Every morning, Debi Ireland counts her blessings as she wanders downstairs to the kitchen of her six-bedroom barn conversion, places the kettle on top of the double red Aga and gazes out of the window across her five acres of land.
She and her partner David paid cash for the £775,000 property in Lancashire’s Ribble Valley in August, and they still can’t quite believe the house — which is three times the size of their old three-bedroom semi in Surrey — is theirs.
Debi Ireland and her partner David paid £775,000 for this six-bedroom barn conversion in Lancashire’s Ribble Valley in August having sold their old three-bedroom semi in Surrey
Debi and David sold this family home in Surrey before moving north to their barn conversion
You might imagine they are professionals in their 30s or 40s who have been yearning — and saving — for a spacious family home in which to raise their children for years. In fact, Debi, 58, and 66-year-old David are ‘empty nesters’ and the four adult children they share, aged between 19 and 37, are long gone.
At a time in their lives when, historically, many couples choose to downsize — and various organisations are putting pressure on more of them to do so — Debi and David have torn up the rulebook and gone big with their bricks and mortar.
They don’t even have any grandchildren yet, nor are they expecting any imminently.
‘Now we’re not constrained by corporate life, dependent kids and mortgages, we’re finally in a position to buy our dream home, so why should we downsize and live on top of each other in a poky flat just because we’re getting older?’ asks Debi, a photographer.
She met David, a retired procurement manager, six years ago after their respective marriages had ended.
Debi makes a fair point, although it goes completely against the thinking of Saga, the organisation that campaigns for and safeguards the interests of the over-50s. It is lobbying the Government to introduce a one-off stamp duty-free move to encourage older homeowners to downsize in retirement.
The premise is that slashing moving costs for pensioners will help free up larger homes for those further down the ladder and thus stimulate the housing market. It would also release capital to see them through retirement (and possibly slip a few thousand to desperate children and grandchildren struggling to get on the housing ladder).
Pilates teacher Jackie Brealey, 60, and her husband Mick, 61, a motorcycle instructor. ‘We put up with our old two-bedroom semi-detached bungalow with a tiny garden for ten years, but craved space both indoors and outdoors for living and entertaining,’ says Jackie
The couple sold their home in Surrey, pictured, for £365,000 and moved to Hampshire
Certainly, there is support for the idea. After all, when adult children have flown the nest, many retirees are left rattling around houses with far more rooms than they need. Plus, larger homes and gardens become more tiresome to manage in older age.
Yet, curiously, upsizing is a fast-growing trend. A recent report found that 46 per cent of homeowners aged 55 to 74 had spent extra money on their latest move. And 28 per cent of those had bought a bigger property with more bedrooms, despite many people in this age group living either alone or as a couple, found the study by the Cambridge Centre for Housing & Planning Research and the National House Building Council (NHBC) .
Dr Elle Boag, a senior lecturer in social psychology at Birmingham City University, says upsizing in later life can have a magical effect on both individual wellbeing and harmony within a marriage.
‘For many over-50s, this will be the first time in their lives that they’ve had the opportunity to buy the home they really want now their kids have grown up and they have more disposable income,’ she explains.
‘My husband and I downsized from a large five-bed to a three-bed when the children left home, but I’m now upsizing again because I miss the space and luxuries such as en-suite bathrooms, a study each for my husband and me, a downstairs loo and the option to use a bedroom as a yoga room if I want to.’
She adds: ‘By the time they hit 50, many people start to question: “Who am I saving all this money for?” If your children are self-sufficient and you want to buy a bigger house, why shouldn’t you? If you can afford to do it, upsizing is good for you, while downsizing can have a very negative impact on a relationship.
‘If you’ve been in a large house and you decide to downsize once the children have left home then, suddenly, you’re going to be living in much closer proximity to your partner or spouse again, which can ruin relationships.’
Debi Ireland agrees. Not that her children have expressed resentment.
‘We’ve served our time in much smaller properties during our respective marriages and latterly together for four years in Surrey, and have always put our children first,’ she reflects. ‘We were desperate to get away from the traffic and noise down there and move back up north, where we’re both from, to a period cottage or barn with glorious views and oceans of space indoors and out.
‘We decided that as soon as David retired in 2017, we’d make the dream happen.’
Having sold the mortgage-free house in Surrey for £660,000, they each added savings to top up the pot and paid cash for their barn.
‘When David first showed me the brochure, I was worried the barn looked too isolated, mindful that, in older age, we need to be close to amenities and a community,’ says Debi. ‘But before the estate agent arrived to meet us, I’d peered through the windows and fallen in love with it.’
Small wonder, given that it has six bedrooms, three bathrooms, a spacious living room with brick inglenook fireplace, a large farmhouse kitchen, a family room and even a studio for Debi’s photography. A farmer has promised to clear the lane of snow in the winter in return for his sheep grazing on four acres of Debi and David’s land. They pay a local man with a sit-on mower to tackle the other acre.
‘A few of my friends questioned whether upsizing was right at our age. But we’ve worked hard all our lives, raised our children and now it’s time for us,’ says Debi.
‘We both help our kids out as much as we can, because we recognise that it’s difficult for the younger generation to get on the housing ladder these days. We want them to have the best lives they can — but we also want the same for ourselves.’
It’s a similar tale for Pilates teacher Jackie Brealey, 60, and her husband Mick, 61, a motorcycle instructor. ‘We put up with our old two-bedroom semi-detached bungalow with a tiny garden for ten years, but craved space both indoors and outdoors for living and entertaining,’ says Jackie.
She and Mick have four children between them, aged 42, 38, 30 and 25, plus four grandchildren and another on the way. Three of the children own property, though none as big as their parents’ home.
Three years ago, the couple cashed in by selling their pricey, but tiny, mortgage-free property in Surrey for £365,000 and went house-hunting in Hampshire to get more for their money. Their lives and relationship have improved exponentially as a result.
‘We fell in love with a detached Sixties house with spacious rooms, three large bedrooms, big windows and half an acre of garden and paid £440,000 for it, using savings and a chunk of my pension to remain mortgage-free,’ says Jackie.
‘Almost immediately, we added a large extension costing £50,000 on the back of it, to create an open-plan living space.’
And they don’t feel they have anything to apologise for: ‘All our money is in the property now and, one way or another, it will all end up going to the kids, so it’s hardly as if we’ve blown their inheritance by upsizing.
‘We helped out one of the children with a deposit for a home and help all of them financially in other ways. We don’t feel guilty at all about upsizing now. The property is an investment for the future.
‘Upsizing was a lifestyle choice for us. We love entertaining, but, if we invited even two friends over for dinner at our old house, it was a squeeze. Now, we throw parties all year round and have discovered that we both love gardening.
‘Inside, even the third bedroom is so huge that it doubles as a Pilates studio if I teach from home, and we’ve earmarked it for conversion to a “granny annexe” if ever our elderly parents need to live with us.
‘Friends and family were dubious about us upsizing and asked us: “What the hell are you going to do with that huge garden?” But we love it. We’re not overlooked here, and Mick and I often sit in the garden with a cup of tea in the evenings and watch bats and shooting stars.’
Had it not been for them upsizing to a spacious four-bedroom home near Faversham, Kent, in October 2015, charity directors Margaret Lee-Roberts, 69, and her husband Trevor, 75, a retired project manager, wouldn’t know the joy of having three of their six grandchildren to sleep over every Thursday.
They previously lived in a tiny three-bedroom home on the first and second floor above a ground-floor business premises.
‘We raised our family in a large, four-bedroom Victorian house, but then downsized to our last home when we suddenly needed to live closer to my late father when he became ill. In hindsight, we bought in haste,’ says Margaret.
Had it not been for them upsizing to a spacious four-bedroom home near Faversham, Kent, in October 2015, charity directors Margaret Lee-Roberts, 69, and her husband Trevor, 75, a retired project manager, wouldn’t know the joy of having three of their six grandchildren to sleep over every Thursday
The couple had previously lived on the top floor of this building
She and Trevor have three children, aged 45, 42 and 33. ‘At £280,000, it was a bargain and, of course, it was a bonus to free up a bit of cash, but we didn’t appreciate how cramped we’d feel — and how much that would get to us.
‘We had one daughter, her partner and a newborn living with us at the time, so the lack of space was impossible for all of us.
‘We longed for something more spacious and useable.’
They sold the property in late 2014 and upsized to their current home — a new-build four-bedroom house costing £340,000.
Although classed as an end terrace, it was substantially larger than their old home, with four large double bedrooms, two bathrooms, an open-plan kitchen-diner and a large living room.
Margaret says: ‘We’ve got masses of storage and a small garden, which is fine as we’re not keen gardeners anyway. It’s absolute bliss to have so much space after all those years feeling cooped up.
‘We even have one room full of toys for when our daughter’s three children come to stay on a Thursday while she works late as a psychology teacher.
‘There’s a bus stop and a supermarket close by, so we can catch the bus into Canterbury if ever we reach the stage when we can’t drive.’
She adds: ‘Pensioners are entitled to live as they choose, especially when they’ve worked hard to own their properties. Many, like us, have lots of visitors to stay. My generation don’t live very differently from younger generations.
‘Why shouldn’t you enjoy space at home at our age if you can afford it? We tried downsizing and it didn’t work for us.
‘This is our forever home — and we’re never leaving.’