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Can bungalows REALLY be the answer to the housing crisis?

This bungalow is on sale in Kingsbridge for £350,000 (Marchand Petit)

The humble bungalow is the answer to the woes of the housing market, it has been claimed.

If there were more one-floor homes on the market, older people would stop under-occupying larger homes and free up the properties for younger families. This would allow for a knock-on effect of more housing for the rest of the market, according to the think-tank Policy Exchange.

The idea is in stark contrast to opinions from rival think-tank the Fabian Society, which said pensioners should pay more tax and lose benefits in order to make the housing market fairer.

Policy Exchange said the planning system should be reformed to encourage developers to build more bungalows and other homes attractive to older people looking to downsize.

Strict planning regulations about how many homes must be built on a hectare of land mean that it is currently difficult to get permission to build bungalows.

As a result, the number being built has steadily declined since the 1960s.  Only 2% of UK housing stock now consists of bungalows and in 2009 only 300 bungalows were built, according to the report.

Martin Robinson, director at Hunters Property Group, said: “There are three key reasons why older people choose to move out of large houses into bungalows. Firstly, the capability of living in a big house and having to negotiate the stairs.

“Secondly, big houses cost lots of money to heat and need regular updating. But lastly and perhaps most importantly, the garden can get too much and because that generation typically tend to be very house proud, so they don’t want to see it deteriorate.”

There are 25million spare bedrooms among the older population, according to Policy Exchange. And some critics agree that this is the result of a lack of bungalows. 

“A number of older people are choosing not to move from their large family homes due to the lack of suitable property for them to move to,” commented Lee Silverthorn from estate agent Wellstead & Wellstead.

“An increase in development of the traditional single storey bungalow aimed specifically at this market would provide properties that would meet with their needs and encourage them to move from their larger homes freeing these up for families.”

Build it and they shall come?

However, not everyone believes the demand is really there. Property agent Berkeleys says bungalows are less popular than they once were.

"In the coastal Poole area, people used to scale down from a big house into a large bungalow with lots of garden,” said branch partner John Jennings.

“However, in this day and age they cannot be bothered with a garden and would prefer to be on the golf course or travelling. They therefore skip the bungalow option and go straight to a luxury apartment or sometimes to a new build house with minimal maintenance and a small garden.”

Developers also point to issues with security of bungalows and that the running costs can be higher than smaller apartments.

Indeed, statistics from Rightmove suggest that the property market is already being driven by the grey pound – suggesting that a lack of bungalows is not keeping pensioners in larger homes at all.

Downsizing is currently listed as the number one reason for selling in nine out of ten regions in the UK.

And 55- to 64-year-olds are the most active in the UK property market, making up 30% of those planning to put their properties on the market in 2013. Those aged over 65 contribute a further 16% - just 29% of intending sellers are under 45.

The bungalow’s replacement

It seems that in many cases the bungalow has been replaced by custom-built apartments as the retirement property of choice.

[Free guide: Paying for long term care]

Homes on retirement developments have features designed to aid mobility built-in to save on costs further down the line. And the properties often appeal for social reasons too. 

Karen Roake, sales and marketing director from retirement development Pegasus Court in Taunton, said: “The downsizer market has been the mainstay of the new build market in recent years, as developers have been quick to switch horses from marketing to the young, first time buyers, to the more mature downsizers.”

As people are living for longer, they are also expecting more from retirement than simply seeing out their twilight years. Travel, the outdoors and the opportunity to lead a lifestyle that might not have been possible when they were working, are increasingly important to pensioners.

The Villages Group is behind a retirement village in the Languedoc region of South West France and just one firm catering to these desires. The company provides a move abroad ‘concierge service’ to make the process as easy as possible and allows people to buy a property and then live on the development with costs covered on a ‘pay as you go’ basis. 

Bungalows might still induce a strong sense of nostalgia, but as the solution to the housing crisis the jury’s out.

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