Annex 19 (Downsizing)
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Sam Dauncey, Thursday 26 January 2016
Annex19(Downsizing).doc, page 1 of 4, printed 18/05/19
We had always intended to be carried out of 10 Robin Lane in our coffins.
But wasn’t many years after Belinda started having to use the stair-lift regularly that we realised that I wasn’t getting any younger and Bindy was beginning to need more care.
We looked into care at home but carers expect a pretty rigid schedule. We couldn’t see the need for that. Bindy was far from bad enough to justify a care home but we still did a bit of checking. We didn’t want to be separated but provision for couples isn’t that common – and certainly not cheap. Back in 2012/13 we visited places like Sunrise in Bagshot, Anchor in West Byfleet, another in Sunninghill and a presentation by McCarthy and Stone in Basingstoke. Wherever we went they were either too geared up to decrepit oldies or too far away from our friends and activities in Camberley and Wokingham.
Of course they all took our contact details. Anchor (one of the bigger care-home operators) told us that they were trying a new venture in Yateley. It is called Hampshire Lakes Village, a development aimed at people in their 50’s and above. The location was almost ideal. As well as a care-home, it included what they called independent and assisted-living flats, allocated parking spaces, a bar, restaurant, health centre, swimming pool, shop, communal rooms with some organised activities, landscaped gardens, easy pedestrian access to the Blackwater river and the old gravel-pit lakes (full of wildfowl and fish). Sadly, no nursing home.
We visited the sales office early in 2014, when I was approaching 80. They told us that the development would not be open until the spring of 2015. We had hoped to get re-settled a bit earlier than that but you could get your name down for the flat of your choice for a returnable deposit of only £1000.
It seemed a no-brainer. We chose one of the largest two-bedroom, ground-floor, ‘assisted-living’ flats in the main building (where all the facilities are). We signed up there and then. Nothing to lose.
Of course, we’d been living in a 4-bed house in Sandhurst since 1966. I joked I’d never thrown anything away, so down-sizing was going to be the order of the day.
We went to a talk on it. It gave some useful tips but was really a sales pitch for a small outfit offering to do it all for you at “only about £50 an hour”. Anchor put us onto an outfit that offered a similar service at less than half that price. The chap who visited us left me with the impression that he would just dispense words of wisdom and help carry a few things that were too heavy for me. I made the questionable decision to do it on my own.
At first progress was good. In the summer of 2014 the builders were said to be “a little ahead of schedule” and we were choosing tiles and floor coverings.
In September 2014 Anchor advised us that we would be moving in on 13 April 2015. I spoke with a few estate agents. We were adamant that we would not move twice, so we needed to find a buyer who was willing to wait until our new flat was ready. Most of the agents said to put our house on the market in the New Year but one advised trying there and then for a buyer willing to wait until 13 April. He recommended a higher price than the other agents and in fact found someone who offered the asking price within a day or so.
I got onto Martin and Pole, the auctioneers. They advised on what would sell, and I started getting rid of stuff straight away. Sadly, brown furniture was of no interest unless it had antique value, nor electrical items, silverplate, crockery, paintings by unknown artists etc.
Anchor laid on a Christmas party in the De Vere hotel in Eversley for signed-up customers. The magic was marred when they told us that because of a shortage of bricks and brick-layers, completion would not be until late May or June. My buyer was in the building industry, too, and apparently just laughed. “I knew that would happen”, he said. Apparently the builder was having to fly brickies to and from Poland each weekend!
We wasted the better part of £1000 of legal fees by changing our minds about which flat to go for and then flipping back when we realised there was a serious shortcoming in the second one for someone in a wheelchair.
A couple of months later we were told of further delays – to the end of September. Our buyer visited the site and was assured that we were moving then and that he could be sure we’d be out of our place by mid-October at the latest. So he and his buyer arranged their mortgages accordingly.
Contract documents came from Anchor’s solicitor showing a nominal completion date of 30 September 2015. Sadly, during the solicitors’ exchanges, searches etc. Anchor came up with yet another delay: to 30 November! This caused mortgage problems for both our buyer and his. These were solved in the end by bribing him to sell his property at the end of October and stay in temporary accommodation until completion
In August we exchanged revised contracts showing completion of both deals on 20 November. They had been saying that 30th was a firm date so I expected them to call on a clause in the small print that allowed them to delay until then (or beyond) if necessary – allowing us a few days holiday at the end of November.
At this point the pressure to get rid of a half-century of clutter really started to bite. My parents were very Victorian, so I hate waste. I started selling stuff on eBay (which I find a real hassle). I put a lot of effort into finding charity shops to take things: furniture, clothes, trinkets, tools etc Having to get rid of well over half our clothes and hundreds of our paintings took several cycles of culling and re-assessment. But eventually I reached a point where I just gave up, still with more than we could fit into our new flat! I was just postponing the problem.
Then came the bombshell. “Sorry, we can’t complete on 20 November – it will be 5th January 2016”!
Anchor was committed to providing us with “appropriate alternative accommodation”. Of course, what they suggested was not appropriate for a couple, one in a wheelchair, who go onto Camberley or Wokingham several times a week. “Perhaps you could look for somewhere yourself”, they suggested. Foolishly, despite the growing stress, I agreed but found nowhere closer than Bracknell.
Then the pressure really began to tell. I forgot 3 of my first 5 choir rehearsals and got weeks behind with my art society websites. My exercise routine went to pot. I just gave up on trying to tell all the people I should have (you spend ages queueing on the phone, some people wanting a week or so’s notice and others not interested until you have actually moved). I just hope that Royal Mail makes a good job of redirecting mail. The temporary move meant that even that was not simple
Completion of our sale was on 20 November, a Friday. The removers packed on the Wednesday and were out completely by the Thursday afternoon. Talk about stress! I found myself wandering around in a daze, forgetting where I had put things, and finding that several of the removers’ boxes had been filled with stuff that we will have to throw out as soon as we move into the new flat!
We took very little to the temporary service flat in Bracknell (but included Bindy’s electric recliner chair). Friends who looked after Bindy during the Thursday and Friday and fed us those two evenings made that move fairly painless.
That was supposed to be almost the end of the stress. About 10am on completion day we went to see that our cleaner was doing a good job before we took the keys to the agent about mid-day. We found our buyer and the estate agent already there, and our cleaner upset because she had been told that she was trespassing. Our solicitor already had the money so the property was now theirs! Our buyer took over a much messier place than we would have liked. Luckily he was very relaxed about it. He dismissed all my apologies very amicably. With his wife and daughters, he now seems to be very happy with his new home.
Just to stop me relaxing too quickly I found that the security arrangements at the temporary flat were not very Belinda-friendly and that Vodafone coverage was rather marginal. Still, we coped.
------added in December 2016 ----
We completed the purchase of our new home on 5 January 2016. The stuff from storage was delivered the same day. The only significant breakage was that the legs had been snapped off our dining table! We moved in the next day.
The packing cases were nearly all emptied quite quickly. One is still full of curtains that I imagine we will never use. If anyone wants some free curtains, there’s coffee and biscuits here for anyone who cares to look at them?
Settling in at Hampshire Lakes was easy, although Bindy was a bit homesick in the early weeks.
A week before moving I’d found that the route from our flat to our parking space had been landscaped with a flight of steps! So should I worry about getting them to put a wheelchair ramp there? No way! In the event they allocated me a better parking space.
I’d seen our new kitchen and ensuites early in December 2015. They were not built quite to specification. It’s nearly a year later now and they’ve corrected all but one thing: a wash-basin to be moved. The kitchen was finished early this month (Dec 2016).
I managed to persuade BT to go away and refund the money it had taken for services not supplied. It proved easy to use Anchor’s almost-free system for Freeview, phone and Wi-Fi services (we pay only for outgoing phonecalls, which are costing us 2 or 3 pounds a month).
I found that settling in was a two-phase process: phase one was “where on earth shall I put that?”, and phase two “where on earth did I put that? Getting cheques for the broken table and for the costs of the temporary accommodation, putting the kitchen right, fitting a wardrobe and sorting out the snagging list were expected to take some weeks. We are told a new-build always has snags, even deliberate sabotage by disgruntled one-man sub-contractors.
Of course, it depends what you mean by “some weeks”. I started with a snagging list of about 30 items. Now, nearly a year later, it’s down to about 3 or 4.
Anchor is a dreadfully bureaucratic organisation, used to running care homes. It has yet to realise that more-independent clients expect to be provided with what they ask for, not like care-home clients who are told what they need! We are working on them. At least, local staff seem to be on our side. Discussions have started about forming a residents’ association.
We soon realised that our fire-door was too heavily sprung for a wheelchair user to open it without help – making it no easier for Bindy to get in or out than it had been in Sandhurst. A year later, we’ve now just got permission (not funding) to power the door! Next we have to see if we can find a powered wheelchair that Bindy can get in and out of by herself.
Indoor communal space and parking are both a bit limited. Phase 2 of the village – another 45 flats (sorry, apartments) – will presumably make this worse but it doesn’t seem to be putting off potential buyers. Act quickly if you want to join us – it’s only a £1000 returnable deposit.
There is plenty to fill your time here. In-house activities range from aquarobics to a book club, Scrabble, mah-jong and jigsaws to quite serious bridge. Outside trips (for shopping, sightseeing, theatres etc.) are arranged for those who prefer to travel with others. Sadly, we’ve not yet got them to open the Wellness Centre before 9am (which puts the kybosh on pre-breakfast swimming) but we’re working on that too. There are good walks, lots of wildfowl to look at and even some interesting flora.
Our flat is quiet and very comfortable (once underfloor heating has been mastered). . Our view is lovely The staff are wonderful and residents can socialise as much or as little as they wish. Together with washing and cleaning a daily meal is included in our package. Great! We can eat in our flat if we want but prefer the restaurant. Perhaps the service there is a bit pretentious but it’s good to have nice white tablecloths. It’s a great life.
Builders are now on site for Phase 2, another 45 apartments. Pile-driving of the 520-odd concrete piles has started and will continue to the end of January. Luckily, the ground is comparatively soft, the pile-driver is a modern hydraulic one and we are not that side of the village, so the noise is hardly noticeable.
A few conclusions, in retrospect?
- Declutter as soon as you can. Think carefully about how badly you need to move. Will you be able to cope in a few years’ time? If not, the earlier you move the better. Downsizing eases things for your heirs. How much does that matter to you?
- If you can look at a closed drawer, a cupboard or what have you and not know what is in it, don’t look – dispose of it all.
- Your first thought should be “If I didn’t have this, would I have to buy it?”, not “This could be very useful”
- Help is invaluable. Friends or family are great (they might even want one or two of your bits) but if you can afford professional help, it may be worth thinking about it.
- Expect delays and surprises if you buy a new-build off-plan.
- Read the small print of your lease carefully. Some residents seem not to realise that owning a leasehold flat is not the same as owning a freehold house, particularly when it comes to alterations, sub-letting or selling.
- We were quite right a year ago to think we were going to be happy with our new home. It’s all been worth the stress. Do I get another laugh this year for suggesting you might like to join us?
Annex19(Downsizing).doc, page 1 of 4, printed 18/05/19