The Great British Space Race: Over-65s Sitting on Millions of Spare Bedrooms

New research from property giant Zoopla has shown that a significant portion of the UK’s older population is living in homes much larger than their current needs. This situation is presenting a unique challenge in the UK housing market, particularly affecting young families and first-time buyers who are struggling to find suitable homes.

The Spare Bedroom Saga

According to Zoopla’s findings, over 40% of homeowners aged 65 or above are living in properties that are larger than necessary. This group collectively holds around 10 million unused bedrooms. The data indicates that 2.6 million homes across the UK might be under-utilised, many of which could ideally accommodate young families or first-time buyers.

A Closer Look at the Numbers

The research further reveals that a whopping 90% of these homeowners either live alone or with just their partner. Despite this, more than 70% reside in homes boasting three bedrooms or more. Astonishingly, nine out of ten have at least one spare bedroom, with half of the respondents admitting to having two or more extra rooms.

Furthermore, one-fifth of these seniors reported that they don’t use any of their spare rooms throughout the year, with another quarter stating that other rooms in their house, such as dining or reception rooms, remain mostly unused.

The Impact on Housing Demand

This situation has intensified the demand for three-bedroom homes, which is currently experiencing the highest disparity between supply and demand. Zoopla points out that this crunch affects not only those looking to upgrade from their first homes but also impacts a significant portion of the market – the first-time buyers.

Changing Dynamics for First-Time Buyers

The average age of a first-time buyer has risen from 30 to 34 over the past decade. This demographic shift means that many new entrants to the housing market are seeking family-sized homes right off the bat, further squeezing the already tight supply.

The Psychological and Financial Barriers to Downsizing

Moving from a long-term family home is not just a physical shift but an emotional one. The average homeowner over 65 has lived in their current home for 26 years, making the decision to downsize fraught with emotional and practical concerns.

Emotional Ties and Practical Concerns

About a quarter of older homeowners find the idea of moving too stressful, while emotional attachments stop more than one in five from considering relocation. There’s also the desire to maintain family traditions, with over a quarter worried about hosting events like Christmas in a smaller space.

Financial Disincentives

Downsizing is not only emotionally taxing but can also be financially discouraging. The costs associated with selling and buying a new property, including estate agent fees, legal fees, surveyor costs, and stamp duty, can be overwhelming. This financial burden is a significant deterrent, especially when the aim of downsizing is often to free up cash.

The Call for “Right-Sizing”

Experts suggest viewing the move not as downsizing but as “right-sizing” – finding a home that fits current needs rather than those of the past. This shift in perspective could help many to overcome the emotional hurdle and see the practical benefits of moving to a more suitable home.

The Benefits of Downsizing

For those without mortgage burdens, selling a larger home could be financially advantageous, especially given the house price growth over the years. Downsizers could find themselves in a strong buying position, with the potential to choose energy-efficient, low-maintenance homes that better suit their current lifestyle.