It was all about positive energy and ageing gracefully without giving in to dullness, mediocrity, boredom and “beige bungalows”. It was about living life to the full. And it’s interesting that it uses the concept of outsourcing ageing – not actually that far-fetched – to get the message across.
Think back to when the classic retirement villages starting coming on the market in the 1980s: the people who were in their late 60s and 70s then had been born in the early 20th century and reached adulthood during the planet-wide upheaval of the Second World War. Many fought in that war and endured severely restricted lifestyles and freedom of choice, and then had to work hard for the next decades to reclaim their lives and give their children a future. Locally, these are the people who lived through Sharpeville and the Soweto uprisings as adults with teenage children. So, when it came to retiring, they just wanted to rest – to sit on the stoep with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and gaze out over the veld, or the ocean, or the mountains. Phew.
But their children – probably most of you reading this right now – had a very different experience. We grew up in a world where we believed that economic growth was unlimited, and that freedom and affluence together created the good life. We challenged the old patterns and, rather than meekly accepting what the world dealt us, we re-created the world to fit in with our aspirations. We are the Baby Boomers – the inheritors of all our parents fought for. And we are not going to take old age lying down. We live longer, we work smarter, we play harder and we stay active, alive and involved. We may have spent many years on the planet, we may have gained wisdom and grey hairs, but we are not old.
Arthur Case, CEO of Evergreen Lifestyle, says that people in their 50s and 60s are not even thinking of retiring – and they’re certainly not going to sit on the stoep. “We are facing a mega-shift in the paradigm of ageing,” he emphasises – for example, a strong move towards multi-generational communities.
But, regardless of how many vitamins you take, how carefully you watch your diet, and how much you pay your personal trainer, there are some hard facts that we all have to face as we age and live longer. Much as we hate to admit it, our future may well involve reduced mobility, frailty, chronic illness, dementia and/or loss of hearing or sight. This is why most retirement villages have health services.
And that’s where you have to get clever in a multi-generational community, and where the whole age-in-place process fits in. Many people are opting to stay where they are and to age in the homes they’ve lived in for decades. Some of the advantages of this option are that people are in familiar surroundings and in a familiar community where they are surrounded by pets, children, young families, teenagers – in short, a traditional community mix. Come to think of it, there’s nothing new in the concept of multi-generational communities – they just went out of fashion for a while.
Of course, while this may be seen as a positive by many people, there will still always be those who don’t want to be surrounded by pets, children and teenagers, so it’s likely the dedicated retirement community is here to stay – but it’s not going to be the only option any more. So the retirement offerings may need to be tweaked to keep up with trends as the market becomes more demanding and much more discerning.
The choice is huge, and we’ll be covering them in detail in future issues, but here’s a quick overview of some of the options.
The traditional retirement village is not going to fade away, but it will almost certainly evolve into something more akin to a lifestyle estate. Take, for example, The Somerset Lifestyle and Retirement Village in Somerset West near Cape Town. It’s marketed as a retirement lifestyle estate that’s indistinguishable from other lifestyle estates, except for the lack of toddlers, teenagers and territorial terriers. And, of course, with a concentration of ageing people come the economies of scale for care centres, nursing stations and other age-specific products. So you know that as you age, those needs we don’t like to think about will be taken care of.
Once having opted for a retirement estate, you can choose between various forms of ownership – freehold or sectional title, or a life right. This is a big decision, and you need to do your homework carefully to ensure that you’re buying into a financially sustainable property. Whichever option you choose, you need to check that the developers are a reputable company with a proven track record, and – while the charm of a small, intimate estate may be tempting – that the levy base is sufficiently large to sustain itself without excessive increases that may put strain on people with a fixed income. This is a very complex topic, so we will cover it in much more detail in a future edition.
There’s a distinct trend towards multi-generational estates – general lifestyle residential estates that have a retirement element. These are particularly popular with families who want to be close to parents and grandparents without compromising the independence of the older family members.
Kindlewood Estate on the KZN North Coast markets itself as a golf-free estate (although small-ball addicts can get their fix at Mount Edgecombe next door) with lots of wetlands, jogging trails and other sports facilities. The purchase of Phase 4 by the Collins Group and Kingfisher Developments, who have opted to develop the phase into a retirement option within the general estate, means that it will be separate, but not totally apart. So little Isabella and little Mia can safely cycle to Gogo and Grandpa, and intergenerational babysitters are close by.
While Kindlewood Phase 4 ( Now named Mount Edgecombe Retirement Village) was developed later, St John’s Village Lifestyle and Retirement Estate in Howick was planned from the outset as a multi-generational offering to differentiate it from the many retirement complexes on offer in the KZN Midlands. The abundance of open space with vineyards and other agricultural offerings, and easy access to all amenities, makes St John’s a relaxed lifestyle choice for all ages. But within the estate there’s a section reserved for over-55s, where buyers can choose between freehold, sectional title and life-right packages. Of course there’s no age restriction on people who buy into the general estate, and they may well decide to stay exactly where they are as they age.
An interesting and innovative development in Cape Town is the creation of Evergreen at Lake Michelle. Evergreen Lifestyle has bought 32 units in the Lake Michelle eco-estate in Noordhoek – not a cluster of 32 homes, but 32 individual homes scattered throughout the Estate. These are sold on life right, just like the other Evergreen properties, but in every other way they’re totally integrated into the existing community. A communal Evergreen clubhouse is in the planning stages. Here Evergreen at Lake Michelle residents can swim, braai, watch TV or just chat over a meal.
Ageing in place, & naturally occurring retirement communities:
Staying in the house you’ve always lived in until you die is not a new concept – but it is being reinvented. Technology and innovative businesses make it possible for people to enjoy many of the advantages of retirement villages right at home.
The development of interactive communication devices for medical and other emergencies by providers such as Call4Care offers a real sense of security to older people living alone. They can be used to check in every day, indicating that the user is alive and well, or to call for help in the case of a medical or other emergency. In fact, they can be used by people of any age. They’re wearable and can be programmed to call medical assistance, armed response and/or a neighbour or relative. These gadgets are particularly popular outside residential estates for people who need to negotiate dark areas between the garage and the front door, or for people who jog, walk dogs or cycle, whether alone or in small groups.
Innovative financial products like home equity conversion mortgages make it financially viable for people to remain in their homes and buy in services they may need – for example, full-time home nursing. It’s kind of like a reverse mortgage. The bank will advance money to people over 62 – either a lump sum or a monthly amount – using the equity in a fully paid up home as security. And then, when the home-owner dies, the debt becomes part of their estate so whoever inherits the house can choose to sell it, or to pay off the debt as if it were a standard mortgage bond.
When looking at ageing in place, it make sense to look at naturally occurring retirement communities (NORCs) – a term originally coined in North America. NORCs happen when the people living in a suburb, neighbourhood or even a block of flats all age together. One day you wake up and the whole street is sporting grey hair! These NORCs represent a great opportunity for service suppliers to tweak the offerings of the existing environment by supplying, say, home care, security, cleaning services, interactive security systems, and perhaps even meal delivery. The thing about NORCs is that, unlike retirement villages, there are no restrictive rules, and nothing to prevent younger neighbours moving in. In fact, it’s quite likely that, as some members of the NORCs die, their properties will be bought (or inherited) by younger people, so a natural cycle is likely to ensue.
Or travel the world:
There’s a lovely story on the internet of a woman who worked out that living on a cruise ship was cheaper than a retirement facility – plus the food was great, there was 24-hour medical assistance, and it offered the opportunity for inappropriate flirting with younger men. Sounds great, but it’s not real. Although, if you planned carefully maybe you could make it happen. Or perhaps here’s an interesting entrepreneurial opportunity to reinvigorate a financially distressed ocean liner. Hmmm … ???
But seriously, the important thing is to not limit your choices. If you’re comfortably established in a residential estate you love, chances are you’ll never have to move, but, if you want to make a change, there are so many options. It’s your life and it’s your choice – right until the end.