Phil Spencer: I already know where I want to downsize – here are the top places to consider

Tewkesbury is less than 30 minutes from Cheltenham but with much lower house prices than its bigger neighbour - Paul Melling / Alamy Stock Photo

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It may seem a bit premature, but I already know where I want to downsize to.

I love where I live now and don’t imagine I will want to leave. The village my wife and I live in, in Hampshire, is close to London, surrounded by rolling hills and just as importantly, our friends.

However, it is possible our family house won’t be right for us later in life, and so if or when it comes to it, my own downsizing plan would ideally be to a flat in a converted stately home.

The way I see it, you get all of the benefits of the property – the gardens, room sizes, the light – without the maintenance responsibility.

And living in a flat means being on one floor, with good accessibility, plus the likelihood of a services team on hand if you run into issues.

It won’t be cheap, but I think, one day when the time is right for us, it would be worth it.

How you downsize and where you downsize to is a very personal decision, but you do need to be strategic so you can be sure you are making the most of your money.

Working out what you want out of an area and a home is just as important, possibly even more so, when you’re downsizing because by the nature of downsizing you are making your final move. You are not going to downsize twice.

The Pantiles Shopping Street in Tunbridge Wells, Kent
Tunbridge Wells is one of the most desirable locations to downsize with its easy access to London and good shopping and amenities to hand in its own right - mauritius images GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

Research by estate agents Hamptons identified the 100 best locations to downsize to, based on data including the travel time to the nearest town centre and total reported crime.

The results include favourites such as Tunbridge Wells and Harrogate, but there are also less obvious ones such as Westminster.

What does shine through though is the prices. These areas are in demand due to the fact they are close to amenities, and sought after not just by retirees but also young families.

One of the big pitfalls people make when downsizing is paying a premium on their property for things they don’t need, such as access to schools or quick transport to London. These are desirable earlier on in life, but it’s worth considering if you really need them. You can save yourself a lot of money if the answer is “no”.

In this spirit, I have chosen a few locations from the list and taken a look at areas close by that offer most of the same benefits, while leaving you with more money to enjoy your retirement.

Pretty colourful painted terraced houses in Chelsea
The pretty terraces of Westminster are proving a draw for downsizers wanting to return to the capital and its amenities - Maureen McLean / Alamy Stock Photo

Take Cheltenham for example, it is not hard to see why it is such a popular retirement spot.

Nestled in the Cotswolds it offers all the benefits of a lively regency town with plenty going on, as well as green surroundings.

However, with an average house price of £414,605 it comes in well above the national average. So how about Tewkesbury?

Less than half an hour drive north from Cheltenham the medieval market town has a more appealing price point with an average house price of £273,210.

It doesn’t have all of the larger town amenities as Cheltenham, but I would certainly take a look if that was the area I had my heart on.

In the South East, Chichester is a popular spot. It’s close to the coast, has a charming mix of the old and the new, and easy transport routes to London. There is also a good array of retirement accommodation on offer.

These new developments, targeted at downsizers are a far cry from the worn-out image we associate with later life accommodation. They offer a community and remove the stress of owning your own home and gardens, but with the privacy that brings.

In the south east, Chichester is a popular spot for downsizing
Chichester has a mix of old and new properties, and a wide range of retirement accomodation - David Robinson / Alamy Stock Photo

Renting may not seem like the obvious choice at this stage in your life, but done the right way it could free you up to spend your money on other things, so it is worth considering.

As is Fareham, a market town to the north east of Portsmouth.

Not far from Chichester, and between the city hubs of Portsmouth and Southampton, it has a modern high street as well as a weekly local market.

It also has a much nicer price tag. While the average house price in Chichester is £423,000, Fareham’s is £351,025. That’s not a bad saving for a trip down the motorway.

Head north and there are similar savings to be found.

Rutland in the East Midlands makes the list of the 100 best places to retire to, and I can certainly see why the “county of good taste” appeals to downsizers.

Rutland in the East Midlands makes the list of the 100 best places to retire to
Rutland in the East Midlands makes the list of the 100 best places to retire to - parkerphotography / Alamy Stock Photo

You might consider Uppingham, a market town, famed for the well-known private school. The honey-coloured buildings help to give the town the sought after English charm and it is easy to imagine putting down roots here later in life. The average house price in the town is £392,294.

Alternatively, Kettering, about half an hour up the road, has an average house price of £245,442. With good links to London, and a recently regenerated high street, it can compete with the commuter towns of Surrey or Kent, but at a fraction of the cost.

While these are all good options, and there is certainly value in hunting around, don’t be afraid to think outside of the box.

A grandfather I once met, Brian, lived a bus journey away from his family and travelled every day to do the gardening and help in the house.

The family realised it made sense to provide him something more permanent as an option to stay over if needed, so they built an annex in the garden that was just for him.

To begin with, he used the annex from time to time, but then eventually moved in when it made sense to do so.

Downsizing and then using the money to extend an existing property can be a very efficient use of your money – I have always said it is cheaper to build than buy.

Uppingham Town center Northamptonshire
The market town of Uppingham is popular because of its English charm; the average house price is £392,294 - Tony Curry / Alamy Stock Photo

Whatever you decide to do, tackle it early and think as strategically as possible. It can be scary, but I think downsizing is an exciting opportunity.

It’s a win-win – you get a property that is better suited to your needs later in life, and hopefully a nice lump sum on top of it to go and enjoy yourself.

My final bit of advice is: don’t leave it too late.

Whenever you decide to downsize, and however you decide to do it, it’s likely to be stressful. Big changes usually are – particularly if they involve property.

However, if you get on the front foot and take the time to find the right option for you, it is incredibly exciting.

Good luck and let me know how you get on.