Enjoying a trial stay at a retirement apartment takes the fear out of downsizing reports JANE SLADE

We wouldn’t buy a car before taking it for a test drive yet when it comes to a home we’re happy to write a cheque after a couple of visits.

However with retirement properties, house builders are realising that they are more likely to secure a sale if they offer prospective buyers the chance to spend a night or two in a development, and check out the facilities and neighbours, to see if communal living is for them.

It’s also an opportunity for home hunters to see if they’d be happier in a rural high-end retirement village with a bar, spa and restaurant or a no-frills apartment near the High Street.

Margaret Williams, 81, a retired nurse, did wonder about bringing her ukulele during her trial stay at Thackrah Court near Shadwell in Yorkshire.

She only took up playing two years ago after finding her piano accordion was getting too heavy and has been strumming happily with a group of 20 players, all over the age of 75, ever since.

But after deciding to move closer to her son, who lives 100 miles from her home at Abbots Bromley in Staffordshire, she opted to take up McCarthy and Stone’s offer of a free night’s stay in the guest suite at its assisted-living scheme to see if she could find any fellow musicians.

She not only discovered a local ukulele group but a retired GP who plays the piano.

“I was really pleased,” said Margaret, who has been widowed six years.

“When you take a tour of a property you are only there briefly. You don’t really have time to take it all in. Staying the night helped me get a feel for the atmosphere of the place, and attend a weekly coffee morning where I chatted to homeowners who had already moved in.

“Everyone was so friendly and welcoming; I was able to have a long chat with several ladies, some of whom were single and on their own just like me. And I also discovered there was a ukulele group that practices locally.”

Margaret also got to sample a free three-course lunch in the development’s restaurant which typically offers a choice of soup, pasta, hearty hotpots and veggie dishes.

The whole experience convinced her to buy a one-bedroom apartment for £238,000.

McCarthy and Stone’s ‘Experience the Lifestyle’ scheme aims to rid people of the fear of moving to a new community. “‘Experience the Lifestyle’ is a scheme we have seen more and more of our homeowners take advantage of before making the decision to move,” said marketing executive Geoff Bates.

Average price for a two-bedroom McCarthy and Stone apartment is £259,000 (McCarthy & Stone /0800 201 4105 )

Some house builders offer accommodation in comfy guest suites with fluffy towels, tea and coffee makers and big-screen TVs while others let you try out a whole apartment. Castle View Windsor will offer five ‘Try Before You Buy’ apartments at its new village in Berkshire when it is completed next year, so you get to test the quality of the kitchen and bathroom fittings and imagine where all your furniture will go.

Set in three acres the village will comprise 58, one, two and three bedroom apartments starting from £330,000 (Castle View Windsor /01753 378127)

Tom and Barbara Salthill (both 77) from Sidmouth move into their one-bedroom apartment, at Renaissance Retirement’s Wareham development, next week (9 February 2017) after experiencing its Try before you Buy option twice.

“We saw a leaflet when we were attending a four-day jazz festival near Glastonbury,” says Tom, a retired telecoms manager.

“We are moving from a four-bedroom bungalow to a one-bedroom apartment so wanted to be sure we were making the right choice.”

The couple, who first dated as 15 year olds, then re-met after 38 years and got married are moving 70 miles to be closer to Barbara’s family.

“Our new home is near the high street and we are moving from a quiet cul de sac so we wanted to see how we liked that,” added Tom. “And we didn’t know Wareham.

“Making two visits gave us time to explore the town and river which is just walking distance from the development and try out a local restaurant all at a relaxed pace. Then during our next stay we went to the residents’ Christmas party which gave us time to meet the staff and other owners.

“We were surprised to discover after our stay that we could manage living in a one-bedroom apartment so we bought one.”

Remaining two-bedroom apartments at Fleur de Lis Wareham start from £360,000 (Renaissance Retirement /01929 554557 )

You can spend up to a whole week ploughing up and down the pool, sampling fine wines at the licensed bar and tucking into grilled sea bass with Welsh rarebit polished off with a rich chocolate pot dusted with praline on a Richmond’s Retreat.

Your trial stay, offered at all six of BUPA-owned Richmond Villages’ developments, is designed more as a holiday in a five-star hotel.

At its newest village, Richmond Witney in Oxfordshire, a seven-night, full-board stay costs £180 per-night and gives you plenty of time to interrogate the staff, meet the residents, and even try out the nursing and care facilities.

“A longer stay lets you examine the detail of a development,” advises Neil MacKichan of retirement-property website Retiremove. “You have time to check things like the speed of the Internet; whether you’ll have to downsize your bed to fit it in the bedroom, seeing if there are good walks for your pet, and if you’ll lose some privacy if you choose a ground floor flat and garden.”

Properties currently available at Richmond Witney start at £235,000 for a Village suite. For information on Richmond Retreats visit Richmond Retreats/0845 607 6405

Retirement Villages Group offers 10 tips to making the most of your trial stay at each of its nine villages.

  1. Chat with existing residents
  1. Explore the grounds and facilities
  1. Participate in groups or social activities
  1. Attend events
  1. Check out the local area
  1. Meet the manager and staff
  1. Check the village’s care credentials
  1. Scope out the properties on offer
  1.  Check security arrangements
  1. Enjoy yourself!

“Giving potential buyers a taste of retirement village life helps them accurately assess whether the lifestyle change would be suitable before they make that all important decision,” says Nigel Welby, executive Chairman at Retirement Villages which offers one-night complimentary stays on a B&B basis with second night charged at £45. For more information visit: Retirement Villages /01372 383950

This article first appeared in The Daily Telegraph