– Couple deeply regret hasty decision
– Why did they not RENT instead?
– Churchill satisfied with sales procedures
A couple who bought a one-bedroom retirement flat deeply regret making the hasty decision and were desperate to sell up – only seven months later.
Evelyn Matthews, 78, and her husband Stan, 94, bought the one-bedroom flat at Gerard Lodge in Bognor, West Sussex, from Churchill Retirement last November.
They paid £186,950, after having sold their three-bedroom family home in nearby Emsworth for £220,000. The process was handled by Millstream, Churchill’s management and estate agency branch.
But since May the property has been up for re-sale and is now priced at £181,000, with estate agents urging further reductions to £175,000.
“We feel we should not have been sold the flat as we are not capable of independent living,” says Mrs Matthews. “We feel we are the victims of pushy salesmanship and that it was obvious that we were not suitable for this form of lifestyle.”
Spencer McCarthy, the chief executive of Churchill, has examined the sale in detail and rejects this account. He has issued a long statement to Carlex, which is reproduced in full below.
The couple have other sources of unhappiness as well as a house-move that had gone wrong.
Mr Matthews, a London fireman during the Blitz, broke his neck on stairs two years ago. He is very infirm, while Mrs Matthews has very impaired vision and is partially dependent on a wheelchair.
Mr Matthews, who also has had an operation for Crohn’s disease, cannot manoeuvre Evelyn’s wheelchair.
Other than hospital appointments, they claim only to have left their first-floor flat twice over the past ten months: to visit Iceland supermarket and a trip to Tesco’s.
All their shopping is done by their friend Stella Whittenham, 61, who comes over from Emsworth once a week.
“I think that they were bulldozed into buying this property and that Churchill did not show any commonsense at all,” says Mrs Whittenham.
“I just wish I had accompanied Evelyn on her visit to Gerard Lodge as I would have been able to advise her against buying a flat there.
“They are utterly miserable and Evelyn spends most of the day in tears.
“The Matthews are a lovely couple who really contributed to society in Emsworth. Evelyn is a strong and independent woman, and it is only recently that they have not really been able to look after themselves.”
There is no evidence that the Matthews were the victims of inappropriate salesmanship by Churchill.
Indeed, Evelyn admits that Churchill invited her to stay at the guest suite at Gerard Lodge to see whether the site and facilities were to her liking.
Given her infirmities and those of Stan, she declined to do this.
Mr McCarthy states that the Matthews had already begun the process of selling their house in Emsworth before contacting Churchill.
In addition, the couple “were accompanied by their step-son and his wife [in fact, girlfriend]” when they visited Gerard Lodge.
Mr McCarthy says: “Having reviewed this case with my sales team and Millstream Management Services, and viewed all the paperwork and detailed notes held on the Matthews on our customer database, I am satisfied that this couple were reasonably qualified to ensure the purchase of an apartment at Gerard Lodge was right for their circumstances.”
The Millstream saleswoman also informed the Matthews that there were re-sale apartments in Emsworth, which would make the move to Bognor Regis 14 miles away unnecessary.
For the purchase, the Matthews used solicitors Wannop Fox Staffurth and Bray that were among a panel of eight firms recommended by Churchill.
They claim to have received a £1,000 discount by using the recommended removal service, Britannia.
Mrs Matthews claims that the flat they bought was on the market for five years, after the 40-flat Gerard Lodge was completed by Churchill in 2009.
In May she instructed two local estate agents to sell the property. It went on sale with two local estate agents charging 0.75 per cent (Crown) and 1.75 per cent (Whiteheads).
It is also on with Churchill’s own estate agency branch Millstream, which is charging three per cent.
It is not confirmed whether this is Millstream’s standard fee, but if it had sole agency it would charge two per cent.
So far, there has been only one viewing of the flat.
Mrs Matthews requested that Carlex approach Churchill to ask whether it would consider buying the property back.
Mr McCarthy replied: “Churchill Retirement Living do not buy back second-hand apartments it is not our business, we are housebuilders selling new retirement apartments, however we do have a re-sales company dedicated to this.”
Mrs Mathews is convinced that she and her husband will never be happy at Gerard Lodge
“Buying this flat has been a really awful decision and I want other people to know about it so that they do not make the same mistake as us,” she says.
“People must understand whether this sort of lifestyle is for them before making the decision to buy.”
Sebastian O’Kelly, of Carlex, visited the Matthews at Gerard Lodge on August 17.
“I do not believe that the Matthews’ unhappiness can be entirely attributed to an unsuccessful property purchase.
“The site itself is spotlessly clean and there is an attractive, large communal lounge. There is evidence from the notice board of a number of communal activities being undertaken by the residents.
“The Matthews do not use the communal lounge at all and only know one neighbour. The part-time house manager has tried to involve them in life at Gerard Lodge.”
Carlex has raised the case with AgeUK, and social services are involved.
“But the Matthews case does show how vitally important it is not to buy retirement property in desperation, or in a hurry.
“It is a major, and sometimes irrevocable decision, that needs careful preparation and thought.
“Once bought, retirement leasehold properties are notoriously difficult to re-sell and Carlex has a number of correspondents who feel that they are completely stuck. They cannot sell without considerable financial loss.
“If you have to move to retirement accommodation in a hurry, then it would be far wiser to rent rather than purchase. You only buy when you are absolutely certain that this is the right decision.”
The delicate issue of the re-sale value of a new retirement flat won’t be established until there is a sale. If the Matthews insist on one in a hurry, it is likely to be at some loss, which could be considerable.
Churchill’s estate agency charging three per cent is absurdly high, but it is in line with what Peverel’s Retirement Homesearch gets away with.
This is an area where more healthy competition would bring benefit to the retirement sector, and should be the subject of attention by the Competition and Markets Authority.
Statement from Spencer McCarthy, Churchill Retirement
In response to your [Carlex’s] email dated 19th August, I can confirm that we are aware of Mr & Mrs Matthews who live at Apartment 12 Gerard Lodge, Bognor Regis. Having reviewed this case with my sales team and Millstream Management Services, and viewed all the paperwork and detailed notes held on the Matthews on our customer database, I am satisfied that this couple were reasonably qualified to ensure the purchase of an apartment at Gerard Lodge was right for their circumstances.The sales consultant acknowledges that there were mobility issues, which were discussed on their visit to Gerard Lodge, when they were accompanied by their step-son and his wife.
Both Mr & Mrs Matthews, and these family members, were keen to secure a reservation on Apartment 12 and felt that the new lifestyle offering that is provided at a Churchill Retirement Living development was suitable for them and would overcome the loneliness they were experiencing at their home in Emsworth.
They were very much made aware of the aspect of Independent Living and that the lodge manager was only part time.
Mrs Matthews had already had their house independently valued by Borland and Borland in Emsworth, so they were already considering a move. At no point did the Matthews seem to be hesitating or resisting the move. To reiterate, this had the support of family members who had also viewed the facilities to ensure their suitability.
The sales consultant agreed to go to the Matthews’ house with the temporary hold paperwork as she lives in Emsworth, and thought it unfair for them to travel across again.
She does remember asking them a number of times if they were sure they wanted to move to Bognor Regis as they could easily obtain a second-hand Churchill retirement apartment in Emsworth and suggested any re-sales at Mulberry Lodge as well.
Mrs Matthews insisted no, people were very unfriendly in Emsworth and she wanted to move.
We did recommend that the Matthews choose from our panel of solicitors, of which there would have been 8 to choose from.
The sales consultant provided the Matthews with the list, and advised that Wannop Fox Staffurth & Bray (David Lowe) had done work for many of the owners at Gerard Lodge. He is a very patient and kind man and she felt he would do a good job by them.
However, they did have the choice and they mentioned Belcher Frost in Emsworth, which the Sales Consultant advised would be fine as well. However, upon reflection the Matthews chose Wannop Fox Staffurth & Bray.
You have asked for confirmation that removals were arranged for Mr & Mrs Matthews. I can confirm that they purchased Apartment 12 with carpets (vinyl in bathroom), curtains and fireplace and were incentivised further with the removals, £500 towards their legal costs, a £3,000 discount and we changed their bath to a shower.
The sales team do evaluate the suitability of customers looking to purchase an apartment and a standard set of qualifying questions are asked.
However, it is not always straightforward to identify some health issues. We do have a ‘vetting’ procedure that is in place to ensure that to the best of our ability we are correctly assessing suitability.
As already stated, this purchase decision was not made solely by Mr & Mrs Matthews as family members, who accompanied them on their visit, also supported the move. The sales consultant had noted that Mrs Matthews had a few health issues with her eyes and mobility, but at no time did she feel the Matthews were not suitable for Churchill Retirement Living.
In fact it was felt a move to a retirement community was probably right for them, considering the stairs and loneliness issues at their current house.
Millstream Management Services are charging 3% on the sale of the Matthews’ apartment. This is a standard rate due to it being a multi-agency agreement. If and when the contracts come to an end with Crown and Whiteheads, they will reduce the fee down to 2% which is the standard fee for a sole agency agreement.
The Matthews bought Apartment 12 which was a brand new apartment from when the development was launched in 2009. The 2 remaining apartments [for sale] currently have interest, with one couple staying in the Guest Suite to sample the surroundings before committing to a purchase.
Churchill Retirement Living do not buy back second-hand apartments it is not our business, we are housebuilder selling new retirement apartments, however we do have a re-sales company dedicated to this.
Having spoken to Millstream Management Services, I understand that Social Services are involved in assessing the Matthews’ suitability to remain in their apartment and, if necessary, will consider alternatives with them.
The lodge manager at Gerard Lodge has tried exceptionally hard to integrate the Matthews into life at the development, which was one of the reasons they wanted to move there in the first place, however she has been unsuccessful in this.
She also carries out a daily courtesy call with them to check that they are OK.
I am aware also that Dave Ryder, operations director of Millstream Management Services, has been to see the Matthews to discuss their concerns. He is currently on annual leave but when he returns next week I will be reviewing the status of this case with him and ensuring we continue to give the Matthews the support they require.
To summarise, as with all customers, we qualify and evaluate the reasons for moving and the suitability for our accommodation for them. As stated earlier, a standard ‘vetting’ procedure is in place.
We have previously sold to customers who have mobility issues which our developments are suitable for and comply under current builder regulations, so just because someone is in a wheelchair this does not preclude them from living at a Churchill Retirement Living development.
It is unfortunate with the age of customer we are dealing with that sometimes health and mobility issues can deteriorate very quickly and in these cases Millstream Management Services deal with these issues sensitively and appropriately, initially with family members and then with Social Services if required.
We have over 3,000 Owners who have bought a Churchill Retirement Living apartment and are enjoying the lifestyle this type of accommodation provides. It is regrettable when cases like the Matthews arise but I can assure you that Millstream Management Services will be doing everything they can to support them.
The Matthews were not advised about rented accommodation because Churchill Retirement Living do not operate in this market.
I am happy for you to recopy the full content of this email on your website.