Owning your own place

Renting a suite within a retirement community has seen increased flexibility as residents are often able to pay for only the services they require. But, many seniors have spent an adult lifetime building equity in their homes, and until recently in Canada, choosing to move into a retirement community meant renting. For those who want access to services and amenities within a retirement community, there is a growing amount of condos available for purchase.

Neil Prashad, president and CEO of Origin Active Lifestyle Communities, says today’s seniors want options when it comes time to move into a retirement community. Origin properties offer both rental and ownership-based suites, so residents can choose the option best suited to them. “What drives seniors to these continuing care retirement communities is they can allow you to age in place,” explains Prashad. The units are designed with mobility issues in mind. For example, none have stairs, and bathrooms are equipped with sit-down showers and grab bars by the toilets. “Your home has the ability to adapt, so you’re not forced to move.”

Those who choose to purchase their homes have the flexibility to buy services like housekeeping and meal plans à la carte. The flexibility of ownership really appealed to Gord Harlock, who owns a condo at Origin Evergreen Mississauga in Ontario. “I sold my house," he says. "I’m protecting my equity here.”

Murray Hadlow, who also owns a condo at Origin Evergreen with his wife, Dorothy, agrees. “When you looked at the prices, to rent would be an average of $60,000 a year, and that’s money you never see again,” he says. “You could invest the money from the sale of your house and live off of that, but that’s a bit of a crapshoot.”

Hadlow and Harlock both enjoy the social aspect of living in a retirement community. “You can go down and mingle with people anytime,” says Harlock. Hadlow says he and his wife play bridge three times a week, and often go down to the Origin bar to play euchre or blackjack. A big perk is having senior-focused services available on-site that they can access when they need them. Hadlow says his wife, who recently had a shoulder replacement, can do her physiotherapy without leaving Origin. “We don’t have to get into the car,” he says. “They would even come to our condo if we wanted them to.” Origin, which has multiple properties across Canada, isn’t the only company presenting customized options for retirees. Hearthstone has condo developments in Toronto and Burlington, Ontario, tailored to seniors with varying levels of need. Residents at the Toronto location, Hearthstone by the Bay, can access the building’s extensive amenities, including a spa, a health club that offers aquafit classes, a dining room staffed by Red Seal chefs and a shuttle.

Elizabeth Buchli was so impressed when she visited Hearthstone by the Bay’s sales centre last year that she bought a condo on the spot. “I called my husband afterwards to tell him I bought it!” she says, laughing. She had been hunting for a purchasing opportunity within a retirement community since 2006. “It took me a long time to find something like this in Canada,” she says. She was surprised to learn that most retirement communities here are rental-driven, because ownership opportunities are quite common in Europe, where she’s from. “My parents already had a home like this in the Netherlands back in the 1970s,” she says.

It was important to Buchli to protect the equity from the sale of her house. She echoes the sentiments expressed by the Origin homeowners. “If you rent you’re spending $4,000 to $5,000 a month and you have nothing to show for it at the end,” she says. “A lot of experts tell you if you’re over 65 you should rent and put your money in stocks, but look at what the stock market did last year.”

Buchli particularly likes that her suite has a full kitchen so she and her husband can make their own meals when they want to, but they can always go downstairs to the dining room if they don’t feel like cooking. She also enjoys having a lot of like-minded people in the building to socialize with, as well as having access to doctors and physiotherapists on-site if she or her husband ever require extra care. “My husband is 91,” she says. “He doesn’t want to move again.” Origin’s Prashad says the majority of condo purchasers are couples. “The customized services allow couples to age at different rates,” he says. In many cases, if one spouse is less mobile than the other, the more active of the two assumes a caregiver role. Within communities like these, couples can still live together without the more active partner becoming burdened. Instead, they can tap into the available services within the community.

Marian Crew and her husband bought a spacious two-bedroom-plus-den unit at Hearthstone by the Bay. She enjoys the camaraderie of being surrounded by other retirees, and the central location. “I’m a downtown person. I love being able to just catch the bus or head up to the subway,” she says. She also enjoys the peace of mind of knowing there’s a nursing staff on-site, so they won’t have to move again. “We’re here until the end, and that was the idea.”

The age range of the people scooping up the condos surprised Linda Potrykus, Hearthstone by the Bay’s club manager. Even though it’s being billed as an over-70 retirement community, she’s seen couples in their 50s purchase condos. “They want to be in control of where they go when they need help,” she says. Oftentimes, if something happens like a heart attack or a broken bone, seniors can no longer live in their own homes because of obstacles like stairs and high bathtubs. In many of these cases, they can be placed in whatever care facility has space, rather than a place of their own choosing. Or in some cases, the seniors go to live with their children, which could make them feel like a burden.

As the baby boomers age, the senior demographic continues to grow at a rapid pace. This bodes well for the resale value of condos within these retirement communities. Developers are continuing to take note of the increasing demand for this type of concept. Palisades on the Glen is set to open in Mississauga this spring. It includes perks like a spa, demo kitchen, lounge, bar and dining room. It also offers on-site physiotherapy and access to housekeeping services.

Palisades on the Glen offers both rental and purchasing options. Daniel Ger, marketing director at Retirement Life Communities, which runs Palisades on the Glen, says condo ownership tends to appeal to a younger senior audience and is built for them. As at the other properties, purchasers at Palisades on the Glen may do their own cooking, cleaning and laundry if they want to, or they may pay for those services when they want a break.

Hearthstone resident Buchli is glad Canadian developers are starting to catch on to this concept, and expects more and more seniors will begin to seek out ownership opportunities within retirement communities as they become more aware that they have options.

“I don’t think enough Canadians know about this, to be able to own and at the same time get the care you need,” she says. “It’s the best of both worlds.”

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