In the second part of our series focusing on care, Eimear O’Hagan discovers that for a growing number of over-60s, the bottom of the garden is the perfect spot for a new abode…
From Skype grandparents to garden grandparents
Jen and David McAllister with two of their 11 grandchildren
Relaxing in their garden, enjoying the last of the evening sunshine, David and Jen McAllister smile as their grandchildren excitedly traipse down the path towards their home.
After many years as “Skype grand-parents”—living in South Africa with two of their seven children and four of their 11 grandchildren in the UK—the opportunity to live just yards away from them, in a “granny annexe” in the garden, is a dream come true for the couple.
“To go from seeing our precious grandchildren only once or twice a year, to now spending time with them almost every single day… it’s just wonderful,” says David.
“We feel incredibly lucky to have a living arrangement that not only gives us so much access to our family but will allow us to continue to live independently as we age. And we’ve been able to help our children both financially and practically by virtue of our decision to live here.”
The McAllisters are far from alone in recognising the benefits granny flats and annexes can offer elderly parents—and their adult children. Between 2013 and this year there was a 39 percent rise in the number of these dwellings being built in England and Wales, according to Valuation Office Agency.
What’s more, after the government scrapped plans in April to tax buyers of a property with more than one unit—treating them as if they were buying a second home—it seems as if this boom is set to continue.
Not a doily in sight…
A well-designed “granny annexe” can add value to a family’s property
“We moved to the UK from South Africa in 2012,” explains 70-year-old David, an electronics engineer. “Our main motivation was to be closer to family as we grew older.”
The couple rented a flat in Surrey for a couple of years, but after being refused a mortgage on the grounds of their age, and seeing Jen’s 33-year-old daughter Bronwyn (from a previous relationship) and her husband Sven struggling to afford the deposit for a bigger family home, they decided to pool their resources.
“After a lot of discussion, and research, we came to the conclusion it made sense for us to help with the deposit—using money we had from the sale of our home in South Africa—so Bronwyn and Sven could buy a three-bedroom home for their family, and build a little house for us in the garden,” says Jen, a retired teacher and carer.
“We’d already downsized from our large home in South Africa to our two-bed rented flat, so that side of things didn’t faze us. We knew as long as there were some simple rules in place, to protect our privacy and space as well as theirs, there’d be no problems living just metres from one another.”
James Lund, managing director of building company Granny Annexe, says that demand for homes like the McAllister’s is on the rise.
"To go from seeing our grandchildren only once or twice a year to now spending time with them almost every single day… it’s just wonderful"
“It’s a housing trend that’s gaining momentum,” he says. “Our sales are growing year on year by around 25 percent, and it’s being fuelled by a number of factors—we have an ageing population, a generation of young adults who are struggling to move up the property ladder, and a housing shortage.”
Elderly parents are now selling their homes to help their children buy one, or giving their home to their child and then building an annexe for themselves in the grounds. It’s a clever way of developing existing space for an affordable price.
“Some customers need practical care and support from their child, and living close to them makes that easier to receive,” continues James. “Plus, when you compare the average cost of an annexe build—around £70,000 for one of our designs—to years of nursing-home fees, it’s a financially savvier decision.”
Others are providing child care to their grandchildren, and some families just want to be near to one another—without living together.
“Above all, there’s the desire of the older generation to retain their independence and stay in their ‘own home’, albeit a smaller one,” says James. “And, for them, downsizing like this doesn’t mean they’re prepared to compromise on comfort and design. Typically, these are stylish, contemporary buildings—without a doily in sight!”
An older person living in an annexe can maintain control of their own routines
David and Jen’s home, which took just six weeks to build, is comprised of an open-plan kitchen/living area, a bedroom and an ensuite bathroom, with a small area of the garden fenced off for their personal use. Compact, but modern and flooded with natural light, they insist it’s perfect for their time of life.
“We’ve always lived in big, old houses, so it’s marvellous to have a home that’s so easy and quick to maintain, and feels fresh and new,” says Jen. “We brought some of our favourite pieces of furniture with us from South Africa, but mainly bought new things. This is a new chapter in our life and the annexe is symbolic of that.”
While David continues to work, Jen is now a full-time grandmother caring for her grandchildren five days a week.
“As well as Bronwyn’s children, I also look after my son Andrew’s two, who live nearby,” she says. “I love being able to help my own family, and it means they don’t need to pay expensive nursery fees.
“It works both ways of course, and should David or I need care in the future our children are happy to help us, so hopefully we can stay in our home for the rest of our lives.”
Read more: Is assisted living the future of care?