Leaving your home in safe hands

Retirees who leave their homes for time abroad are often worried about the safety of their property – but that can be a thing of the past, thanks to a new security scheme. By Graham Norwood

Lock-up-and-leave – it’s a phrase often used by hard-sell estate agents, but when it comes to maximising your retirement time, it really is a useful concept.

The term describes properties specially designed for those who can spend long chunks of time away, typically overseas at a sun-kissed holiday home during our chilly winters.

The emphasis is on apartments in well-managed schemes with specific staff employed to provide security and services aimed at handling bureaucracy and maintenance – leaving owners time to enjoy themselves without worrying about the home they left behind.

There are two main options for prospective lock-up-and-leave purchasers.

The first is to buy into a block of apartments with a concierge. A key advantage is that these schemes can be found in a wide choice of locations. They are mainstream and not just for retirees, attracting buyers from a cross-section of ages and backgrounds, and are often in central positions close to restaurants, culture and transport hubs.

For example central London has scores of such developments, many built to a high specification, and similar ones can now be found in smaller cities such as Bristol.

Yet concierges do have their limits. They ensure no unwanted visitors, supervise mail-collection and cleaning in your absence and manage maintenance of the block as a whole. But they are unlikely to hold the responsibility to check on internal features such as whether your boiler has broken down or whether there is a small leak affecting your home.

A small but increasing number of these schemes have optional extra-cost concierge facilities allowing you to have extra luxury, like having your fridge re-stocked or fresh flowers in your rooms ahead of your return from holiday.

This is a nice touch but adds to the sometimes-daunting service charges typically found in concierge developments. Exact costs depend on the size of the apartment but in central London, £10,000-plus a year is not uncommon, falling to £5,000 elsewhere. But remember these costs do also include contributions to the maintenance of the building and grounds.

Concierge-style security has been the ideal solution for Robert and Jennifer Spiers, two recent retirees who intend to spend six months of the year in Chelsea and the autumn and winter in the French Tarn region, about an hour east of Toulouse.

“Our London flat means we’re near galleries and theatres, which are our ‘thing’. But we don’t worry about the state of the property or the prospect of burglary when across the Channel,” explains Jennifer.

The alternative option is to purchase a dedicated retirement apartment or house, many of which have state-of-the-art security and high levels of property management.

“A camera entry system is installed and an intruder alarm is fitted to the front door of every apartment. On ground level, sensors fitted throughout the apartments. Most importantly, there’s always a lodge manager, responsible for the smooth running of our developments,” explains Spencer McCarthy, managing director of Churchill Retirement Living.

Bill Gair, chief executive of retirement specialists Urban Renaissance Villages, says: “Our maintenance team runs water and checks for leaks, adjusts heating if required and checks the boiler is functioning. The cleaners go in and dust, make sure post isn’t left sticking out of letterboxes. Other residents can see if unfamiliar people are hanging around.”

These services cost too, of course, and again this tends to be based on property size and the scale of the retirement development. Charges tend to range from £3,000 to £6,000 per year depending on the scheme – again including maintenance, especially of the large gardens and grounds typically found on many of these communities.

One couple delighted with their retirement lock-up-and-leave are Alan and Lorna Cullens, who live at URV’s Bramshott Place Village at Liphook, Hampshire and fly on frequent holidays as well as regular cruises. “We can just lock up and go away. Bramshott enables you to make the most of your life,” says Alan.

Of course, the lock-up-and-leave concept relies on your place overseas being equally secure.

The same rules apply – apartment schemes on managed resorts or any one of the growing number of dedicated retirement schemes in France, Spain, Portugal and North America make perfect choices to guarantee peace of mind about security when you are spending your time back home in Britain.