More than half a million homes need to be safety-proofed to provide peace of mind in retirement

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More than 527,000 householders aged 55 and over need to safety-proof homes for retirement in the in the South East alone, say equity release experts.

Most people – more than six out of every ten in the South East want to stay living where they are during retirement, but just a third believe they can do so safely without making home adaptations, according to new research.

The findings of the Equity Release Council research means at least 527,000 people across the South East are living in homes which need investment to make them safe and practical for later life, so their owners can realise their ambition to stay put during retirement.

More than one in four have put off important repairs or changes to their home because of a lack of money.One in ten who need work done say they cannot afford to spend anything and will have to make do without.

Making their property safe to live in is considered a higher priority than adding to its value when investing in home improvements or adaptations in South East.

Among those with a need to spend on their homes, almost one in three prioritise safety and practical comfort over adding value, while a further 49 per cent believe both are equally important.

The staircase or landing is the most common source of concern for over-55 homeowners in South East: 43 per cent see this as the most difficult part of their home to use as they grow older, followed by their garden (22 per cent) bathroom (14 per cent), and bedroom (11 per cent).

Outdoor lights are the most commonly needed adaptation to ensure homes are practical and safe to live in. Three quarters (75 per cent) see this as a necessary feature, with 25 per cent of those living in a home that still needs this work carrying out

Three of the five most needed adaptations are found in the bathroom. More than two in three over-55s already have or anticipate a need for a downstairs toilet, compared with 48 per cent for a downstairs shower and 43 per cent for an adapted bath, electric bath lift or fitted shower seat.

In each case, significant numbers of over-55s live in homes that will need extra work carried out to add these features.

The majority of over-55s would first turn to their savings to pay for home improvements or care adaptations – but four per cent have no savings put away and one in five have less than £10,000 to fall back on, limiting their ability to spend on essential work without increasing their financial vulnerability.

Equity Release Council chairman Nigel Waterson said: “These findings show just how important people feel it is for them to be able to remain in their current homes throughout their retirement.

“Living on in familiar surroundings is clearly the majority choice, which sooner or later means tackling the practical challenge of managing their physical comfort and safety as they grow older.

“The ambition to retire in the comfort of their existing home often brings a need for adaptations to safety-proof their surroundings. Investing carefully with this in mind can extend the period of time where someone can live practically and comfortably at home before they need to consider options such as residential care.

“With many over-55s asset rich and cash poor, it is a logical step to consider releasing some of their housing equity to prolong the pleasure they take from spending their retirement years in the place they call home.”