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Pandemic, riots affect thoughts on retirement estates

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Development of retirement properties is predicted to slow over the next year as developers take stock of the impacts of the pandemic and the country economic state.

Currently, retirement villages are trying to recover from the severe impacts of the pandemic and, at the same time, making adjustments to their offerings.

The effects of Covid-19 and the lockdowns encouraged a shift in residents’ demands and priorities, while property managers and developers are implementing changes in the event of future pandemics. The recent unrest and riots in KwaZulu-Natal have also instigated changes for retirees there.

Phil Barker, consultant for Renishaw Property Development, says demand for retirement property was initially hit hard by the restrictions and pandemic but there has been a “marked recovery”, especially in mature lifestyle villages.“

At Renishaw Hills (in Scottburgh on the KZN SouthCoast), we noted that prospective purchasers were specifically focusing on security, health-care options and relaxed community living,” he says.

John Webster, project coordinator for Widenham Retirement Village, also on the South Coast, echoes this, saying sales of retirement units were affected as retirees were unable to sell their homes to enable them to move. Those who were able to sell got substantially reduced prices and this made it difficult for them to replace their homes with retirement units.

The recent riots in the province also caused retirees to rethink the security of their homes and pushed to consider moving to secure villages.“People who were only interested in moving into a retirement village in their late 70s are now moving into the village in their middle 60s. Security is a major factor in this rethink.“

Similarly, the knowledge that frail care is available when needed is a contributing factor.” The isolation brought about by lockdown, says Mariska Auret, director at Rabie, resulted in many people realising that it is preferable to be part of a community than be alone in their stand-alone homes, without contact with others.

This could mean living on a secure estate and being part of a like-minded community, with access to a clubhouse and ancillary facilities, which has increased in popularity.

Changed priorities

Another realisation is that lifestyle– enjoying the best years of your life in an environment where you still have autonomy – is a crucial factor to the success of developing modern retirement estates and their sustainability, she notes.

“There is a substantial difference between a step-down facility or care-centre environment, and a modern retirement estate for the youthful senior, where the residents are all active and seeking enjoyment, security and quality of lifestyle.”

Barker too says current and soon-to-be retirees are assessing their lifestyle priorities and, as such, there has been a “strong demand” for coastal living.“

Another change has been the increased focus on wide-open spaces and the opportunity for activities that allow one to remain fit as one age. The walking trails and mountain bike tracks in the coastal forest in Renishaw have proved an attraction.”

He believes that these changes are long-term, as is the increased demand for villages that focus on a high level of security and affordable healthcare options.

Webster agrees: “We continue to emphasise security and community living… Residents will tell you that they lived in their previous homes for a number of years and hardly knew their neighbours. Now, in their retirement village, because of the pod system we have introduced, residents know everybody in their street. There is a genuine interest in each other’s well-being.”

People, including retirees, have been re-evaluating what is important in their lives, adds Gus van der Spek of Aview Properties, developers of Wytham Estate in cape Town’s Upper Kenilworth.

This has spurred those nearing retirement age to look ahead to their futures and put firm plans in place for their golden years.

“Retirement villages have also become more popular because the elderly are yearning for a sense of community after the isolation of the Covid-19 pandemic which prevented many from safely seeing their family and friends.

New trends

While Auret believes there will be an increase in retirement developments – following on from growth this year – Webster believes the development of retirement property will “probably slow down” next year as developers take stock of the country’s economic status.

“Can we afford to continue to build large developments for a very small sector of the South African community? The answer is probably no. Next year needs to be a period of taking stock of your development and consolidating your investment.”

For any new and ongoing projects, Webster says construction and design trends will focus on“smaller is better” and lock-up-and-go living. Maintenance is also a critical factor as retirees should not have to worry about fixing leaking taps or loose tiles.

“Today, it is important to ensure you are provided with fibre to the home, a decent panic alarm system and security patrols 24/7.”

Furthermore, retirees will be placing more emphasis on the amenities and facilities provided by villages. These include frail-care and out-patient clinics, sporting facilities and coffee shops. Where necessary, transport to doctors and clinics will also be considerations.

For the next year, Barker says retirement property developers, in general, remain “cautiously bullish”, particularly in coastal KZN, due to the reassessment of lifestyle choices of those nearing retirement age. This reassessment is also encouraging a trend towards earlier semi-retirement.“

This impacts the offering that the retirement property industry must provide to meet the need for working from home, including relatively high-speed, scalable internet connectivity.

The expected trend of an increase of people in their 50s buying in mature-lifestyle gated estates could also impact on design trends.” In terms of lifestyle offerings and trends over the next year, he adds that “lifestyle is everything” and this includes more focus on location and leisure time to stay fit and engaged.

“To remain relevant and in demand, the retirement property industry will need to adapt to what the younger purchaser requires without compromising that which is already offered.”

At face value, though, Auret says that while there are often no distinguishable features of most retirement houses or apartments, with homes “as modern and slick as any other development”, Rabie has introduced several age-tailored adaptations such as eye-level ovens, no steps and toilets that are slightly higher.

The emphasis is also on the lifestyle and the facilities offered.“Views, gardens, green open spaces, together with restaurants, libraries and access to activities and events, are all important elements to be incorporated in new retirement developments.”

Van der Spek maintains that developers will continue to embrace the “age-in-place” model which enables residents to retain their independence and receive health care either in their homes or at an on-site wellness centre.

This will delay the need for frail or hospital care for as long as possible.

“Research has shown that there are multiple physical and mental benefits to opting for the age-in-place model.”

Design trends next year will be community-orientated and promote open spaces and gathering areas, he adds. Outdoor spaces and leisure options, too, will be a focus.

“We also expect an increase in green energy choices such as solar power, rainwater collection points and other eco-friendly options.”

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