240,000. “This is not something we would have done without the pandemic because keeping our jobs would have been much trickier,” says Nicola, who has since joined the Bluetits sea swimming group and volunteers at the city’s arts centre. “Because a lot of our age group are still working, being able to work from home makes moving in your sixties a bit easier.”

Conwy, which lies north of Snowdonia National Park (whereas Ceredigion is to its south), takes third place in the boomer hotspots. Top of the list is west Devon, which includes the towns of Okehampton and Tavistock as well as a big slice of glorious Dartmoor wilderness. Almost one in six homebuyers in the area are aged 61-70 and this group owns a quarter of the area’s private housing stock.

Sue and Andrew Main decamped from Royal Tunbridge Wells in Kent to a small hamlet just outside Tavistock in 2015. Andrew, now 70, stepped down from his job as managing partner at a boutique fund manager to work part-time as a non-executive director and on a (successful) campaign to reopen Tavistock Guildhall as an exhibition space for the area’s mining history. Sue, now 60, an office administrator, works for a local horse riding holiday firm, while their daughter, Sophie, now 18 and a national-level swimmer, went to Mount Kelly, a private school with superlative swimming facilities that has produced Olympians including Sharron Davies.

The couple sold their modern five-bedroom family home for just over £1 million and bought a five-bedroom converted piggery in Ottery, about three miles west of Tavistock and right on the fringes of Dartmoor, for about half that. They are thoroughly pleased they didn’t join the retired masses on the coast.“Financially it would have been better because of the way prices have gone, but the coast tends to get stuck in the tourist season,” Andrew says. “Tavistock is a nice place to live in the summertime.”

It is also comparatively affordable —the average price in the Tavistock area is £331,000, which Jon Pilkington, director of the estate agency Pilkington Estates, says comes as a welcome surprise to buyers. “They cannot believe what they can get for their money,” he says. “You would assume they would go straight for a bungalow, but that is not the case. Some want a house with a couple of acres, perhaps for a horse, and that would cost anywhere between £500,000 and £700,000. Others want a three-bedroom cottage, which would cost £250,000 to £300,000.”

Although west Devon hasn’t seen the kind of exponential price growth that the West Country coastline has experienced over the past two years, it has still proved a decent investment. Pilkington estimates prices have bounced 10-15 per cent in the past year.

Some traditional seaside locations are also represented in the study — notably north Norfolk (sixth) and Torbay, south Devon (seventh). But in both cases older movers are likely to avoid the most fashionable second-home enclaves in favour of thriving towns with plenty of year-round amenities. This, says Richard Williams of the retirement specialist Cognatum, is because the series of lockdowns were a “foretaste of retirement” for many older buyers, who now place great emphasis on walkable locations with plenty of local amenities. James McGuire, area manager of William H Brown in north Norfolk, says most of his buyers in the sixtysomething age bracket are moving from the home counties and Midlands and have healthy budgets. They often futureproof their move by opting for a family-sized house — with space for them to sleep downstairs if necessary — or a bungalow. Their top locations are the lovely market town of Holt, where a three-bedroom bungalow costs £450,000 to £500,000, and the busy resorts of Sheringham and Cromer, where a similar property would cost
£350,000 to £450,000. “They are retirees but not downsizers,” McGuire says. “The places they are coming from have much higher prices, so often they are getting properties that are bigger than the ones they are selling — but that cost less money.”

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Cognatum, a not-for-profit company, has 60 retirement estates in 21 counties across central and southern England, a total of 928 retirement homes. All are in prime locations within vibrant market towns or villages, within walking distance of shops and restaurants. Each estate benefits from thoughtful architecture, landscaped grounds, and a dedicated estate manager.