Conventional vs Retirement apartments, senior couple standing in front of Oak Tree Retirement properties.

Conventional versus retirement apartments: how do they stack up?

Back in the day, downsizing simply meant moving into a smaller home or into a traditional retirement village. However, in recent years, the popularity of vertical retirement communities is on the rise, and they are rapidly appearing in inner-city suburbs across the country. In fact, 50 per cent of all new villages at Oak Tree are being constructed as multi-level apartments.

Apartment living, also known as ‘vertical living’, offers residents the same great lifestyle as your traditional open plan retirement villages, but with the added convenience of being close to amenities and facilities inner-city dwellers have grown accustomed to, such as cafés, restaurants, shopping centres and public transport.

In metro areas, there often is little to no land available to suit larger, open plan retirement villas, so the only options are to build a development out in the fringe areas. This means that when you are ready to downsize, you have two options; you could leave your local area to go to a retirement village further away or go vertical in your local area.

Despite the advantages of vertical living, it is important to remember that not all apartments are created equal when it comes to a secure and happy retirement. In fact, conventional apartments lack the protection and peace of mind that comes with vertical retirement villages.

So if you’ve been wondering if apartment living might be right for you in retirement, here are some of the key factors to take into consideration to help you make a well-informed decision.

Is your apartment registered and operating according to the Retirement Village Act?

When looking for an apartment, keep in mind that just because it is advertised as retirement living, that doesn’t necessarily make it a retirement village. Even though they may offer similar features and amenities, there’s a vast difference between ordinary apartments, where the developer hands over and leaves, compared to a multi-level retirement village, where operators are committed for the long term.

For residents, having that ongoing vested interest by a reputable operator takes a lot of the worry out of things like future maintenance costs, or negotiating with a corporate body.  You know up front who is responsible for what and how much it is likely to cost.

Unlike conventional apartments or traditional strata-titled units, all retirement villages in Australia are registered under each state’s relevant governing body; Department of Housing in Queensland, Fair Trading in New South Wales, Consumer Affairs in Victoria and CBOS in Tasmania, and are all subject to the Retirement Village Act.

The Act regulates all retirement villages and protects the rights of its residents. Each state jurisdiction has its own version of the Act with slight variations.

Essential features for retirement apartment living

Even though vertical retirement villages are very similar to your traditional retirement villages in terms of offering and benefits, vertical living is changing the way people traditionally thought of retirement villages.

A well-thought-out design that is functional and practical

Because vertical retirement villages are multi-level, their layout, design, and floor plans are all important considerations that will determine how easy it is to move around the complex and how functional they are. Residents spend a lot of time here and so this is critical to get this right.

For example, simple things like are there enough lifts in the building to allow people to move around without any hassle. How do you get to the villa? How can you get from your car to the villa because multilevel complexes don’t have direct garage access? Are the villa corridors wide enough to accommodate mobility scooters and wheelchairs? Is there a reasonable common area and ancillary services like a hairdresser, a library, or a pool?

It’s also important to enquire about fire management. Is there an integrated sprinkler system?

It’s all these little things that must be considered and designed correctly, as it doesn’t only give you insight as to where you are going to be living, but how you are going to live when you move in. All of this is also guided by the strict regulations covered by the Act to protect residents.

At Oak Tree, our apartment designs are very similar to our much-loved traditional villages, the obvious difference is that they are in a vertical configuration. But there’s been a subtle evolution in the vertical villages designed to meet the changing needs of active, independent retirees as they age.

All floors are step-free to avoid trip hazards, with wide doorways for easy mobility, and purpose-built recreation facilities and communal areas for the exclusive use of residents and their guests.

Community facilities and security

Apartment living is reminiscent of many Boomers’ childhood holidays in beachfront apartments at places like the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast or on the New South Wales Central Coast.

It’s a concept that’s not new to this generation and a lot of the things people enjoy about apartment living is something that should be offered in vertical retirement villages, like freedom from maintenance requirements and key facilities such as gardens, outdoor community areas, pools, and BBQ areas.

Then there’s also the security aspect. Is there a village manager onsite to provide assistance when needed?

At Oak Tree, village management provides a management service, organising visiting services, regular maintenance, entertainment, and activities, and assuring residents that help is close if they ever need it. When residents want to travel, they simply lock up and leave, having peace of mind that their home is going to be safe.

The future for vertical living is looking up

Vertical living is perfect for retirees who lead a more active retirement, especially for those who may still be working part-time and want to stay close to the vibrant community they know and love.

The feedback we’ve had so far about our apartments is extremely positive. We’ve noticed more over 55s are choosing retirement apartments because they want a brand-new home, with less maintenance and wonderful communal facilities, plus the security that conventional apartments don’t provide.

The idea of a brand-new home, with attractive communal spaces and neighbours of a similar age and interests, is very appealing. That social fit is so important and something Oak Tree is very good at getting right. The next 10 -15 years are very exciting because people’s quality of life is going to improve.

For avid globetrotters Carol & Keith Elphick, staying close to the things they were familiar with was important when considering their move into retirement. Now, as residents of Oak Tree Pelican Waters, they couldn’t be happier with their choice and their life.

“Settling in was very easy,” says Keith. “We hadn’t lived in a high rise before, so that was certainly very different for us.”

Within a couple of days of moving in, Carol and Keith had neighbours, and new friendships started to grow.

“There’s a really nice crowd of people here and we all enjoy a genuine sense of community,” says Keith. “We have a community centre with a full kitchen, billiard table and library. We also have a pool and gym.”

Are you considering retirement living?

Oak Tree Retirement Villages have partnered with Starts at 60 to help you navigate your move and make sure you have all the facts about moving to a retirement village.

Download your free copy of ‘Considering a Retirement Village: The Ultimate Checklist’ for everything you need to know before you start your journey into retirement living.

This story first appeared on [email protected].

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