Billed as the only UK property event focused on retirement living business opportunities, Property Week’s Retirement Living 2019 sought to “inform, inspire and engage” the audience with forthright views on the big issues facing the sector. And what a great day it was – plenty of insight and debate to take away and consider. The overriding sense from the day, however, was just what an exciting and potentially lucrative sector this is.
Shoosmiths real estate partner, Catherine Williams, reflects on the key topics discussed:
- Identity crisis - Healthcare. Care. Retirement Living. Senior Living. Later Living - What will this sector decide to call itself next? It seems to change each year but now more than ever the label needs to cater for more than just a care home. Of all of the options ‘Later Living’ seems to be an accurate and respectful description for a section of society whose ages can span four decades. The audience voted for ‘Later Living’ by a country mile (which is good news as this reflects the name of our team within Shoosmiths). What is in a name though? Apparently assumptions and stereotypes. What we call the sector neatly segwayed into a wider conversation about how not to market and advertise to the older generation. There was an impassioned plea to do away with tired and dated imagery of very glamourous grannies and fedora’d gents milling about, coffee cup in hand, to embrace the quirky, fun side of old age, Iris Apfel style (if you do not know who she is then find her on Instagram).
- Autonomy - A theme throughout the day was that there was a call to the industry to remember that the customer, although older and with some care needs, still wants to lead an autonomous, independent life. Newer developments need to reflect the evolving lifestyle of the residents and the concept of “ageing in place”. This phrase came up time and again and essentially means choosing a home which has been consciously designed to evolve to suit your needs if you have a life changing event. I loved hearing from Sue, a practice manager at a law firm in Cardiff, who feistily said “just because I am 72 it doesn’t mean I actually feel 72”. She wants to have enough money left over after paying for her new home to enjoy life, including a glass of red. The panel of real life customers told the industry loud and clear to adapt to different individual needs, rather than trying a ‘one size fits all’ approach, and quite simply to stop patronising the older generation who have raised families, run businesses and should be respected as being the decision maker rather than the “oldest daughter”.
- Investing in Later Living - If you work in the sector you will have been saying it for years but “alternatives” (and Later Living property deals fall within this bracket) are now a mainstream asset to invest in. Long income funds are active and are keen for strong covenants taking care home leases. Turning to sales of housing with care units, growth is also strong in the mid-market and growth is expected in retirement communities as they come on line. Honor Barratt, CEO of Birchgrove, gave an honest insight into the challenges and successes of shifting apartments in the stunning new Epsom scheme. She told of rescuing residents (she called them escapees) who had gone to a care home too early and were now regaining independence in the Birchgrove apartments, or baby boomers with no kids who were liberated from worrying about leaving a legacy and are willing to pay top whack per week for penthouse apartments.
- Use class/planning policy chaos - I ought to mention the law. The Gondor Gardens planning case analysis runs and runs. This was the case where the Local Planning Authority took event fees into account to determine the level of affordable housing contribution required. More generally the panels concurred that the use classes order may need an overhaul to cater for the new later living options that do not fall neatly into the nursing home bracket.
- Co-living and inter-generational living - We have had co-working and now it’s all about co-living. The benefits of retirement housing being situated alongside children’s nurseries has been shown to be a benefit to both groups but there are also some other innovative new developments like Kohab. Kohab champions inter-generational living by having younger residents living alongside the older generation at lower rents on the promise that the youngsters take responsibility for running community events and activities within the development. This really resonated with me as I cannot see any reason why any group of people would only want to mix with their own age group after a life well lived amongst every generation. It also must have resonated with Carl Parsons (a retired Professor resisting the urge of his wife to move into retirement accommodation from vibrant Greenwich) who hilariously commented: “Why would I only want to live with a bunch of oldies?”. Maria Brenton, on the other hand, only wants to live with female oldies! Maria told us about OWCH, an acronym for Older Women’s Co-Housing. These women had (in Maria’s words, not mine) been bossed around by men all their lives and set about an imaginative joint venture with Hanover to design and build a female only, age-restricted development. They have created an absolutely stunning development that already has a long waiting list. A question from the floor: “What if one of you gets a boyfriend?”. “They can visit, but not move in”. All in all the residents told the legislators, planners, developers, investors, operators and lawyers exactly what they want. Now we should all crack on with delivering it.
Catherine leads the Later Living sector at Shoosmiths and works with developers, funders and operators on a range of development and investment projects in the sector. If you would like to chat please get in touch.
This event took place at in London on 5 November 2019.