When planning to build a rental property aimed at older Canadians, developers should balance the need to remain competitive in the marketplace with the need for cost-effective services and amenities that correspond to the demands of residents.
Unlike mainstream housing developments, where built-in amenities are largely influenced by the desire to capture the interest of the purchaser, developers targeting seniors are more likely to consider the inclusion of carefully chosen services or amenities with the expectation that these will be used—either because residents need them, or are willing to pay a premium for them, or both.
For this reason, a careful analysis of the costs and benefits of on-site amenities that require upfront investment (such as central dining facilities and a kitchen) is critical early in the planning process, as not only will these decisions affect the financial viability of the project but ongoing operational expenses, as well.
Here are some important factors CMHC recommends developers consider when planning their future retirement communities:
1. Urban or rural setting
The first and most important consideration is the location of your project and the offerings of the community-at-large. Highly urban locations are more likely to have services and amenities available within walking distance, or perhaps a short drive or bus ride away. Planned projects close to a community centre that offers fitness classes targeting seniors, for example, may only need a minimal investment in fitness facilities. Similarly, access to a local library where books and computer facilities are readily available can reduce the need to provide room for those types of facilities on site.
Projects in more rural settings, however, are more likely to require well-equipped on-site amenities given the distances involved and the frequent lack of convenient public transportation. Moreover, they can make a larger footprint because of lower land values, although the choice of amenities to be included still requires careful assessment to ensure that the investment makes sense from both a fiscal and marketing perspective.
Some developers are predicting that increasing numbers of older Canadians will prefer developments with all-encompassing lifestyle appeal versus developments that depend on the surrounding community for important services. In other words, prospective residents may be more attracted to a project that offers its own wellness centre, theatre, salon, walking trails and parkland, compared to a development in an urban area that has fewer amenities offered within the project.
2. Characteristics of the target market
Since older Canadians are a diverse group with a wide range of needs and expectations, developers should accurately identify and understand the particular target market for a development. The first baby boomers in Canada will be retiring in the coming years, and in general, the needs and preferences of this group are very different from those of their parents.
Baby boomers are, on average, better educated, more active, healthier, more affluent and more sophisticated in their tastes. They want access to restaurants and entertainment venues and seek a “worry-free lifestyle” where they can travel without having to fret about home maintenance. If the development is targeted to the baby boom generation, the focus should be on convenience, recreation and lifestyle services and amenities.
Since baby boomers have high expectations for the range and quality of services, in some cases, they may prefer that an amenity not be offered at all rather than accept something that is wanting or substandard.
If the target market caters to an older clientele, such as seniors 75 years and over, the services and amenities should focus more on in-home support services that assist with their daily activities, and assistive technology (such as emergency response systems) to augment safety as their abilities decline.
It is also important to consider that Canada is increasingly culturally diverse. About 30 per cent of the population 65 years and over consists of immigrants. Many immigrant seniors, particularly recent newcomers who represent three per cent of the immigrant population aged 65 years and older, have different interests, activities and preferences compared with seniors who were born in Canada.
Developers and potential project sponsors working in markets where a significant proportion of the senior population is immigrant or Aboriginal should pay extra attention to providing facilities that are culturally sensitive (i.e. places of worship).
Regardless of the target demographic, it is useful to take account of seniors’ preference to “age in place.” Even when targeting a younger market, developers should ensure that the services and amenities on offer are flexible enough to respond to the changing needs of residents. Multi-purpose rooms that can be adapted as necessary is certainly something to consider.
3. Identifying gaps in the community
When doing market research, it’s important to pay special attention to which services and amenities are not available in the community; have long waiting lists or are expensive. In such cases, providing these services within a project potentially makes it more appealing to prospective residents. If the project is in an urban area where many services and amenities are available, providing higher quality services and amenities would be attractive to prospective residents, as they would not have to compete with the rest of the community to access these services.
Additionally, the growing diversity of the population may provide an opportunity to offer services and amenities that are culturally, linguistically or spiritually relevant, but which are currently not being offered elsewhere.
4. Market affordability
A key element of market research is identifying how much the selected demographic can afford to pay for services and amenities and how much they are prepared to pay. Affordability is very important to the success of a project. Older Canadians generally live on fixed incomes. Although many older Canadians choose to continue working past the traditional retirement age, they may not be willing to spend a large amount of money on services and amenities over and above their accommodation costs. Looking at the rates charged by competitors may give a good indication of market affordability, particularly if the competition is serving a similar group.
Popular amenities found in retirement communities:
– Game rooms
– Hair salons
– Computer rooms
– Chapel areas
– Private dining spaces
– Walking paths
– Outdoor sitting areas
Graeme Huycke is Senior Specialist, Client Relations, Multi-Unit Underwriting at CMHC. For more information on housing for older Canadians, visit www.cmhc.ca or contact Graham at (416) 250-2705 or [email protected]