McCarthy and Stone: Stacking grannies in property plays

EDITOR'S BLOG: Britain's mad property market combined with our ageing population means retirement homes are boomtown central.

by Matthew Gwyther
Last Updated: 15 Oct 2015

Saw Dame Maggie Smith last night. In the flesh and on the big screen, as I went to the premiere of Alan Bennett’s ‘The Lady In The Van.’ Her regal Dameness - who recently noted encouragingly she had never watched a single episode of Downton Abbey - gives a stonking performance and has to be a sure-fire contender for the Best Actress Oscar. That’s if the Americans can understand Bennett’s broad Leeds accent, as portrayed by the actor Alex Jennings.

The film is based on the true story of an elderly destitute woman in a van who turns up on Bennett’s doorstep and ends up living on his driveway for 15 years, where she frequently leaves unspeakable things on the pavement. Sounds unpromising but give it a try.

Bennett allowed her to remain there out of the goodness of his heart, but there is a lot of money to be made from our rapidly ageing population. The demographic numbers are enough to make any opportunity-seeker drool. Or even dribble.

SAGA’s exciting insurance offers for the elderly aside, it’s property - surprise, surprise - where the serious action is. Last year there were only around 105,000 retirement homes available to purchase in the UK, but the number of people aged 65 and over is set to grow from 10 million in 2008 to nearly 17 million in 2033.

When Demos did the analysis back in 2013 it found that older people hold £1.28tn in housing equity. £400bn of this is currently tied up in homes of the over-60s who may or may not want to downsize. And hand out some equity to their poverty-stricken, Generation Rent grandchildren.  The report also suggested that one in four over 60s (3.5 million) are interested in buying a retirement property (or, of course, they could just sit on the choicest appreciating asset imaginable - UK freehold property). At the seriously elderly end of the Old Father Time scale the number of people aged 85 and older is expected to rise from 1.5 million to 3.5 million between 2014 and 2033.

Step forward Mccarthy and Stone, the country’s best known builder of cost effective retirement housing, or ‘granny stackers’ as they’re known in the trade. The company has just announced it wishes to IPO to raise some money. It’s thought to be worth at least one billion pounds. What isn’t worth a billion at IPO the edays?

The company, has a chequered history, to say the least. A firm favourite subject of programmes like Watchdog, at one point it sold its whole freehold book to Vincent Tchenguiz, famed for his involvement in financial things Icelandic and his extensive tussles with the Serious Fraud Office over the last few years.

Its direst moments occurred back in 2006 when it was taken private with massive debt of £1.1bn by a bunch of gearing geniuses who couldn’t resist getting hold of a property play with a few lonely OAPs attached. Bleeding heart Camden liberals the likes of Alan Bennett they weren’t, and the venture crashed in the ugliest fashion. HBOS, the endlessly charming Richard Desmond and the deeply mysterious Reuben Brothers were in the thick of it, as a result of which the former’s Peter Cummings was singled out for ‘serious misconduct’ by the city watchdog. Lots of watchdogs have been involved with McCarthy and Stone over the years.

One of the contenders looking to cash its stake in with the IPO is… yes, you guessed it, Goldman Sachs. McCarthy & Stone notched up a 25% increase in revenues, from £388m to £486m, for the year ending August 31 2015. Its pre-tax profit, excluding exceptional items, rose 40% to £88.4m. A retirement home clearly beats living like Dame Maggie’s character in the back of a van.

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