Why demand for retirement lifestyle communities will only increase

Friday Jun 02nd, 2017


Phyllis Mahon was in her late 50s when she went looking for a smaller, more manageable home in a quiet community. She wanted a place where she could share her interests with like-minded people, and still have plenty of space to walk her dog.

Her search brought her to the Sandycove Acres retirement community in Innisfil, Ont., about 100 kilometres north of Toronto, with heated outdoor pools, minigolf, a games room, shuffleboard and a library. To say she’s satisfied with the move would be an understatement.

“Even if I won $1-million, I would keep this home and spend time here,” says Ms. Mahon, now 61. “It’s like being in the country. It’s a beautiful location.”

She belongs to the Sandycove Acres photography and woodcarving club, and has become friends with many of the residents.

“Being with people my own age, with similar concerns, definitely makes a difference,” she says. “We all understand what it’s like to get up in the morning and moan and groan. On the other hand, there are people who all they do is moan and groan … You have to learn how to recognize those personalities. But it’s a great place to live.”

Ms. Mahon is among a growing number of baby boomers settling into adult lifestyle communities across Canada.

Don’t confuse them with retirement homes, though: These are places where people come to be active, but without the bustle of busy working people or the around-the-clock sounds of screaming children or mischievous teenagers.

Sal Guatieri, senior economist at BMO Nesbitt Burns Inc., expects more of these developments to be built in the coming years as the boomer generation gets older and retires, or at least semi-retires.

He points to Statistics Canada projections that one in four Canadians will be 65 or older by 2036, compared to one in six today.

“The demand for this kind of housing can only increase in the next couple of decades,” Mr. Guatieri says.

The lower Canadian dollar is expected to fuel demand as Canadians balk at buying retirement property in the United States, given the unfavourable exchange rate.

“More Canadians will think of buying retirement property on this side of the border,” Mr. Guatieri predicts.

The exchange rate is also expected to encourage more Americans to buy housing in Canada, where their money now goes much further.

“They’ll trade off a colder climate for a generally attractive place to move to, and in many cases a cheaper place to move to compared to some U.S. cities now,” Mr. Guatieri says.

Some boomers living in the Toronto and Vancouver area, where housing prices have skyrocketed in recent years, are also selling and buying places in smaller, more affordable communities.

The trend of building more adult lifestyle developments raises questions about who will move into them 20-plus years down the road, when the boomers move into care homes or pass away. Mr. Guatieri says demand could soften in about 25 years, but that millennials should eventually pick up the slack as they get into their retirement years.

The issue of property value isn’t top of mind for boomers moving into these retirement communities today.

“I don’t really think about what our home will be worth in 20 to 30 years. It’s not an investment,” says Pauline Clairoux, 68.

She and her husband, Rheal, 70, recently moved into the Englewood Courtyard adult retirement community in Chilliwack, B.C., about 100 km west of Vancouver.

“Our main concern was having a good-quality development and one that is worry-free and maintenance-free,” she says. That’s especially important now that the couple spends winters in Arizona.

“We wanted somewhere [in Canada] where we could just lock the door and leave,” she says.

The couple also enjoy the slower pace and quietness that comes with living among other retirees.

“We wanted a place where we didn’t have kids running up and down the stairs or hallways all of the time, because we are retired. We’ve been there, done that,” Ms. Clairoux said. “It’s nice to have the grandkids over, but after a few hours they can go home and we can have our peace and quiet.”

She does miss having a backyard, but their large patio is a good substitute. Ms. Clairoux says her husband sometimes misses working with his tools in the double-car garage at their old house, but their son has them now at his house located about 45 minutes away.

Tracey L’hoist, a real estate agent with Homelife Glenayre Realty who sells units at Englewood Courtyard, said most buyers are “downsizing, but not downgrading.”

Many want a higher-end home with nice fixtures and appliances and enough space to have friends and family visit, but nothing too large to maintain. They also want to be close to amenities such as grocery stores and coffee shops, as well as walking trails, golf courses and tennis courts.

“It’s all about lifestyle,” Ms. L’hoist says. “They want quality and something that is turn-key for when they go away. When they’re in town, they want to be among like-minded people. That’s an important part of it.”

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