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Forget the ‘golden years’, today’s retirees want sparkly living – and property developers must give it to them

Retirees today want more active lifestyles and homes that offer community and security. Photo: Ernesto Velázquez/Pixabay

Retirees today want more active lifestyles and homes that offer community and security. Photo: Ernesto Velázquez/Pixabay

Published May 23, 2022


Life is constantly changing; people are continually evolving; and retirees are living lives that are a lot sparklier than ‘golden’ in their later years.

Retirement villages and estates have had to adjust their offerings to meet the changing needs of today’s retirees, and even these demands are constantly shifting.

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In addition, the effects of Covid-19 and the lockdowns encouraged further shifts in retirees’ demands and priorities, with property managers and developers implementing changes in the event of future pandemics.

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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 that there has been a “marked recovery”, especially in mature lifestyle villages.“

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

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Last year’s riots in the province also caused retirees to rethink the security of their homes and pushed them to consider moving to secure villages, says John Webster, project coordinator for Widenham Retirement Village, also on the South Coast.

“People who were only interested in moving into a retirement village in their late 70s are now moving into the village in their mid-60s. Security is a major factor in this rethink.”

Similarly, the knowledge that frail care is available when needed is a contributing factor.

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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.

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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 ages.”

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

Webster says construction and design trends of new retirement developments 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.

The reassessment of retirement offerings is also encouraging a trend towards earlier semi-retirement, Barker says.

“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.”

To remain relevant and in demand, he says the retirement property industry will need to adapt to what the younger purchasers require 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.”

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Ageing where they are

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.”

The concept of ‘ageing-in-place’ has been around for years, and with affordable retirement accommodation in short supply, it continues to gain ground in South Africa, says Berry Everitt, chief executive of the Chas Everitt International property group.

“Extensive research has also shown there are many potential health and social benefits when you remain in your existing home and community as you grow older, as long as the property is easy to live in and maintain,” he says.

“As in other parts of the world, this is driving a trend in South Africa towards home alterations and improvements that not only facilitate ease of living in the present, but will also assist owners to age in place safely, comfortably and independently.”

For example, he says retirees would rather lay a new, level pathway than install a water feature, and rather have self-cleaning gutters than change the colour of roof tiles.

“Smart home management and security systems are also popular choices, as are energy and cost-saving measures. ‘Ease of living’ is paving the way for ‘ease of ageing’, even when homeowners don’t especially want to think about needing grab bars, wheelchair ramps and shower benches.”