Urban Living Webinar: Will traditional retirement communities be left in the past?

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UK: Scheduled fortnightly on Wednesdays at 2 pm BST, International Hospitality Media editor-in-chief George Sell is hosting a webinar series focusing on the changes in urban living, in support of the Urban Living Lite series.

Today’s webinar focused on traditional retirement communities and how they may change as society shifts. It was sponsored by Commscope, which provides networks and communications technology for many industries, including hospitality.

Joining Sell in the discussion were:

  • Jan Garde, founder and chairman, THE EMBASSIES OF GOOD LIVING
  • Justin Shee, CEO and founder, The Kohab

Sell began the discussion, noting that while the UK and US’ older populations are still growing, the dedciated senior living market was only taken advantage of by 0.6 per cent of UK residents agend 65 or above. He followed up by asking whether retirement communities would a thing of the past.

Shee responded by noting that an issue the industry has is a lack of interest from the target market, who are mostly unsatisfied by the current lineup of products. Research that his company, The Kohab, did realise that older buyers want intergenerational living, and began introducing choices to follow this instinct.

Echoing this sentiment, Garde noted that by integrating commercial real estate with residential sectors, his company is aiming to attract younger markets.

Bringing the question around to COVID, Sell asked whether the pandemic has impacted both demand and operation of late-living communities. Garde responded, noting that the pandemic has added the demand for a secure form of individual living, which many retirement communities don’t provide.

Shee has also seen a rise in interest for the Kohab, and also noted that because his company has not yet launched, he will be able to design his developments them for a post-COVID world. Speaking to the isolation that lockdown instilled in us, he added that people have more empathy with the elderly now, who most frequently experience that isolation.

Pointing out that many people don’t completely retire any more, Sell asked the two guests about how definitions of “retirement communities” have changed.

Garde jumped in, adding that different demographics want fundamentally different things and that his target market demographic is looking at a less retirement-focused idea. He focuses on terms like senior-living and late-in-life residential, which also emphasizes the focus on active living. Shee noted that the word “retirement” has certain stigmas attached to it, which may be off-putting, but that ultimately, the choice is with the customer.

Sell then asked what changes would need to be made to the physical spaces of senior living developments. Kohab’s focus is on the community, including as many interactions as they can throughout the day. Shee noted that they are relatively amenity light, focusing instead on community partnerships and on designing spaces to maximise interaction between residents.

Embassy properties instead emphasise a choice of amenities that bring in outsiders rather than reserving them for the exclusive use of the residents. By reformatting many of them as “members clubs” which focus on certain lifestyle markers, Garde hopes to create a “community as service” model, ensuring that its residents aren’t surrounded exclusively by late-in-life people.

Sell pointed out the capital intensive nature of this model, asking about which neighbourhoods the company is targetting. Garde responded saying that it sought high foot traffic areas in high-quality neighbourhoods, as a part of the luxury branding that Embassies is aiming for.

Looking at whether or not older demographics wanted more urban lifestyles, Shee said that there were clear shifts in the market to more urban areas. He added that much of the wealth in the UK is in the older markets, meaning that they can better afford high-quality city living.

To conclude, Sell asked the two participants whether the sector was attractive to investors at this juncture.

Garde said that throughout 2019, his discussions were somewhat tepid, with the ideas being well received but without a sense of immediacy. Since March, attitudes have changed as investors have been looking at ways to transform urban office and commercial space into residential, in order to continue collecting premium rents.  

Shee noted that late-in-life residential is attractive investors, who need products to make up for a current lack of hospitality and commercial investment, to place their money. However, the ways that his company was looking at changing the market were difficult sells, due to the inherently risk-averse nature of the real estate market.

To see a full recording of this webinar, click here.

This week’s webinar, taking place on Wednesday, October 28th, 2 PM BST, sponsored by RES:HARMONICS, will focus on Hotel Hybrids and Hostels.

Joining Sell in the discussion will be:

  • Paul Bridger, Head Rovester and Director, ROVE Hotels
  • Filippo Cavandoli, CEO and Founder, Nomad Aparthotels
  • Hans Meyer, co-founder, Zoku
  • Niko Karstikko, co-founder, Bob W
  • Francois Leclerc, VP branding and operations, JO&JOE

To register for this discussion, click the link here.

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