Six reasons why an apartment could be better than retirement housing

A reader's perspective:

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.

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