Six reasons why an apartment could be better than retirement housing

The financial aspect of retirement housing dominated the ‘Your Money’ section of today’s The West Australian.  The articles suggested that seniors should weigh up, seriously, the advantages of moving into park homes and retirement villages.

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You can read about the legal and financial  distinctions between the two here, but they are essentially collections of older people living in one place.

Apartments, like retirement housing, come in all shapes and sizes, with all sorts of price tags and locations.

I’ve never read an article that sang the praises of downsizing into a mainstream apartment, although lots of people seem to move into them and enjoy the process. Those I speak to love the life-style. John and I would certainly recommend it.

HERE ARE SIX REASONS FOR MY CHOICE

Physical location

More apartments are being built in Perth, both in the inner suburbs and near transport hubs. The choice of location can be overwhelming. Our apartment is within easy walking distance of everything we need or want. Access for our families is easy.

Park homes tend to spring up in outer suburbs or on the fringes of country towns where land sells for less and provides space to develop a ‘park’. However, lack of suitable transport and distance from family, the shops, churches, services and medical care can create a sense of isolation

Villages built in inner suburbs or near major centres cost more to buy, and this is reflected in the upfront payment required.

Community

Glossy brochures with laughing couples advertise a busy and involved social life for residents of retirement housing. It is hard to remember that those happy couples live there because they are ageing. They will not always have such energy and enthusiasm.

Organised social life is available in most retirement housing, but rows of houses closely side-by-side can mean a certain lack of privacy.

Communities in main-stream apartment blocks tend to be more complex, with a mixture of age-groups, ethnicities and interests. It is possible to maintain privacy in one’s own space, and at the same time enjoy meeting others in shared spaces and amenities.

I enjoy the mix of families with babies and toddlers; watching older children study in the hubs in the common area; young people coming and going; chats with the middle-aged and seniors like us.

Social events are varied and often spontaneous. They tend to centre around the pool, the theatre and dining room and the entertainment area.

Ownership

When you buy an apartment, you own it in the same way as a person owns a house. You also have the right to use the common property. You know exactly what you are buying before you purchase.

By legislation, there will be an elected Council of Owners, and annual general meetings of all owners are organised. Decisions are made by the owners about all aspects of the apartment block.

People do not actually buy a home in a retirement complex. Instead they pay for the right to live in a specific villa, house or unit. They may have a residents’ committee, but the decisions made by that committee are not binding on the owners of the property

Legislation and contracts

When you buy an ordinary apartment, normal housing legislation applies. The contract you sign with the estate agency is simple and binding as with all house sales.

Legislation around senior’s housing, on the other hand, is a minefield. Contracts designed to favour the owners do not always reflect the interest of seniors. If the business is sold, the new owners may have the right to renegotiate terms and conditions to the detriment of residents. Contracts often include a raft of conditions and hidden fees.

Unlike with residential aged care facilities, there is no access to advocacy in case of perceived mismanagement or dispute.

Finances

The buyer of a mainstream apartment owns the apartment and its title. It can be used to secure a loan.

Because they don’t own the property, residents in retirement villages can’t use their accommodation for security against a loan. This has implications if the residents need to raise funds for admission to a residential aged care facility.

On-going fees

In apartments, these are set annually by the Council of Owners. They pay for the upkeep of the building and facilities, cleaning, security, day-to-day management and insurance and anything else the owners decide they want covered. Fees are commensurate with the amenities available. Fees are reasonable, and obviously don’t include a profit factor.

As with apartments, on-going fees in retirement housing cover maintenance, insurance and amenities provided. The fees are set by the owners rather than the residents, and can sometimes be exorbitant. Services range from excellent to patchy.

For example, our friends bought into retirement housing a few years ago. From the first day they paid for use of a swimming pool and club house which did not exist and took about three years to complete. There was no initial redress, but eventually a protracted court case resolved the problem. This is not the kind of problem seniors want or need.

Conclusion

Like all major decisions, that to downsize is complex and needs considerable thought. Call me biased if you like, but living in an apartment at eighty years of age brings more joy than I could have imagined.

6 thoughts on “Six reasons why an apartment could be better than retirement housing

  1. Hi Maureen,
    I love how you mentioned the mix of people in an apartment block. It’s important. Not just for those at an older age but for those who are very young. So many children don’t have the joy of grandparents and I think it is a huge loss for a child not to get to interact with older people.

    I remember as a child the older adults who lived nearby. I remember one teaching me how to make a cup of coffee (we drank tea). Another would hold my hand as I balanced along the garden wall. Both parties gain.

    Then as a teen I remember being told off. Be more respectful when you speak to your Mum. Don’t let anyone be rude or sarcastic to you especially if they are supposed to be your friend.

    As an adult. I gravitate towards those older than me. In older age I’ve found nothing shocks really. You’ve lived it or seen it. I love this. Nothing brings you down to earth faster than enjoying the company of people who know what is truly important in life.

    I agree with you Maureen. Not just for the benefit of those who choose to buy an appartment… But for the benefit of those who will get to call them friend.

    • Such a touching response, Nat. Thank you. I agree wholeheartedly about the benefits to everyone when there is a close, mixed community. It seems entirely natural that there should be a mix of generations where people live, so that everyone feels part of a whole.

      Thank you for sharing some of your childhood experiences about the community where you grew up. Our next door neighbour, much older than my parents, taught me to make a really delicious chocolate cake when I was about nine or ten. I cooked with my mother, too, but there was something very special about Mrs. M and her kitchen.

  2. What an interesting article, and if I had to choose between the two I would feel exactly the same as you Maureen.

    • Thanks, Sue. I can’t see many advantages in so called retirement housing, as you would have understood from my post. Two of the most terrible consequences, at least in Western, Australia, are the isolation that can be experienced and the wicked erosion of seniors’ savings through the fees charged.

      Apartment living provides convenience, security and the community.

  3. I must say that I see a lot of benefits in retirement living and am likely to go for that. I take your point about mixed communities in a “normal” apartment, but you can still end up quite isolated if most people there are all going off to work and you are not. Also, retirement places have community centres, where all sorts of activities are offered – some by people outside like a yoga class, and some organised by the community itself like craft groups, mah jong groups, walking groups. They also have a couple of professional suits for hairdressers, podiatrists, etc. When you can no longer drive you have this all on tap. The thing is that sometimes when people can no longer drive it’s because their sight is not great. Getting onto and off public transport to go to your activity, is not easy. Taxis and Ubers can work but older people can feel a bit vulnerable when they are no longer on top of things, plus the cost can be high. And, just ordering them – particularly if you are not technologically competent – can be intimidating. This lack of mobility and the isolation that comes with it is a big issue for me.

    You have to be careful about the retirement village you choose of course – but I have an elderly relation in Victoria who moved into one when she was 90, my late mother in law who moved into one when she was 80 and was there until she was 96, and my parents who were nearly 88 and nearly 97 when they moved into one. In all cases, the retirement villages have been happy places. My mum struggled with the downsizing part, but she is very happy with the place they are at, with the management, and the support. These are three different places – one in Victoria and two here in the ACT. (I do know of one unhappy one here. Mum and I visited it and were unimpressed with the management and have heard since that it’s not a happy place. Then again, I know someone who left their townhouse complex because of terrible body corporate problems. Residents setting fees can be fraught – not all residents agree on the fees, on what they should be used for, on whether things like maintenance need to be done etc.)

    My suspicion is, too, that older people on their own can probably benefit more from retirement living.

    My parents’ retirement place is across the road from a major town centre (though I agree this sort of location is rare). It brings some of the advantages you talk about in terms of access to things, but it also brings more road noise. (My parents are in an apartment – their complex has villas and apartments.) Apartments in general tend to be near busy roads which even double glazing cannot completely keep out.

    I have friends who have moved into an apartment complex in their early 60s. They love it, because it suits their life-style – the best move they ever made they say – but they hardly see any people in their complex – even on their floor. They are thinking about retirement living when they get older.

    All this said, the legalities can be tricky, and they are not investment options. I completely understand that. But for me the services and the support of a retirement community is where we’ll be heading around the age of 80 we think. You can still go out and mix with the wider community from there – as all my relations did and do. My Mum is involved in many external activities still.

    However, as the child of an 89 and 98 year old, I feel so much happier going out of town now my parents are in the retirement village because of the layer of support there if something goes wrong. I want to be able to go on holidays including visiting another capital city where our children and grandchild live, without worrying. I do think parents, particularly now that we are living longer, need to think about the impact of their decisions on their children.

    Sorry for this long comment, but I felt that the case for retirement living did need to be made, and that there are more complex issues to tease out. (I know you said that the case has been made elsewhere but I wanted to give my perspective because I’ve been watching and thinking about all this for well over a decade now. I’ve had nonagenarians in my life since 2004!) I’m really glad, though, that you are loving your choice. You are clearly still both healthy and active, and able to take advantage of all that apartment living can offer.

    • Thank you for such a detailed response to my article about apartment living as compared with retirement village living. I think this might be a matter that we will have to agree to disagree about. But it is a very personal decision that many people must make, and my opinion is that it needs to be made sooner rather than later, when one’s children need to make sure you are well settled, and begin to want to influence opinions.

      Your response makes a valid and valuable contribution for other readers of my blog, who may not have thought through the advantages of retirement villages.

      Have a happy Christmas and a joy-filled New Year.

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