For most people, our home is our biggest single investment. It doesn’t only tick Maslow’s hierarchical boxes regarding our basic needs, by providing shelter and security, but also has a bearing on our psychological and self-fulfillment needs when we consider issues like size, facilities, and the ever important “Location, location, location”.
Just as with our other investments that we need to re-evaluate from time to time to ensure that they are still on track to meeting our ever-changing needs, we need to look critically at our living environment, too. While the family was growing, that extra bedroom and bathroom and garage were all prioritised to “Must haves”. Once the family has grown, and flown, that extra space has become the repository for sentimental, but often unnecessary, clutter, and has actually become a burden in that it merely means that there are more windows and doors to check for security and more square metres for us to keep clean and pay rates and taxes on. The day has probably dawned for us to seriously consider downsizing.
While there are specific options that generally hold more appeal than others, there is, however, no “One size fits all” solution. For each of us, our final decision will be based on the dictates of our finances, our health (present and anticipated), our culture, as well as various psychological and social influences — all to varying degrees. The generalised options that face us, together with some of the relevant factors to be considered with each, include:
- Sit tight, and maintain the status quo: This is often the easy way out and avoids making a life-changing decision, but actually it just transfers the ownership of the “problem” to our families. In the short-term, it is less disruptive and stressful than moving, especially if one of the partners is living with dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease, which makes the familiarity of surroundings very important. However, in the longer term, challenges such as home nursing, accessibility (e.g. wheelchair access) and home maintenance and security may become issues that pose a greater drain on our diminishing resources than our advancing years can easily manage.
- Share with children: In many cases, this is the most practical option for financial reasons. Considerations that must be evaluated extremely carefully are the pros and cons of in-house vs granny flat living, or of parents living with children vs children living with parents. Serious thought should also be given, up-front, to defining co-habitation rules such as privacy, access to grandchildren, financial responsibilities, as well as dispute resolution. Issues that are often overlooked include having an action plan for dealing with sudden / unanticipated problems e.g. a stroke, a burglary or hi-jacking, a divorce, a retrenchment or proposed relocation — each of which has the potential of radically disrupting the domestic, and possibly financial, landscape.
- A residential retirement hotel: While these establishments are less commonplace, they provide accommodation for those who prefer a hotel-type lifestyle. Various levels of facilities and luxury are available — much like the grading system applicable to the hotel industry.
- Traditional retirement villages are normally those established pre-1995, comprising fewer than 250 units, and with Frail Care facilities on site. They are often, but not always, established and managed by non-profit organisations. They are very often sold on a Life Rights basis, which could open up a host of additional factors, both pros and cons, to consider. Levies will generally be higher than those of lifestyle villages, and potentially with larger increases, to meet the demands imposed by maintaining the older infrastructure.
- Lifestyle villages: In essence, these differ from traditional villages only to the extent that they are normally newer (post 1995) and larger, some exceeding 1 000 units. Having the advantages of economies of scale, they are generally able to provide many more of the comforts and luxuries that are unavailable in other forms of accommodation. More and more frequently they are being developed to a theme, e.g. aquatic or birdlife, equestrian facilities, walking trails etc. At the other extreme, where developers are chasing profits rather than providing an attractive lifestyle, one can expect to look out of windows on to neighbours only an arm’s-length away, and expanses of unattractive (low maintenance!) hard paving.
In his book “Retirement Choices: A Practical Guide to Choosing Retirement Accommodation and Lifestyles”, Henry Spencer1 provides the following survey results:
|Reasons for moving in||Rating||Reasons for moving in||Rating|
|Security||72%||Frail Care availability||60%|
|Attracted by lifestyle||50%||Escape the workload of large home||48%|
|The move was the children’s idea||31%||Partner’s health deteriorated||20%|
|Spouse / partner died||19%||Friends / relatives live in village||19%|
|Ill health||10%||Children emigrated||8%|
A high-level analysis of the various reasons listed elicits the following comments:
Security, lifestyle and downsizing: These are all major contributors to the fact that South Africa, basically a Third World country, leads many First-World countries in the area of retirement accommodation. The problems arising from our high crime rate and relatively ineffective policing levels necessitate a different approach to that found in countries such as Australia or the UK.
Children’s idea / emigration: There is a strong link to the previous comment — when emigrating, children normally want to know that their parents are as secure and well-cared-for as possible.
Frail Care: Given that some surveys claim that only about 6% of residents actually make use of the Frail Care, it’s surprising that so much importance is attached to the facility. However, as we age, the usage projections increase to 8+% by age 85, with 35% of residents making occasional use, e.g. after a hip operation.
Health and death: Too many people only “take the plunge” when they are forced by circumstances to do so, which severely limits their selection to the options that are available in the market at that stressful time. There are numerous advantages to at least purchasing, if not moving, as soon after age 55 as possible; circumstances are less pressurised; decisions are probably more rational and the larger time-window will result in a wider range of both costs and facilities from which to select.
For most of us, this will be the last place that we call “Home”, and also the one where we will spend more of our waking hours than in the homes of our “working class” years. For this reason, it is extremely important that we are convinced, and satisfied, that we have made the right choice for our particular circumstances.
1 Henry Spencer has served as CEO of both TAFTA (The Association for the Aged) and PADCA (The Pietermaritzburg and District Council for the Aged). He has worked in both the UK and South Africa in various roles in Residential Care Homes as well as retirement villages, and has held a number of senior positions involving elderly people and retirement matters, including President of The South African Association of Homes for the Aged and Vice-Chairperson of The National Council for the Aged (KZN).