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Covid-19 pandemic drives new way of looking at retirement villages because community has become more important

Today’s retirees are looking for a strong sense of community and friendship within estates and villages. Picture: Kampus Prodcuction/Pexels

Today’s retirees are looking for a strong sense of community and friendship within estates and villages. Picture: Kampus Prodcuction/Pexels

Published Feb 28, 2022

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Demand for retirement accommodation has increased since the hard lockdown as retirees, and those nearing retirement age, look for a stronger sense of community.

“Loneliness during lockdown greatly affected the well-being of the elderly, and being within a retirement village assisted with this,” says Monique Norman, operations manager at the Cape Peninsula Organisation for the Aged (CPOA).

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She says there has also been growth in the number of retirees looking to rent retirement homes, or buy them on a life rights basis within such villages, as they seek varied lifestyle offerings in secure settings. “We have noted that communal areas, where retirees can freely socialise and interact with each other, are extremely important.”

Andrew Crooks, chief executive of the Hibiscus Retirement Villages group, says the Covid pandemic amplified the benefits of retirement estate living, with people seeing retirement villages as havens of support, community and care.

“Many retirees took the opportunity to move into such villages in this time or have decided to do so sooner rather than later.

“For some, the decision to move into a retirement establishment may never have been on the cards but they have now revisited this as Covid has amplified the benefits.”

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Harry Pretorius, chief executive and developer of Noble Resorts, agrees that retirement accommodation in South Africa is in high demand – and estate living is especially popular. Today’s retirees are also the “healthiest and most active” they have ever been. “They don’t want to be defined by their age nor segregated by it.

“Post-pandemic, people also no longer want to live separated from loved ones. They want to live closer and more connected lives.”

Post-Covid trends

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In response to this, Pretorius says the group has multi-generational developments, such as Noble Resorts Allesverloren, where young families and retirees can live together.

In these developments, there are facilities and amenities available for older residents when they need them later in life. In another model, the group has retirement resorts for over-50s.

“We have brought the ‘entry’ age down from the traditional 65 years old, thereby creating a community of people both nearing retirement and already in the retirement phase of their lives. This creates a vibrant dynamic where people are truly able to live their best lives.”

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Interestingly, Pretorius adds, frail-care units within retirement developments are now being eschewed in favour of home-based frail care. This is a result of many residents in frail-care facilities contracting Covid and dying.

“As a direct result of these cases, there has been a complete rethink of how we care for frail-care patients in retirement developments. “Fortunately, it has been ascertained that home-based frail care has far more success. The patients’ recovery rates are higher because they are taken care of in the comfort of their own homes.

“It is also more affordable as you pay only for the billable hours of the nurse caring for you and, of course, there is containment if there is an outbreak of any kind of infection.”

Crooks says that Covid has “brought certain offerings to the fore”, notably in terms of support, care and community. “Hibiscus Retirement Villages has always offered support services to cottages, such as meals (takeaway or deliveries); transport to doctors, hospitals and shops; on-site care centres and clinics; support groups or ‘buddy-systems’ and a range of activities in the villages.

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These services and this support have been invaluable to our residents during the lockdowns. “Retirees will be looking for these in new developments, not merely in the event of further Covid waves or new pandemics, but for the carefree, safe and active lifestyles they want.”

Since the height of the pandemic and lockdown, Norman says the CPOA, which owns more than 25 retirement facilities, has altered its service offerings to include assistance with online shopping, doctor’s appointments via phone and family Zoom calls.

These offerings, as well as lockup-and-go facilities and long-term rentals, are among the changes required in modern retirement villages and estates.

2022 and beyond

In terms of the year ahead, Norman says the CPOA has noticed a younger audience expressing interest in retirement villages.

Current and future retirees are also looking for support, security and estate living that offers a “hassle-free” lifestyle. These demands will remain over the next five to 10 years, she says, although more people will be after cost-effective options, lock-up and-go facilities and more service offerings for convenient living.

“They will want safe, secure, and well-maintained villages with accessible facilities, as well as tranquil environments and assurance of support.”

The biggest lesson learned over the past two years, Pretorius says, has been that older people no longer accept “being put out to pasture upon retirement”.

This means the future of retirement living is based on the “senior living” concept and “a new focus on intentional intergenerational living”.

“This trend looks at the development of pocket neighbourhoods; innovative, mutually beneficial intergenerational co-living models and strategies for designing for intergenerationality.” The future of the retirement market is “exciting” as there are “loads of fresh, new ideas being implemented by developers”.

“We foresee a considerable increase in the demand for retirement accommodation as younger people start to understand the value of investing in these property types at a younger age.

“I believe the stigma and concept of ‘old-age homes’ will be replaced with developments where the emphasis is on lifestyle and resort-style living.” Crooks says connectivity is an essential offering.

Retirees need it to communicate with family and friends, as well as for entertainment or work-from-home opportunities. “Retirees are also looking for choice in accommodation, ranging from smaller one-bedroom apartments to larger cottages.

“Affordability and value for money also remain key criteria, not only for entry, but the cost of levies and services.” And back-up for essential services such as water and power are increasingly an important consideration for retirees, he says.

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