LIKE many seniors, Grace has spent the better part of 50 years living in the same home, building a life and support network in the surrounding suburbs.
Divorced for more than 30 years and with no children, Grace (not her real name) is one of a rapidly growing demographic of women living alone but approaching the age where finances become tight and the prospect of health issues that threaten independence begin to loom large.
She is also one of the many seniors with no desire to move into a retirement village or apartment, doubly so if that means leaving familiar surroundings.
Instead, Grace plans to downsize in place, sub-dividing her 880sq m Alfred Cove block and selling one side to finance the construction of a new, specially designed home on the remaining lot.
“In the last three or four years I really started looking at my options but I couldn’t find anything specifically for a person on their own,” she said.
“All the advertising seems to want to channel seniors into commercial situations like retirement villages or apartments where someone is going to make a buck.
“Ultimately I came to the conclusion that continuing to live on my own was the best option but I plan to live a very long time and I want it to be as comfortable as possible.”
Having made her decision, Grace set out to value her property and find a builder that met her specific requirements.
“My current house is an old two bedroom, one bathroom war service brick and tile built in 1958,” she said.
“It’s a small house on a big block zoned R20 and I decided the best way to go about the subdivision with the least wastage was to bulldoze the house and split the block so that I get two street frontages.”
Grace had the slightly smaller of the lots, which she plans to sell, valued at around $600,000, most of which will be used to finance the construction of her new Grand Designs-inspired home.
“The house I plan to build is a German solar passive design with highly insulated walls and double glazing,” she said.
“I want to live in a house that is going to cost me practically nothing to run as utility bills get more and more expensive as the years go by.”
The two-storey home will include an elevator, with the top half reserved for Grace’s own bedroom and bathroom and the bottom containing the kitchen, lounge and another master suite in case she one day requires live-in help.
Although Grace is currently mobile, the home has also been designed to be entirely wheelchair-friendly with widened doors and easy access cupboards.
“The actual construction takes only four weeks from when the concrete pad is laid because a lot of the home is built in a factory and comes out pre-fabricated,” she said.
The build has been costed at around $450,000, although Grace has opted for a very basic fit out and intends to use her remaining cash to finish the home to her liking.
“After lock-up I will take over and then room by room will supervise individual subcontractors to do the tiling, painting and built-ins myself because I have the time, it gives me an interest and it will save me a lot of money in builders fees in the long-run.”
Grace is unable to work due to health and mobility issues and has received the disability support pension for many years.
She began planning for her downsize with around $20,000 in savings, which she has dipped into to pay for architects plans and preliminary council approvals.
Grace’s top tips for seniors planning to downsize in place
1. Make sure you are committed to living in your own home for the remainder of your life – supported living in a retirement village may be a better fit for some people.
2. Check that the zoning of your block allows for subdivision and speak to your council about your options or requirements for street frontages and setbacks.
3. Spend some time thinking about and researching exactly what you may need in your new home as you grow older – and how difficult things like the garden will be to maintain.
4. Find a builder willing to meet your requirements – for example, double brick is very common, but there are now alternative construction materials available with superior insulation properties and solar panels will help reduce ongoing electricity bills.
5. Think about how long construction of your new home will take and make living arrangements for the interim period.
6. Have your construction plans drawn up and approved by council while you wait for someone to purchase your subdivided block.
Many residents worry about housing situation as they age
CITY of Melville community development officers (seniors) Veronica Clarke and Deena Lazzari said many residents worried about their housing situation as they grew older.
“From survey results over the past four years it is clear that seniors are concerned about their ability to downsize, affordability or appropriate housing close to shops and transport and the cost of living,” Ms Lazzari said.
“According to the ABS census of housing and population overall the chances of living alone increase steadily as people grow older.”
The City contains one of the oldest populations in Perth, with close to one quarter of residents over the age of 60.
By 2026, 22 per cent of Melville’s homes will be inhabited by a single occupant.
Ms Lazzari said the City hosted regular seniors’ forums and was planning information sessions that would provide an opportunity for seniors to share their downsizing experiences.
“Our seniors services directory also includes references to government and non-government services that provide accommodation and housing advice,” she said.
The City has also recently adopted Local Planning Scheme 6, which allows for greater housing density around public transport and activity centres, which was a key request from seniors.
“As the market responds, housing diversity will increase gradually,” Ms Lazzari said.
“In time, there will be a wide range of housing available for residents at all stages of their lives
“Elderly people and first-home buyers in particular should be able to find suitable housing in their preferred areas.”